It was 7 a.m. when I was finally done frying up the last batch of chicken. I started at 5 a.m.; I had just gotten home twenty minutes earlier, after a long, fun night of frolicking and festivities. I was ready to hit the showers and sleep when it dawned on me, "It's Sunday. And Sunday is fried chicken day."
Back on the farm, I grew up eating fried chicken on Sundays. Sundays were when my family held our weekly midday feast. All our nearby and visiting loved ones and friends were invited. It was a community potluck event, where people brought different dishes to share. My family's contribution were the fried chicken, a creamy spinach casserole, and other side dishes.
Mom would make pie--pineapple, key lime, or lemon meringue, my faves, still to this day. My elderly aunt and uncle would bring the main desserts, a cake, some cobbler, or even brownies and éclairs. Others would bring fish, lamb, or pork. Often, the dishes varied every feast. It made those meals interesting and festive. But one dish was always present: every Sunday, we had fried chicken. And fried chicken always tasted great.
The farm was big enough to host the large weekly gathering. It was one of the few times the formal dining room would be used, full of important visitors and senior family members and friends. The kitchen table, where we had most of our daily meals, was filled with adults and small children.
Most of the older kids and teens spilled out into the covered porch or made use of the big outside kitchen, a separate, neighboring building. It had a large dining area with picnic tables and benches. This was where we prepared large meals for huge gatherings. This was where we had the wood burning stoves. The large BBQ pit was in the back.
I dreaded Sunday mornings, because we had to get up early. I didn't want to wake up early on Sunday. I loved sleeping in--still do! And I also loved Sunday breakfast--egg sandwiches, pancakes, and other times, waffles. On really busy days, we had cereal. Breakfast was great. My two brothers and I got to share that time with our Mom and Dad. We sat down to eat after we fed all the critters and our livestock. We even put out bread and fruit and seeds for the birds.
My two brothers and I would wash our hands after chores, then sit down and enjoy chatting with Mom and Dad over the delicious breakfast. The older siblings would hover nearby, either sharing our meal or fixing something they'd rather eat instead, talking amongst themselves about teenage things, sometimes with their friends who spent the night.
What I really hated was getting ready for Sunday school and having to go spend the next two to three hours at church. No, you read that right: Two to three excruciating hours at a long, boring service! There was never anything spiritual about it. I never felt a connection. And I struggled to stay awake or sit still while the preacher droned on, or he kept asking for various donations for many church "improvement projects"; none of which were for charity or community projects, ever!
It's no wonder my brothers and I often got into trouble for sneaking out of church to go play games with the other kids who snuck out. We all pretended to go use the restroom. But it was worth the scolding to escape the confining, suffocating, and stifling atmosphere of the service.
The best part of Sunday was always the midday feast, after church was over. Unfortunately, we'd have to go to church again for a second late afternoon service! This made me exasperated! Were our morning prayers not enough? Did the good Lord not hear us the first time? Did we need a second service to boost the prayer signal of the first? Can He hear us now? It was thankfully only an hour long, but good gawd, it was the repeat of the same uninspired morning service sermon!
Luckily, I was always happy for the Sunday feast, the highlight of the day. That was when we shared lots of good food with good company, our relatives and friends. That made for good times! There was a specific order of service that I still follow to this day: Guests, seniors, and important adults and small children and babies are served the meal first. Then it's the other adults. And finally, the moody teenagers (usually serve themselves and) eat whatever and wherever they want.
The weekly Sunday feast was a long family tradition practiced by generations of my family on the remote, rural coast. Our family and friends would come and join us for a large meal gathering after church. It was a potluck where people brought dishes to share, and spent hours laughing, singing, sleeping, gossiping, and enjoying each other's company.
Though some spent the day resting, it was a fun time to play and hang out with cousins and friends. Some Sundays, we held impromptu talent shows, where people sang or told stories, or just danced to Swing, Golden Age Rock and Roll, or Rhythm and Blues. It's where I was introduced to a lot of retro music that I still love to this day. And every time I hear those songs, I am immediately transported back to those large, lively, boisterous gatherings, people laughing, dancing, and singing. Most times, I find myself dancing to those tunes as they play on the radio.
When I was a small child, I was a very picky eater. And fried chicken was among my faves. While I didn't always like the other dishes being served, I could always count on eating some crispy, tasty fried chicken. When I became a teen and an adventurous eater, I appreciated the variety of and efforts that went into making many of the shared dishes. I loved trying them out, and I really enjoyed them. But I was also very excited to have the usual, the Sunday staple, the delectable fried chicken.
