The Best Fried Chicken

During WW II, before I grew old enough to go to school, we lived in a suburb of Detroit, MI. For summer vacations, we vacationed in Gatlinburg, TN. Gatlinburg then remained a tiny village. You could stand at one end of town, look up the street toward the center of town, and not see a building or person.

It took two days to drive just over 600 miles one way. Both ways, we spent the night at the Colonial Motor Court in Corbin, Kentucky. We ate dinner and breakfast at the Colonial Kitchen.

We always ate fried chicken and biscuits for dinner. My brother Jimmy and I didn’t know there was anything else on the menu. For breakfast, Jimmy and I always ate pancakes. The grownups ate eggs, bacon, and biscuits.

On the wall, at nearly head-height for a grownup, small shelves like sconces held Depression Glass bowls full of honey, honeycomb, and a few deceased flies. Waitresses used glass ladles to dip honey into smaller Depression Glass bowls they placed on tables. I always watched with mixed emotions. I wanted them to get a goodly-sized chunk of comb, but I wanted them to miss all the flies. 

Often, we were among the last customers there. The chef usually came out from the kitchen, pulled out the end chair at our table, sat backwards, and talked with my parents. He took the baby’s bottle back into the kitchen and returned with it warmed to just the right temperature. Once, he took Jimmy and me in the back to see a real restaurant kitchen, even the waffle machine!

While he talked with our parents, he bounced the baby on his knee or held Jimmy or me on his lap. He made sure he talked with us, too, so we didn’t feel left out or completely bored.

For me, the stop in Corbin was the high point of a long, tedious trip, filled with squabbles, boredom, at least one flat tire, several detours, and other uncertainties we children did not understand.

Just as WW II ended, my grandmother bought a cabin, outside Gatlinburg. In 1950, we moved to Tennessee. We didn’t have vacations, and we didn’t stop in Corbin.

Years passed. I joined the ranks of snobs who believe fast food is in the category of evils made up of bad health, bad ecology, bad economy, and bad sense. One day, I made a particularly rude comment about Colonel Saunders. My father whipped around and glared at me. 

“You mind your manners, young lady! You used to sit on that man’s knees and love it!”

I stopped dead in my tracks. 

I blush to say I’d never made the connection. It never occurred to me the wonderful man who wore a chef’s hat—who sat in the turned-around chair, laughed with my parents, bounced me on his knee and kissed the top of my head, showed me the wonderful kitchen full of what I would come to covet as cooking tools and toys—that wonderful man was one and the same as the Colonel Saunders whose image I saw nearly every day as I drove around on my errands.

I felt dumbfounded, more than embarrassed, and dreadfully ashamed.

I’m also so grateful I cannot tell you. I can admit I crave Kentucky Fried Chicken. I’d not been able to explain it, but the smell always stirred a vague memory I hadn’t been able to put my finger on. It had stared at me all that time. The memory is real. The craving for something I’ve always loved is real. I can go home again! 

The commercials are right. Kentucky Fried Chicken really is the way Colonel Saunders made it. I remember eating that fried chicken. It tastes and smells today the way I remember it.

Recently, I learned my kidney function is poor. I’ve changed my diet. I rarely eat animal protein. But I learned a long time ago moderation is a good thing. There’s not a single absolute in my life, except I do not have any absolutes. 

I confess. I don’t inhale, but I am again a KFC user!

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