Some people consider him the most famous resident Kentucky has ever known. My mother hails from Kentucky. She was the third child of a gentle tenant farmer and his good-natured wife. This particular man was neither gentle nor good-natured. In fact, I have read he was rather mercurial, difficult to please. Which seemed odd given his public image of southern gentility.
I love fried chicken. Just last month I ate at Hill Country Chicken, my favorite New York City fast food restaurant. (If you go, try Mama El’s style, and be sure to get the mashed potatoes.) My love of chicken is deeply rooted. Grandma’s fried chicken was the best. Back then chickens were chickens, not bred to develop thick breasts in a week. They ate scraps from the kitchen and lived in a pen by the barn. Grandma fried her chickens in lard, which also had its impact on the taste, not to mention our arteries. Nowadays you don’t find many people frying chickens in lard. Still, I imagine if Grandma were alive she’d find a way to do her magic on today’s genetically modified chickens. Mom’s chicken was next, after Grandma’s. After that, the chicken of everybody else.
We had departed Eastern Kentucky’s close-in orbit and moved to northern Ohio, Akron to be exact. A new sit down restaurant had come to our neck of the woods. It was called Kentucky Fried Chicken. I guess we must have decided to eat there on the day of their grand opening, because as we sat nibbling on chicken legs, a big white Cadillac pulled up and a white-haired man in a white suit emerged. The staff said we were being visited by Colonel Harland Sanders, yep, the Colonel Sanders, goatee, cane and all. He came to our table and Mom told him she was from Bourbon County. We didn’t realize it at the time but Colonel Sanders was not from Kentucky. He was from Indiana, but Indiana Fried Chicken just didn’t have a ring to it. Colonel Sanders smiled and acted as if he knew where Bourbon County was and asked if we liked the chicken.
The truth is the chicken was okay. Just okay. But we kinda lied and said it was great because we had learned to be polite and all, no matter the circumstances. As quickly as he had come Colonel Sanders and his white Cadillac were gone, headed off to the next grand opening I suppose.
It is now over a half-century later. Colonel Sanders has been dead for quite some time, though the advertising folks keep resurrecting him. And me? I’ve been a Kentucky Colonel for better than 20 years. I knew the Assistant Secretary of State and he made me a Kentucky Colonel. I have the declaration somewhere in the basement. I haven’t started any restaurants though.
Grandma’s been gone for over three decades and Mom doesn’t fry chicken anymore. I count calories now and haven’t been to a KFC in forever. On most days I can still remember the taste of Grandma’s fried chicken, seasoned with plenty of humility and gentle goodness.
I suppose we only truly know a thing when we can place it in contrast with another thing. Colonel Sanders’ chicken let me know just how truly extraordinary Grandma’s chicken was, no Cadillac necessary—just love in a cast iron skillet.
And that’s my offering for today. Sometimes it’s not about changing the world. It’s just about good chicken.
Photo (Flickr CC) by knowmadic news