In my family, there was no real difference between religion and fried chicken. The two items went hand in hand. When you attended church events, you ate fried chicken. Any other dish was borderline paganism.
We did not, for example, get together at the Baptist covered-dish suppers to eat chickpeas. To my knowledge no kale ever crossed the threshold of my childhood fellowship hall. And it would have been more acceptable to smoke Marlboro Reds in the sanctuary than it would have been to eat anything containing tofu.
So it was fried chicken. All the way. We had drumsticks that were roughly the size of Danny DeVito, and white-meat breasts that required the strength of three men to lift. There were short thighs so large that you would have sworn someone’s husband was missing his left leg.
The frying was done in the church kitchen by women with names like Jeannie, Delores, Carla May, Delpha, Martha Ann, Voncille, Wanda Lou, and Eleanor Sue. They worked at a GE stove that was Harvest Gold and featured electric eyes that never sat level.
These women used ancient iron skillets, heirloom pot holders, and wooden spoons that had seen so much action they didn’t even look like spoons anymore but gnarled pieces of hickory.
The galley’s formica countertops were adorned with a fine dusting of King Arthur flour. There were industrial-sized jars of Crisco on each surface, slipping and sliding in puddles of polyunsaturated fat.
If you stepped into this kitchen during a frying frenzy, you were met with a cumulus of hot air so sultry with artery-clogging vegetable shortening, you could inhale once and experience a fatal cardiac event.
Meantime, you and your cousin would be out in the fellowship hall dining area, setting up steel folding chairs. These were dangerous chairs you handled, chairs with a particular folding mechanism capable of slicing the fingers off little boys who operated them incorrectly.
You would then position these chairs around folding tables. These tables were even more deadly than the chairs. I know a man who once unfolded a church table wrongly and there wasn’t enough left of him to bury.
When the food was ready, we all gathered around and listened to a long winded deacon bless the food. He prayed so long that the food got cold and many of our elderly had to sit down.
The praying person would always close with, “And all God’s people said…?”
One time your cousin, Ed Lee, answered this question by shouting, “A WOMAN!” Whereupon he was immediately dragged out of the room by his earlobe and never seen again.
When I think back, it’s staggering to remember all the times we ate chicken in a fellowship hall. We ate this particular fare before and after weddings. Before and after funerals. After baby christenings. We ate chicken before Saturday night prayer meeting. Fourth of July. Decoration Day.
We ate this meal before night services every autumn, when the air was chilled and the dark sky was peppered with stars, just before the preacher delivered his annual sermon on how to survive college football season when your team sucks.
So I will forever love the patron bird of my people. The leghorn chicken, sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins, batter fried in four inches of fundamentalism until slightly crunchy and golden brown.
I ate this meal after I was baptized in Camp Creek at the age of 8. My family also ate this meal after I was re-baptized at ages 11, 13, 15, 19, and 21.
We ate this food at my father’s funeral, when I could hardly swallow from grief. We ate this food the following day, when little old ladies delivered wax-paper-lined shoe boxes containing drumsticks to our front porch.
I ate this food after my wedding. I ate this food after I graduated from community college as an adult. I ate this food when I had my first book published. I ate it when my team won the World Series.
I ate this food last night when my wife prepared it, just for the heck of it. And when she asked me to say the blessing I did my absolute best to honor the tradition of my people who, despite their faults, made me who I am, simply by being who they were.
Which is why I ended my prayer with the words, “And all God’s people said…?”
Sara - May 7, 2022 6:49 am
I gotta admit…this was funny, even tho a little sacrilegious. I could picture it all in fine detail, due to the fact I am 75 and have eaten at more church suppers than I can count! You get me with those tag lines. Yes, Sean, you make a chuckle, usually late at night.
Debbie - May 7, 2022 7:44 am
Love it!! So funny because it’s so true!! 🤗
Mary - May 7, 2022 8:58 am
You made me think of my dearest aunt Delpha. From southern Oklahoma, that woman could fry chicken and bake biscuits that brings tears to my eyes. Thank you and God bless.
