Grease Is Flowing Deep and Wide

I don’t know what made me think of this. But I when I was a kid, I remember when our preacher would often shout the following words from the pulpit:

“When I die, folks! Don’t weep for me! For I shall be in a place where the fried chicken never endeth!”

This was a sort of joke, you understand. And it always got a good laugh from the congregation because our preacher was a very round man who definitely knew his way around a fried chicken.

The reason I bring this up is probably because last night my wife made fried chicken. She’s been cooking up a storm since this COVID-19 quarantine started.

She used a hot skillet filled with peanut oil. Then she made cornbread to go with the chicken, and turnip greens. It was pure decadence.

And while I was digesting, I got to thinking about how the best and worst periods of my life can be measured in food.

Seriously. I can look back on the most sacred memories of childhood and one of the first things that comes back to me is the food. The smells, textures, stains on my shirt. Likewise, I can relive my saddest moments and food is often part of those memories, too.

Twenty-four hours after my father’s death, our porch was loaded with casseroles and various wax-paper-lined shoeboxes of fried chicken. Someone even brought a brown paper sack full of biscuits. There were enough hand-thrown biscuits to last until the Second Coming of Elvis.

Among my people, the period surrounding a funeral features a lot of food. Which is ironic because you don’t feel like eating after your loved one dies, but somehow, you do.

But anyway, I can retell my entire life story with food:

Infanthood; pureed fried chicken. Adolescence; whole fried chicken. Teenage-hood; two whole fried chickens. Adulthood; cholesterol free synthetic alfalfa hay, Metamucil, and Lipitor.

Throughout my life women have always been appearing out of nowhere, trying to feed me fried chicken. My mother was like this. My wife is the same way. She is always shoving food down my gullet even if she has to use a pitch fork.

It’s no wonder I had high cholesterol a few years ago. My wife was cooking with so much bacon grease that I broke into cold sweats whenever I drove by hog farms.

We’ve sort of scaled our bacon grease usage back a little bit these past few years, in the interest of health, and have switched to whole fat butter. I know it almost sounds like a joke, but food is simply one of the things my people treat like medicine.

Take, for instance, the recent funeral of a dear friend. His family threw a huge feast at the Methodist church two hours before his funeral. It was the biggest spread you’ve ever seen. Six buffet tables of food. Six. This was impressive considering that there were only nine people at the funeral.

And there was the time when my wife had a tumor. I didn’t tell anyone about this except my friend Todd. The next day, our porch was littered with smoked ribs, pork butts, briskets, and pork shoulders. There must have been 50 pounds of meat out there. When I stepped outside to see it all, wrapped in foil, let me tell you: Niagara Falls.

And when we learned that the growth was benign, after we’d gone through a veritable hell, do you know what my wife and I did? We went to McLain’s Family Steakhouse Buffet in DeFuniak Springs, where I ate so much whole-fried catfish that I had to be revived with defibrillators by local EMTs.

And there was the chili supper for my wife’s surprise 30th birthday party—which seems like a lifetime ago now.

You should have seen the little old woman who cooked eight gallons of chili for the event. She was a friend of our family. She initially wanted to cook fried chicken, but I couldn’t afford to buy chicken for 70-some-odd partygoers. So she made chili.

I bought the chili ingredients. It took her two days to make it all. Her chili pot was about the size of a 1955 Chevy Bel Air.

The night of the party, my wife arrived wearing a blindfold. “SURPRISE!” we all shouted. Most of us were holding Styrofoam cups full of chili at the time. Every time I eat chili, I think of that sweet elderly woman. I told this same story at that woman’s funeral.

I wish I could tell you what food does to me. It is not a purely metabolic event, it is much more than that. The food of my people can work its way into your soul and your mind. It will light up your memory banks and remind you of people and things you forgot. Of those who love you. Of life, and how short it really is.

It can humble you to the point of tears. That’s not an exaggeration. Believe me, when you hold a brown paper bag full of biscuits with grease splotches all over it, on the morning of your father’s funeral, it humbles you.

I suppose that sometimes all it takes is the simplicity of food to help you realize that even though this world can be merciless and cruel, you’re not the only one suffering.

In other words, when I die, don’t cry for me. Because I’ll be in a place where the fried chicken never endeth.


