A potluck. A small church. There is more food here than people. A cooler of iced tea. Casseroles out the front door. Coffee. Coke. Fried chicken.
I never met a potluck I didn’t like. Not even when I was in Kentucky and there was a casserole that allegedly had chunks of raccoon in it.
I love food, people, and cholesterol. Combining all three makes miracles happen.
The fried chicken is nothing short of spiritual. My fingers are too greasy to type. It’s euphoria on a short thigh. Lightly battered, golden brown, spiced with black pepper. I am crazy about fried chicken. In fact, you could say I consider myself a chicken enthusiast.
And this chicken is fit for company.
There is also a cream cheese dip made by an elderly woman named Miss Carolyn. It’s addictive. I’ve eaten three quarters of this dip, and am in serious need of Rolaids.
I ask Miss Carolyn what’s in this marvelous dish.
“It’s simple,” she says. “It’s called Cowboy Crack, my grandkids love it.”
This potluck is attended by people of all ages. A little girl plays piano. She is playing “Heart and Soul.” She’s been playing this melody for ninety minutes straight. Roughly eighty-nine minutes too long.
A church lady finally drags the girl away from the piano and assigns her to kitchen work, washing dishes. The girl is not happy about this. Life isn’t always fair, kid.
The deacon at my table is an avid golfer. He is talking about golf even though I told him I don’t know the difference between a five-iron and a duck-hooked double bogey. He keeps talking just the same. So, I’m smiling, nodding, and willing myself to spontaneously combust into flames. I have always thought spontaneous combustion would be a dramatic way to go.
I take my leave. I go for seconds on the buffet line. Namely, I need more chicken, and antacids.
I meet Linda. She’s washing cake pans with a brush. Miss Linda can’t talk because she has had throat cancer. Her voice is sore, she is not using it. Sometimes she communicates with a notepad. Tonight, she communicates with hand signals.
She grins at me, her blue eyes twinkle. She rubs her tummy and points. This is universal Church Lady Sign Language for: “Did you get enough to eat?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I say. “I’ve eaten myself into an early retirement.”
She laughs. Then coughs into a handkerchief. It’s a bad cough.
Linda’s daughter tells me this has been a bad time. Her mother’s treatments have been worse than the disease itself. The only pleasure Miss Linda gets in life is from cooking.
“My mother wouldn’t know what to do if she couldn’t cook. It’s just who she is, it makes her feel normal.”
Linda’s been tired a lot. She sleeps more hours than she is awake. Linda’s daughter has been the opposite. She worries so much that she hardly sleeps.
She’s been driving her mother to appointments. She stays in hotels while her mother stays in hospital rooms. Sometimes she brings her mother chocolate malts. Most days, she just sits beside her.
But tonight, you wouldn’t know anything has been wrong. Tonight, Miss Linda is herself, and she looks strong.
“I won’t lie,” says her daughter. “I’ll be the first to admit, I was never much of a praying person. I WANT to believe in a miracle for Mom, but we have to be realists here. Miracles don’t always happen.”
When the meal is over, Miss Linda and her daughter send me home with a plate of food that is heavy enough to sink the U.S.S. Indianapolis. And even though Miss Linda has been sick, she is worried about me eating enough.
Her daughter explains: “Mom says you look like you need to eat more. You’re kinda skinny.”
I hug both women before I leave. I thank Miss Linda for all the hard work she put into tonight. I ask her who made the life-changing fried chicken.
She leans into me. I hear her whisper. She has a rasp for a voice. “I made the chicken.”
Anyway, not long after the potluck I got an email. Miss Linda is in complete remission.
Miracles do happen.