Mary Grider - May 7, 2022 11:08 am
Totally hilarious and mostly true!
Paul McCutchen - May 7, 2022 11:13 am
I didn’t realize all the times that I had eaten chicken at church till you started listing them. It was some great times that are hard to forget. When I got into my teen years it was up to my age group to set up fellowship hall. I guess the older group had lost to many digits to set up and take down the tables and chairs.
Sheri - May 7, 2022 11:33 am
The only food that rivales Church Dinner Fried Chicken is the meatloaf. To this day, I have yet to fix a meatloaf as delicious as I remember the ones from Ohio Street United Methodist Church.
imcdbw - May 7, 2022 11:52 am
No crying today! Just laughter! I’ll most likely giggle at inappropriate moments throughout the day! But they won’t really be inappropriate moments. Giggles will help me get my chores done. And giggles will help me enjoy fellowship at our Mother’s Day Tea. Most of all, they’ll keep me going at our church’s spring Handbell Concert when I’ll be missing my dear husband at the big bass bells so very much. You’ve taught me a lot about grief, Sean. Grabbing the joy of laughter when you can is a blessing. And so are you!
Christine - May 7, 2022 12:00 pm
Penn Wells - May 7, 2022 12:06 pm
I’ve been reading your columns for years now, Sean, and I appreciate how you have navigated our current turbulent waters with the balm of neutrality and polyunsaturated nimbleness. And I have my own surmises and guesstimates on where you stand on certain issues, and I applaud your brilliance in staying out of it, giving us at least one safe haven of sanity to begin each day with… and yet, sometimes it must eat you alive not to comment on our current cruel and churlish insanity… some of it emanating from those aforementioned emporiums of fried chicken heaven. But who knows? I could be wrong about it all, including the whether and the what for… now, could you pass me a wing?
Eliz - May 7, 2022 12:06 pm
Donna Wageman - May 7, 2022 12:06 pm
Oh, my heavens. This is so true. Thank you for making my day, love your writings, thank you! And all God’s people say…..
Shirley Robin Ivie - May 7, 2022 12:20 pm
IThis story brings back some great memories of Tuesday night visitation suppers at our church that my Daddy and I would attend nearly every week.There was always plenty of fun and fried chicken. I read your story to my husband and we both got a kick out of it! “Thanks for the memories” Sean, we love ya!
brennie143 - May 7, 2022 12:39 pm
You gotta be a Baptist to appreciate the statement “re-baptized”. Lol
Beth Douthit Crane - May 7, 2022 12:41 pm
Are you sure it was King Arthur flour and not White Lily flour?
Sue - May 10, 2022 6:10 pm
I thought the same thing. If not White Lily then maybe Gold Medal.
Ruth Mitchell - May 7, 2022 12:47 pm
Memories! Memories! Memories! Ahhhhh!😊
suzi - May 7, 2022 1:01 pm
Yummy memories of my grandmother frying chicken in a cast iron pot, unfortunately that gift skipped this granddaughter
Donna from Iowa - May 7, 2022 1:13 pm
Thanks for always starting my day off with your wisdom–and memories!!!!!!!!!!
Debbie g - May 7, 2022 1:14 pm
There will be fried chicken. And prayers at supper 😀love you Sean and Jamie and to us all
Donna - May 7, 2022 1:16 pm
Yep. Exactly the way it was for me as a kid in my Baptist church……and still having fried chicken at every event in the fellowship hall at my current Baptist church.
Southern Girl - May 7, 2022 3:04 pm
My husband’s father whose mama hailed from Mt Airy (AKA Mayberry) always ended his blessings with a resounding, AWOMAN!