  1. Sandi. - April 20, 2020 6:59 am

    Fried chicken and homemade biscuits = Southern delicacies!

  2. studiosound3 - April 20, 2020 7:28 am

    And 394 different kinds of tater salad. Each one a family secret.

  3. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - April 20, 2020 9:43 am

    You get to eat good stuff when people die. I never got fried chicken – or chili.

  4. Roger - April 20, 2020 11:22 am

    Wow… you can read my mind…and my belly.

  5. Nancy Brown - April 20, 2020 11:27 am

    You are so right. Food binds us together and is ever present in our memories. The self isolation and other fallout from these strange times has produced many memorable meals (due to more thoughtful menu planning), as well as lots of yardwork and house projects. It has also brought us closer together as a couple, and made us more mindful and thankful for our blessings.

  6. Marisa Franca Stewart - April 20, 2020 11:42 am

    Loved the story — and so apropos at a time like this. Food seems to be a common denominator. Thank you Sean – and I’m sure when you’re in the great beyond, you’ll be able to cross that river of peanut oil to get to that fried chicken.

  7. Jean - April 20, 2020 12:15 pm

    We Southerns love our food. Fried chicken I would pick over anything…and you forgot pimento cheese. It’s a staple in the south.. My parents loved to picnic….it always was fried chicken and pimento cheese sandwiches….and should I picnic now….it will be the same…Do you think that Heaven has pimento cheese?

    • Barbara Patterson - July 21, 2021 3:19 am

      Pimento cheese has played a dominant role in my life, it conjures up Mama & Nannie for me. My son got married a couple of years ago to a sweet young lady from Georgia (we are from Tn). I was so pleased when they selected grilled pimento cheese appetizers as part of the Rehearsal dinner meal. I’ve done my job as a Mom😉

  8. Dan Jones - April 20, 2020 12:50 pm

    In the midst of this “corn teen” this brightened my day!

  9. Ala Red Clay Girl - April 20, 2020 1:43 pm

    Nothing says “love” better than a dish of some Southern delicacy, such as, macaroni and cheese, banana pudding, deviled eggs, any of the gazillion types of casseroles and a big ol’ glass of sweet tea or lemonade to wash it down with. Now I’m hungry!

  10. Robert "Bob" Bowling - April 20, 2020 1:43 pm

    Sean! You wrote this for me, a retired Methodist Church preacher. My father use to say, “Anybody who loves fried chicken as much as I do, ain’t fit to be anything but a Methodist preacher.”

  11. Ginger Smith - April 20, 2020 2:05 pm

    …do you have the chili recipe from that little lady?

  12. Dianne - April 20, 2020 2:19 pm

    Nothing beats Southern cooking. I still make the cornbread dressing that my mother made, her mother, and her mother’s mother made. Now my daughters-in-law make it. Thanks for bringing back some great memories.

  13. Tonya - April 20, 2020 2:20 pm

    After my father’s funeral, we congregated at my step-momma’s for a feast. Having had a “whailer” at the service, the woman decided to come to the house too, much to our dismay. She came toward my brother and I, along with two boy cousins, lined up on a couch, plates in lap, chowing down on some fried chicken. The woman came towards me, looked down at my bone picked chicken and said, “Ohhhhhh you eat chicken just like your dadddddyyyy!!!”. The whailing was unreal! Two of us spit chicken, and one took off down the hallway laughing and I sat there about to bust. It was hilarious. Funerals can be quite funny. It certainly eased the stress!

  14. Ann - April 20, 2020 2:41 pm

    Rather than food for thought these days it seems to be thought of food!🤪

  15. Joe Patterson - April 20, 2020 2:54 pm

    Thanks for sharing my mom cooked some of the best fried chicken I ever had We very rarely cook it at home any more but my mom’s chicken beat the devil out of the Kentucky Popeye’s Churches or any of the other places you try to buy it today Great memories

  16. Tara - April 20, 2020 4:13 pm

    Love your articles on food because they bring back so many happy memories! Since you are such a gifted writer, perhaps you could try your hand at cookbook writing?!? You know, with all the recipes for these delicious dishes you speak of! I believe between Jamie and your mom alone you would have plenty of recipes to choose from. Keep up your wonderful writing!

