Although I live in Texas now, I grew up in the deep South. Texas is not the south, by the way. It is Texas, and don't you ever forget it. Or the Alamo. Or bar-b-que, margaritas, Longhorns or the fact that Ted Nugent lives here now goddamit and eats at the I-Hop in Waco fully dressed head to toe in cammo gear, ever on the alert to take down any terrorists who may be quietly plotting to plunder, rape and pillage while enjoying a mile-high stack of chocolate chip pancakes. At least someone is in charge.
I miss the south, though. It has its own unique flavors and culture. Sweet tea is a commodity, as are turnip greens, cornbread and fried green tomatoes. Soul food. Not so good for the body, but hellacious good for the soul. I grew up on a steady diet of greens: mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, and on rare occasions, poke salad. Poke salad grows wild, and the greens are boiled, then drained, then boiled again. The first boiling produces a poisonous liquid; the second boiling a healthy tonic. This was probably the only thing that kept my heart beating at times, considering our heart un-healthy diet-- especially when we crumbled our cornbread into buttermilk. With butter. Fried cornbread, at that.
Oh, dear Lord; I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.
My mother has cancer. I'm at the age where lots of us are losing parents to old age and disease. My father, unfortunately, was killed in an accident twenty five years ago, but had he lived I imagine he would have remained healthy. He was a runner, lifted weights, and was interested in health and nutrition. Well, except for Big Chik, the mecca for fried chicken. My dad loved Big Chik. Fried chicken, cole slaw, french fries, and what he liked to call a "bladder buster" iced tea. Sweet, of course.
A few months ago I adopted a vegan diet. Not just for health reasons, but mostly
to torture myself out of a deep concern for environmental issues. From what I have read lately, meat is not only chocked full of hormones, etc., but also contributes to such lovelies as, oh, say...global warming, Mad Cow disease, E.coli, heart disease, just to name a few. But the taste! As a confirmed carnivore, giving up the flesh was hard. (I have to admit that reading "Skinny Bitch" did wonders to convince me that the deliciousness was not worth the risk. Damn you, "Skinny Bitch" authors!)
So last weekend I flew to Georgia to be with my [allegedly] dying mother. I say "allegedly" because
I am a cold, calculating daughter who doesn't give a damn she has pretty much been sick and dying since I was born, so for nearly fifty years I have been on the edge of my seat with this dying business. After a while it's a bit anticlimactic, if you ask me. In addition to that, Mommy Dearest has not endeared herself to other family members; out of five children, I am one of two who still speak to her. And since my brother is teaching English in Asia, you-know-who was elected to fly to Georgia to manage things. I did what I had to do, like it or not.
Between closing up a home, her business and making trips back and forth to the hospital, keeping up with my vegan diet became less of a priority. I always figure, if it's too much work, it's too much trouble. I had found a wonderful soul food restaurant in town where I ate only [for sure not cooked in animal fats, no way] vegetables, but on this particular day, they were closed. Mama was having a bad day, and as I wanted to get back to the hospital as soon as possible, I defaulted to the Big Chik, fries and all (I did skip the biscuit...watching my weight, you know.) I took the food back to the hospital where I proceeded to
devour enjoy the comforting flavors from my past.
And enjoy it I did! I ate the fried skin, the mayo-laden coleslaw, the french fries, and of course, the should-come-with-its-own-catheter sweet tea. I'm not sure when I have enjoyed a meal more. It was decadent, it tasted good, and I was somehow able to shelve my guilt while dripping
poor, dead chicken juice grease down my arms.
About halfway through my eating-frenzy, I awoke from my fried-chicken-induced-stupor and took in the surreal scene around me: HGTV was airing some kind of heart-wrenching make-over show, I--allegedly vegan--was sitting there with a lap full of meat and dairy products (mayo with a bit of coleslaw thrown in), and my mother was laying in her bed, dying of colon cancer. And the thought that came to mind at that moment was, Please God, please, do not let my mother die before I finish my fried chicken!
I am not a selfish person by nature, and honestly, as difficult as my mother has been for...oh, my ENTIRE LIFE, I still have compassion for her experience. But I would have been helluvapisstoff if she had chosen that moment to finally give up the ghost. It was going to be a Sophie's Choice for me at that point, and I was contemplating that, if she DID die before I was finished, would some kind of alarm go off to alert the nurses? And if it didn't, how guilty would I be if I indeed did go ahead and finish the Soul-Damning Chicken, then go fetch the nurse. Because if I put the chicken down, it would be down for good. And that was not a choice I wanted to have to make.
All I can say is: that was some good fried chicken. When I have a heart-attack five years from now, I will probably flash back to that scene and WISH TO GOD I HAD EATEN MORE FRIED CHICKEN. And when the alarm by my bed sounds when my time comes, I hope my daughter is in the middle of something she truly enjoys. She will have no doubt that I would want her to finish it. No doubt at all.