Fried chicken was the first special occasion food that I learned to make. It holds a special place in my heart. It makes me think of home, of my mother teaching me to make it when I was eleven. It was the beginning of my love for cooking! I smile when I recall my first time putting a meal together by myself when I was twelve.
I will forever treasure the looks of joy on my nieces, nephews, and brothers' faces whenever I made fried chicken in the middle of the week, as a special surprise, a celebratory meal. And I loved being part of the cooking crew who prepared the Sunday feast. I was excused from morning service (Yay!), and I was part of a select group of a few older siblings, uncles, and aunts who worked to make a great feast.
I felt special being a part of the group. I was given a responsibility, trusted to perform an important, honorable service. I was the youngest at twelve. And I felt older and somewhat privileged to be in the company of the cooking crew, who told rowdy jokes and kept me laughing and entertained with all the gossip and secrets!
I felt as if I were a part of a secret society, granted access to hidden mysteries and sacred wisdom. They taught me so many things about food, life, and creativity. The cooks always ate last at the feast. Or so I was told by my older, bossy siblings before they marched off to morning service.
But not me. I was like, not this cook! I'm going to eat whatever I feel like eating, whenever I feel like eating it! And that's exactly what we did. We tasted each food we made, to make sure that it was good and scrumptious. It was quality control. We were basically snacking, and by the time for the midday feast arrived, we'd be full! So naturally, we ate last, when it was time to serve dessert!
I have many pleasant memories of the Sunday feast. Sometimes, that's when we celebrated good news: Someone's birthday, a graduation, an engagement, a wedding, a new baby! Other times, we cried and laughed as we told stories and comforted each other over memories of our recently passed loved ones. Telling tales and listening to those stories made it feel like they were still there at the feast, still among us, still sharing in our laughter and good meal.
Everyone back home had a special, weekly Sunday meal. But ours was the only one where we always had friends over, and there was always fried chicken. So fried chicken symbolized family, special occasions, and love for me. It was a part of my family tradition, my heritage, something that was always present and comforting and nourished the body, heart, and soul.
When I left the farm to live out in the big world, I was surprised to learn that not everyone had a special weekly gathering meal. I was even more shocked to learn that not everyone had ever tasted good fried chicken or had it for special occasions! Naturally, I held my own version of the Sunday feast. That meant one day a week, I'd gather my friends and we'd share a meal. It wasn't always on Sunday or even fried chicken. And it wasn't always a home cooked meal. Sometimes, it was eating out at a restaurant or hanging out at a dive bar.
A few times, it was a quick bite at a fast food joint or some tacos in the park from a food truck. The important thing was, we spent some time together, sharing good food, good company, and having a good time. It was important to catch up with each other; to talk and laugh; to renew our ties; and keep our friendship thriving. It's essential and joyful to spend precious time with the people you cherish and love.
It has been many years since I've been back home at the remote, rural coast. Still, I make fried chicken on Sundays. Because Sunday is fried chicken day. And it reminds me of home, and it makes me feel happy to share it with the people I love and watch them enjoy it. And I like it, too, when I eat it by myself. Because I take a moment to think of all the loved ones I've shared a Sunday fried chicken meal with. I smile at the memories of love, laughter, and talks we shared, and I wish those loved ones well, wherever they are now.
At this point, I've spent as many years out here in the big, metropolitan world as I did back home in the wild, frontier edge where I was born and raised. It's been several years since I visited home. The last time was to see my mother's passing. And she passed on peacefully, surrounded by those she loved. Though I've spent half my life and thousands of miles so far away from the obscure, distant coastal farm of my childhood, I still make fried chicken on Sunday.
Fried chicken on Sunday reminds me of home, and it's a part of my tradition, a part of my family, a sacred heritage that I carry with me, wherever the road takes me. They say: Home is where the Heart is. And I carry my Home in my Heart. Love makes a family and creates a Home. And fried chicken is a scrumptious expression of love, and it comforts me with the feeling of home.
May you find yourself surrounded by laughter, joy, and good experiences and fun adventures. And may you find serenity and comfort and peace in your life and your journey in the world. Whatever you're doing, I hope you enjoy some delicious fried chicken and spend some time with the people you love, sharing good food and good company. And wherever you are today, I hope it's some place safe, and I wish you lots of happiness and good health and good times.
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