  17. Jessie - April 20, 2020 4:42 pm

    I am 76 yrs old,raised by my Grandmother, so I know a little about bacon grease. I’ve had to cut back on it, Drs orders. But I still have to sneak some into turnip greens,and pole beans,just not the same without it.a pot of white beans too.

  18. Linda Moon - April 20, 2020 4:46 pm

    Your wife’s benign news was something worth celebrating. You both survived…, the whole-fried catfish and your wife, no malignancy! If I outlive you, Sean, I won’t cry for you, “Argentina”, but I will keep my distance if the funeral occurs during COVID-19 quarantine. And then, sometime in the Eternal future, we’ll all hold hands and sing when we get there….to Heaven, not Argentina!!

  19. Myra - April 20, 2020 4:47 pm

    What Tara just said! Since moving to Alabama 2 years ago, I’m trying my best to become a Real Southerner. But I’ve no idea how to prepare greens. How I’d love to see Jamie’s recipes in print!!!

  20. Mary - April 20, 2020 7:13 pm

    Ahhhh…you are so right, Sean, we do love to eat here in the South. You are also right about certain foods bringing back great memories tied to people. You say “Cornbread,” I think of my Granddaddy frying it up in an iron skillet. You say, “Ambrosia,” and my Grandmother pops right up there. In the South we also know how to take care of grieving families. Thanks for bringing all that to mind on this back to work Monday.

  21. Bill in FL - April 20, 2020 10:00 pm

    Two of my favorite Buffets have gone. McLains in Crestview and Barnhill’s in Mary Esther. My wife thought McLains potato salad and banana pudding was the best in the world.

  22. Peggy Boggus - April 20, 2020 10:49 pm

    Standing with my Aunt Mary….who was a large rotund lady that loved to cook… she looked at the table laden with food and said “Ain”t that the prettiest plate of friend chicken you ever saw!” And it was!!

  23. Sha'nah Martin - April 21, 2020 5:30 am

    This speaks to every one that lives in the South. Any time there is a need for food in the church I attend, my go-to is deviled eggs. Most people think I make pretty good deviled eggs. I use sweet pickles. Never even thought about using dill relish until someone asked me to and I did, but I felt like I was desecrating the poor eggs! Food is comforting and it is used for celebrating and for grieving. It is rather sad that during this COVID quarantine, there are families that are missing out on the funeral food that accompanies the passing of a loved one. I certainly hope that when all the memorials take place in the future people will remember to show the love through the food they would have made under normal circumstances!

  24. Tim Bennett - April 22, 2020 5:14 am

    Are we related?

  25. Nancy - May 30, 2020 4:48 pm

    My grandpa died the day I started 5th grade. They lived in a little 3-room shotgun apartment. When it filled with family it was snug! At the time, sometime in the 1950s, there was a peddler truck that sold coffee, tea, and spices. They had a special series of little canisters with writing on them—coffee, tea, etc.
    Somebody made iced tea that everyone said tasted funny. I said it tasted like coffee. Grandma turned around in her chair and pointed to the top of the cupboard and said, “Can’t you see it says, ‘Beans’?” That’s been 50+ years ago and the memory is still sharp.

  26. Aunt Si or Martha Black - May 30, 2020 6:16 pm

    Fried Chicken, hand rolled cathead biscuits light enough to float, and creamed yellow & white field corn with a side of sliced home growed maters!
    And daddy’s hand squeezed lemonade! My mother’s best meal & my favorite. She always called me to come home for lunch when she cooked it. Twenty minutes to get there, twenty minutes to feast & twenty minutes back to work……. I can hardly wait to get to heaven! It’s taking longer than 20 minutes to get there, i dont know how long to eat, but I won’t have to go back to work!

  27. Sam Seetin - May 31, 2020 12:56 am

    Good one Sean… as your Well nourished soul is in your stomach, you might consider trying some soul chicken that we called ravens in Alaska.
    Uncle Sam

  28. Anna Jo Bracknell - September 16, 2020 3:09 pm

    Love this! It is so true. Thank you for making me smile! Brings back great memories.

  29. Elizabeth Koch - July 21, 2021 12:11 pm

    Sean I love you and your gifted storytelling but I have to read your work before I put on my mascara.

  30. Joe Fowler - July 22, 2021 4:19 pm

    Thank you for putting into words how I feel


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