Tears and Laughter: Good company

I don’t suppose you can be born and raised and live life in the South without developing some kind of appreciation for the chicken.

Any time I am with a group of people trying to decide on a restaurant, it is how I bow out. I say, “I’m good wherever we go. Everywhere has something I will like.”

What I mean in saying that is once you get south of the Tennessee line, everywhere serves chicken. Like in Camden, we only have four red lights, but you can get fried chicken at almost a dozen places.

It was the one thing Granny Huckabee didn’t cook. She said it was cheaper to buy it in Thomasville and take it home with her than it was to heat up the kitchen and fry it herself. And then she would always add that she didn’t have to clean up the mess afterwards either.

My mother shared and practiced Granny’s logical chicken philosophy. I might not have ever learned how to properly fry a chicken had it not been for a kind woman in Wilcox County over 30 years ago.

What happened was that for a few years while I was growing-up my dad had a pressure washing side business. I would sometimes go with him and my brother to different jobs. Over time they worked at some upscale places, but this was not one of them. It was a white wood frame house with peeling paint in the depths of rural nowhere.

She noticed me as she talked business at her back stoop, not a porch, but just enough space for her to open the backdoor and walk out. Before she went back in she asked if I would like to come inside and wait with her while they worked. I climbed the white steps to find they led directly into her kitchen.

“I was just about to fry chicken,” she said, and continued washing and patting and salting and peppering and flouring, all the while letting a generous amount of Crisco melt in a black iron skillet on the stove as she talked.

She was a widow. She was an active in her church. She was the mother of daughter she loved and a successful son. Pictures of their life formed almost a shrine throughout the small house. Her daughter was attractive, her son athletic and smart. He had received many awards and achieved many accomplishments, away.

The chicken slowly fried, without any rushing from her, as she turned it once and waited. When it was done, she left it to cool as she showed me more pictures on the wall and stood before them talking.

Once it wasn’t so hot it would burn our fingers, we sat across from one another at the small table in her kitchen. She had vegetables from her garden, squash, and some peas with okra and then cornbread, of course.

I guess we were good company to one another that afternoon. I never fry chicken that I don’t think of her. And I have ordered it just about everywhere it seems, and none of it has ever compared. But then again, that’s what some memories will do. Her house remains a wood frame castle in my mind too.

Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Alabama Watchman, Al.com, The Thomasville Times, and The Wilcox Progressive Era. For more information, visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.