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 bird.
The reason I bring this up is probably because last night my wife made fried chicken. She’s been cooking up a storm lately.
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. Although 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 poultry 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 describe 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 you might be having a bad day, a day when everything seems to be going wrong, a buffet might be waiting just around the corner.
In other words, don’t cry. Because it will get better. Someday you’ll be in a place where the fried chicken never endeth.