Fried Chicken Music

The man playing piano is blind. His eyelids are closed. He plays old favorites. “Sweet Sweet Spirit,” and “Give Thanks,” and “I’ll Fly Away.”

A church fellowship hall in Chumuckla. There’s a serious church buffet happening. Kindhearted women with white hair keep the line moving with serving spoons.

You can’t visit a place like this without seeing white-haired women with serving spoons.

The chicken is exquisite. The fried catfish was caught in the Escambia River. Fried okra, cornbread, biscuits, macaroni and cheese. Ham hocks—seasoned with a few butter beans.

It’s my second time through the food line. The white-hairs ask how we liked our food.

The phrase of the night is one you’ll hear all over the Great American South:

“We enjoyed it.”

It’s the unofficial motto of Lower Alabama and the Panhandle.

My wife and I sit on folding chairs. I am wearing seersucker.

It’s funny how life repeats itself. As a boy, my mother would’ve forced me into seersucker and penny loafers for a NASCAR rally. Today, I’m wearing such things of my own volition.

The room is alive with voices—talking and laughing. And, of course, there’s singing. You can’t visit a place like this without singing.

The man playing piano is blind. His eyelids are closed. He plays old favorites. “Sweet Sweet Spirit,” and “Give Thanks,” and “I’ll Fly Away.”

His hands feel the keys for the next chords. He’s playing through the musical score of my childhood.

He has a nice voice, but he isn’t trying to impress listeners. That’s not how we Baptists do. If you’re looking for impressive vocal gymnastics, visit the Assembly of God up the road.

We’re singing:

“When the shadows of this life have gone,
“I’ll fly away…”

People hum with mouthfuls of peach cobbler. Even kids who aren’t old enough to ride the Teacups at Disney World sing. Some folks are even brave enough to clap.

You cannot visit a place like this and not clap to “I’ll Fly Away.”

At the end of the night, people hug necks. They talk about what they’ve been doing since their last meeting. They talk about how tall their children are. About elderly parents.

“We enjoyed it,” someone says.

“We enjoyed it, too,” is the time-honored response.

“We CERTAINLY enjoyed it,” is a common variation of the theme.

The man playing piano gets off the stool with the help of his wife. People all pitch in to clean the fellowship hall.

Cleaning fellowship halls is in our DNA. Sometimes, I visit Baptist fellowship halls in strange cities just to help scrub casserole pans.

Kids clean tables. Mothers straighten chairs. Fathers wipe children’s faces.

In the gravel parking lot, the goodbyes happen. A proper goodbye in this part of the world can drag out until 11:27 P.M. You cannot visit a place like this and do short goodbyes.

Before leaving, the piano player shakes my hand. He may be blind, but he smiles with his whole face. I can’t help but smile with him. He is a shining example of the best our world has to offer. He tells me that he is thankful for all he has been given in life.

We shake hands.

“We enjoyed it,” he says.

Yes, sir. We certainly enjoyed it, too.

24 comments

  1. Ned Simmons - October 16, 2017 1:17 pm

    Sean, if you ever get to the Upstate of South Carolina on the 3rd Saturday of the month (except December) check out Soap Stone Baptist Church, you’ll enjoy it. We certainly do …
    http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/news/local/historical-upstate-churches/2017/02/03/mable-clarke-using-food-soapstone-baptist-church-tool-preserve-black-history/97033094/
    http://www.visitpickenscounty.com/vendor/126/soapstone-baptist-church-school-rock/
    blessings, Ned

    Reply
  2. david - October 16, 2017 1:18 pm

    Sean, it would be impossible to truly express to you how much I enjoy your little stories. It’s a wonderful thing to have someone point out the beauty in life. Thank you very much.

    Reply
  3. Kathleen - October 16, 2017 1:20 pm

    Reading this story makes me want to pack up my car, head south and find the first potluck in the deep south. Thanks for sharing your southern life…..I always enjoy it.

    Reply
  4. rebecca denison - October 16, 2017 1:22 pm

    And there it is! You made me smile on a chilly Monday morning! Thanks!

