I wish you could see this woman beside me. She’s eating fried chicken like a starvation victim. And using her whole body to do it.
She takes a large bite, then wipes her chin with her sleeve. She pauses only to sip sweet tea. Then, it’s back to destroying more drumsticks.
She stares at my discarded bones and says, “You like it?”
I love it.
Her fried chicken is legendary. Hens everywhere from here to the next county marvel at this woman. That’s because you’ve never seen anyone—not even the Colonel—fry a bird the way she does. Local poultry stand in line, volunteering their lives toward her cause.
It’s no exaggeration: she lives for food.
You’d never know it to look at her, but she plans her life around supper, her summers around vegetables. We once postponed a family vacation because tomato season wasn’t yet in full swing.
You ought to travel with her. She hauls ten coolers wherever she goes. They’re stocked with things like: buttermilk, eight kinds of cheese—nine counting pimento—chicken salad, tuna salad, coleslaw, potato salad, egg salad, pear salad, fruit salad, cucumber salad, Jell-O salad, and ambrosia.
She believes in the gospel according to whole milk, and in the healing properties of blackberry cobbler.
The week of her father’s death was the only time I’ve ever saw her quit eating.
And it wasn’t for lack of food. In our part of the world, food accompanies grief. It comes delivered by concerned Baptists and Methodists who stack casserole dishes on porches. We must’ve had nearly fifty varieties of biscuits that week.
She wouldn’t eat. She even lost a few pounds.
Most evenings, she’d lay on the couch without saying much. I’d fix her a plate; it went cold. I brought her ice cream; she didn’t want any. I made breakfast; no thanks.
“You think he’s in a better place?” she asked.
“Of course he is.”
“You think he’s at peace?”
It’s difficult seeing a woman who owns fifty thousand Southern Living cookbooks refuse a plate of barbecue, and go to bed. In fact, it’s enough to break your damn heart.
Because women like her help the world keep spinning. Without them, we’d eat things that taste like soggy, lukewarm cardboard. There’d be no gravy to sop, no midnight leftovers, no bread pudding. No fried chicken. No joy.
Speaking of joy.
You ought to see this wife of mine clean a chicken bone.