We weren't the Waltons.
But for one day we thought we were.
Her food was legendary. Her cooking divine.
Deviled eggs sprinkled with paprika in a 1940s cut glass egg dish garnished with olives and cherry tomatoes that matched the red paprika. And parsley in the middle surrounding chunks of cheese. That was my grandmother's egg plate.
I have her dish from Thanksgivings past.
Let me tell you about the chicken. Do you know what "scald on the chicken" means? It was something akin to cosmic perfection. Crust on the chicken that was heaven fried. Black pepper and salt to the nines and juicy chicken parts dripping with her grease-fried pan chicken smoldering in THIS pan - a black cast iron skillet.
And then she would scrape up the crackly pieces of fried skin that fell off the bird and leave them in a corner of the pan with the leftover Crisco grease. A handful of self-rising flour thrown in on top of that would start the tedious process of making the milk gravy. Stir stir stir the cracklings with the flour and grease....then came the water sloowwwwly poured over the leftover pieces that were now thickened and making a tasty country gravy as she stirred with a wooden spoon. The water made a big whoosh of steam in the kitchen when it hit the hot skillet. I watched her do it a million times. Sometimes even more salt and pepper. She would stir the fried pieces into the water and cook them a few minutes until the water turned brown...but not too fast and not too slow...the temperature had to be just right. Her touch was just right. Then came the milk and more stirring. Bubbling. Thickening. Perfection. Sometimes she would add the chicken breasts back in and cook the gravy with the meat awhile longer but most often she poured the brown gravy into an oval white porcelain gravy bowl (mine now) and we would have it over biscuits. My Papa ate his with cheese on top of biscuits and then gravy on top of that.
It's funny. As special as I knew that gravy was, it really wasn't anything new to my grandfather. At noon each day the whistle would blow at the furniture plant and a few minutes later he'd come home for lunch. Most often chicken and gravy and a set table at noon everyday everyday everyday. I don't remember him ever eating a sandwich or junk at lunch. She set the table with a tablecloth, the oven timed perfectly to the sound of the whistle. That's when the biscuits would come out piping hot in the tiny kitchen with the crank-out windows and brown stone walls. He loved cucumbers drowning in vinegar and onions, tomato slices with sugar on top, homemade pickles , homemade banana pudding.
And then at five minutes til time to be back to work we'd hear the whistle blow again in that small small town. He'd finish his coffee and kiss us goodbye. Back to work for three more hours in those tight-laced painful boots of his and putting on his hat as he walked out the door. As wonderful as her Thanksgiving meals were for a very large extended family, it is not the fine china and linen memories I treasure the most. That was enormous noise and hustle and bustle and cousins from afar who I wouldn't see for another year, nice and cozy, but not the everyday magic I remember at the sound of whistles. Silver tea sets don't hold a candle you see to offerings of everyday love on a thick white tablecloth with blue and gold trim.
Regardless of the fact that he had exactly 30 minutes to get home, wash up, eat and get back to work before that sound...he took time to bow his head while one of them said grace before he touched a fork or a spoon. He took the time to share a wishbone with me and let me make a wish. I remember. Oh yes. I do.
How did my mind go down that whistle road?
Oh because I smell her chicken
and I see her apron
and I feel the tablecloth in my fingers
and I still hear the grace