    Reply
  5. Dee Fritzie - October 16, 2017 1:34 pm

    Oh how I love the rituals of the South. It is in our DNA and I pray it never changes. American by birth and Southern by the Grace of God. Bless you Sean.

    Reply
  6. robin lebleu - October 16, 2017 1:34 pm

    I never thought about it, but “we enjoyed it” is how we end every gathering, whether it’s dinner with the grown kids or a group of friends or at church. There’s no hyperbole to the statement. We really did enjoy it. I never thought anything about it, til reading this. Thanks.

    Reply
  7. Pat Byers - October 16, 2017 2:26 pm

    as usual, I sit with a smile on my face. Sometimes with tears along with the smile. not this morning. I visited your South, years ago. in southern Alabama. it is all you say. and my memories of your people are cherished.

    Reply
  8. Fran Dean - October 16, 2017 2:27 pm

    I am an 83 year old southerner, and when I read your posts every nerve in my body takes on part of my soul. You touch on all of those nerves with a depth of compassion and understanding.

    Reply
  9. Sandra Marrar - October 16, 2017 2:38 pm

    Oh, this brings back such wonderful memories of my childhood. My mother was one of those little gray haired women that served on the kitchen committee for 100 years! Many a dinner I was in the kitchen helping wash those casserole dishes, serving spoons and a different array of pots and pans. Such good memories that I will cherish forever. Thank you for reminding me!

    Reply
  10. Jack Quanstrum - October 16, 2017 2:56 pm

    All I can do smile after your story. I enjoyed it! Ya, alot!

    Reply
  11. Valerie Steele - October 16, 2017 3:20 pm

    Wish I’d been there…my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

    Reply
  12. Shirley Northington (Skelton) - October 16, 2017 3:22 pm

    And I enjoyed it as well. Thank you.

    Reply
  13. Tammy Moody - October 16, 2017 3:51 pm

    Sometimes you make me cry happy tears with memories. You keep on making lots of folks smile, Sean, even if there is a crow or two in the bunch. God made them for a reason too!! Hugs!

    Reply
  14. Terri Carver Lucas - October 16, 2017 4:13 pm

    Sean – I love your posts. They take me home. But today I hate you! I’ve been singing “I’ll Fly Away” in my head all day!

    Reply
  15. Boib Hubbard - October 16, 2017 4:14 pm

    And, all God’s children said Amen and Amen…….

    Reply
  16. Melodie - October 16, 2017 4:48 pm

    Thank you for the big smiles and memories this morning.
    I certainly enjoyed it, Sir. 🙂

    Reply
  17. Dale kocher - October 16, 2017 5:37 pm

    Read your stuff every day. Any who complains “is not from here”. All your comments and stories remind me “the difference in a northern versus southern fairy tail”. Up north they start off with”once upon a time
    “. Down south they start with “you ain’t gonna believe this”. Keep eating regularly, writing and praying.
    Best to you. I am 68. DK

    Reply
  18. Ruth Watts - October 16, 2017 8:32 pm

    Remember my aunt telling me that when they sang I’ll fly away, her cousin would sing I’ll fly your way, Probably thinking about, or looking at a boy,I don’t remember all the details. However, I really enjoy your writings !!!

    Reply
  19. Linda Chipman - October 16, 2017 9:20 pm

    Brought memories of going to family reunions long ago. Thank you.

    Reply
  20. Gail - October 17, 2017 1:28 am

    This makes me smile!!!!

    Reply
  21. Daniel Martin - October 17, 2017 4:25 pm

    You are a true blessing. I am glad I stumbled across you. Thanks.

    Reply
  22. revbigbaldguy - October 17, 2017 5:49 pm

    I certainly enjoyed that, Sean. Thank you!

    Reply
  23. Dora Huelsbeck. - November 10, 2017 2:48 am

    My father was from Jay and my mother was from Chumuckla. I have lots of relatives there. They love socializing and church. My parents taught me to enjoy being with family and friends. Life is short. Church socials are special.

    Reply
  24. Julia Reagan - November 19, 2017 11:37 pm

    I’m from south Alabama. That is some of the best food you’ll ever eat. I too enjoyed it. Thanks for the memories!

    Reply

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