Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
By Gina Reed
One of my favorite stories of my maternal grandmother was when her sister, Ella, who owned a restaurant in their hometown of St. Clair, Missouri, called out to the farm on a Sunday afternoon and said, “Edna, I have a group of people here that came in late, and they are wanting fried chicken, and I’m all out of chicken.” So, Grandma went out to the chicken yard, caught six chickens, dressed them, took them to town, and helped fry and serve them, while the people visited and waited patiently. And even though they had come in “late,” at 1 pm, they were done with their meal by 3:30.
It is a stunning story for several reasons. Even though it was the 1930’s and many people at that time still grew and prepared food themselves, the thought of catching one chicken, let alone six, makes one pause and wonder if it is even possible in less than an hour. Chickens are fast, especially when they suspect something is afoot. And for those not understanding the term, “dressing” a chicken does not mean putting a bonnet on it. It means chopping off its head, dipping it in boiling water, pulling out the feathers, cutting open the bird and removing the entrails. Yes, it is just as disgusting as it sounds. I know all about it. My mother made me learn how to dress a chicken because she was sure it was a skill I would need. I still thank God every time I see meat trays with plastic-wrapped, cut-up chickens.
Things are very different now. We have all heard the story of the girl who, after hearing animal rights protesters cry over the treatment of farm animals, said, “I don’t know why they have to kill animals, you can get meat at any grocery store.” Perhaps the people in Aunt Ella’s restaurant were able to wait patiently because they knew the details of their chicken dinner. They also knew Ella’s reputation for being a great cook and were willing to wait because she was renowned for her fried chicken.
During every deer hunting season, there is a photo on social media of a person dressed in camouflage, with a high-powered rifle and scope, next to a cornfield, holding up the head of an obviously corn-fed deer. My favorite remark about one of these pictures was, “Quit bragging. It’s not like you had to run it down and kill it with a spear.” Oh, don’t people like to joke. But it’s true-things are different today. It is so much easier to hunt food now. Animals can’t fight back against artillery.
One of the saddest stories my maternal grandfather told was in the first spring after his father had died, and it was time to plow the field. He hitched the mule to the 2-bottom plow and went out to the field, and the mule laid down and refused to move. Grandpa was crying, because he was just 12 years old, his father was dead, he couldn’t make the mule go, and the neighbor stopped and said, “You can’t just stand there and cry, you’re the man of the house now.” He finally got the mule to go and plowed until sundown. Then at daybreak the next day, he got up and he and the mule planted corn all day. It was 1913. There were no tractors or combines. Everything was planted and harvested by hand and mule.
Such a contrast to today. Everybody eats-in fact, food is so plentiful now that Americans have a problem with obesity, not starvation. But fewer and fewer people grow and prepare the food. This is what leads first to ignorance of the facts of growing and preparing food, to people being downright scornful of the people who do grow and prepare the food. Every day, we see people being rude to farmers and food service workers. I know this also. I spent the last nine years in food service, and people are, how do you say it? Horrible.
I will not go on about the stories of rudeness and inconsiderate behavior of customers. I will just say that I saw it nearly every day for nine years. I will also say, many customers were completely understanding and patient, even grateful to be fed, so it’s not like all people are terrible. Unfortunately, it’s the terrible ones you remember. I was already having a tough day when a woman came in to order a chicken sandwich. Nowadays, chicken comes in boxes, frozen, ready to cook. But it still takes six minutes to cook. Chicken is most delicious when it is deep-fried and fresh out of the fryer, much more so than if it has been fried, put on a bun, and set under a heat lamp. The six-minute wait is worth it. But nowadays, you must warn people they will wait six whole minutes for their sandwich, because some of them come absolutely unglued at having to wait that long, and on that already tough day, this woman announced that she SHOULD NOT have to wait SIX MINUTES for a chicken sandwich, and she angrily stomped out of the restaurant.
At that moment, all the old stories from my grandparents came rushing into my mind, and I wanted so badly to follow that woman into the parking lot and scream at her, “It’s not like you had to chase it down and kill it and cook it yourself!” But I did not. I must live in this town and doing things like that gives you the reputation for being difficult, not the customer. I also understood for the first time why the Lord does not let us know our last day: Because customer service would really, really suffer.
Therefore, friends-eat, drink and be merry. But do not forget where your food comes from, what animal or plant gave its life so you could live, how it is made, or who serves you. I suspect that people who are cruel to farmers, cooks and waiters spend eternity in the chicken-plucking room.