Dee Thompson - May 7, 2022 4:10 pm
Great story. Please change the flour to White Lily, though. As a Southerner I was deeply offended by its omission. 🙂
Sue - May 10, 2022 6:12 pm
Dee, Sean didn’t mean to be offensive. You are right thought. Surely it was White Lily!
Suellen - May 7, 2022 4:47 pm
All those dears would be rolling in their graves with what passes for a church dinner or potluck these days. A lot of the younger generation has never learned to cook.
Dee Thompson - May 8, 2022 3:56 am
So true! It’s sad.
Victor Clark - May 7, 2022 4:54 pm
This is very offensive to me. Jesus died on the cross so that I can have eternal life.
Victor Clark Galatians 2:20
KATY @1:12 - May 13, 2022 5:12 pm
As Foghorn Leghorn would say, “Aahhh, Yes, sir! Yes, sir! I believe, I do believe that we all know that fried chicken didn’t die for our salvation. Tongue in cheek I say! Tongue in cheek.” 🍗🐥🍗🐣🍗
Sean of the South: Fried Glory | The Trussville Tribune - May 7, 2022 6:55 pm
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
Linda Moon - May 7, 2022 7:18 pm
I like Cousin Ed Lee’s answer. I like fellowship halls in churches with great cooks. I like stories about your family. Some of mine will be cooking for us in just a little while!
Becky Souders - May 7, 2022 7:29 pm
Good one, Sean Dietrich… I’m pretty sure I’m going to hunt down some fried chicken for supper! Thanks.
Tom - May 7, 2022 8:00 pm
Just the way I grew up in a small country Baptist church in Boldo, AL. If there is anything better than fried chicken, the good Lord kept it for Himself.
Renee - May 7, 2022 9:09 pm
No truer words were ever spoken!
Margaret Vandall - May 7, 2022 9:28 pm
I love your stories!!!!!
DianaUnknown or Deleted User - May 7, 2022 10:16 pm
I know this will bug me for a long time and I don’t really expect an answer, but why were you baptized so many times, or is this just Sean humor?
Steve McCaleb - May 7, 2022 10:56 pm
Do you rekon they still got room on Stone Mountain for Colonel Harlan J Sanders ?
Kate - May 7, 2022 11:58 pm
So true this! It was the meal after church and Uncle Charlie would join us. All very normal to us. It was the meal for so many times. Even today when we don’t have the time to cook, KFC has! Just go by a KFC in our South and see the long line at the drive through! It’s more than a meal. It’s comfort.
Sue - May 10, 2022 6:17 pm
Or Jack’s? My daddy said their chicken was much better than KFC He said it was more like his mama’s.
'ed Fox - May 7, 2022 11:59 pm
ehat happened to my comments?
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - May 8, 2022 1:26 am
Donna George-Moskovitz - May 8, 2022 10:37 am
I grew up and raised my kids in a small collection of Fundamental Independent Baptist Churches or a southern Baptist Churches. I remember all of this. And don’t forget to bless the hands that prepared it. A woman. P.S. And God bless the hands that set up the tables and chairs. Amen.
Deacon Nick - May 8, 2022 1:12 pm
Brother Sean, Peace to you! Having been raised Southern Baptist, myself and many others struggled with the question: If I am saved, why do I keep sinning?? Having swum the Tiber, I came to understand that Baptism is a one-time thing: it makes us a new creation in Christ, wiping out all our sins to that point. But Christ knew we would sin again, so He established another Sacrament: Reconciliation, where a priest — not because of his holiness but because he acts In The Person of Christ — forgives sinners who are truly sorry for their sins and truly seek to NOT sin again. Keep on keeping on, Brother Sean!
Sue - May 10, 2022 6:15 pm
Deacon Nick, I could give you some scripture that says you are already forgiven of the sins we commit after our profession of faith and baptism. But this isn’t a forum to go into that.
Dale Parsons - May 9, 2022 3:19 pm
Our denomination was ham and scalloped potatoes.
Sue - May 10, 2022 6:13 pm
Was that a Presbyterian church?