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My Second Mother
1. Add flour, potato flakes, seasoned salt, and pepper to bag and mix well.
The pan sizzled as the pink chicken legs dropped onto it, causing a splatter of oil to spew in all directions. I ducked my head as I stood by Lois, watching her skillfully move around the kitchen, performing tasks like clockwork; each hand powered by the Duracell of rhythm and experience. A distinctive smell traveled through the air; the smell of fried chicken, apple pie, and the secret ingredient, love. Lois always told me I was her “good little helper”, but I realized when I was older that I was probably more of a burden than a benefactor. At eight years old, I received the task of stirring the batter and fulfilling the duty of a taste tester, which in my opinion was of grand importance. No matter how many toes stepped on, glass bowls shattered, or mutilated egg shells mixed into cakes, Lois never lost her patience.
“Lois, I’m so sorry.” My voice trembled as I tried not to cry.
“Honey, so long as it was an accident, there’s nothing to be sorry for. Just keep practicing and you will be surprised by how much you improve.” She comforted me with her words and a wide smile, outlined in the matte red L’Oreal lipstick I had seen atop her dresser so many times. It reminded me of when my friend Malia and I strolled into the living room after applying viscous, crooked lines of Lois’s red lipstick with our feather boas in tow, only to be met with a sea of giggles and “Lord haaavve Mercy’s.” I wanted to spend every last moment at her house, clinging onto her panty-hose encased legs when it was time to leave, pleading to stay “just five more minutes”.
2. Beat egg in a shallow dish or bowl; heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.
As a kid, I had never paid attention when we crossed into the other side of town driving to her house. Or if a police car slowed and threw us a suspicious gaze. In Lois’s neighborhood, everyone received the benefit of the doubt and racial stereotypes were disregarded. When the ice cream truck turned onto the street, I saw all of my friends from the neighborhood emerge from houses both small and large, new and old, stable and volatile. Black, white, brown, it didn’t matter the color of their skin. We were all just kids with three things in common; we held crumpled dollar bills in our hands, our smiles were wiped by sticky fingers, and all of us would have gladly jumped out of bed in our footie pajamas if the ice cream truck embarked on a midnight run.
3. One by one, dredge chicken pieces in egg beat, then place in bag with crumb mixture, seal bag and shake to coat.
Lois had an uncanny ability to bring people together. Her dinners were not just food, but meals. The aromas danced through the air, informing us that dinner was ready and electrifying our taste buds. After the last chair was drawn, last flowered napkin unfolded, and last “amen” uttered, the meal began. Baskets of doughy buttered rolls, platters of crunchy green beans, and bowls of creamy potatoes transformed themselves into uncontrollable giggles, elaborate stories (most were old, altered in some form by a personal recount and then a rebuttal), and jubilant grins. At Lois’s house, I was accepted for exactly who I was, with only one condition; that I accept others in the same way. I was not just some kid she babysat for an hourly paycheck. I was part of her family.
4. Reduce heat to medium and cook coated chicken in skillet for 15 to 20 minutes, turning frequently.
Through the time I have spent with Lois, she has shared with me not only her recipe for chicken, but her recipe on how to be a kind, hardworking, and accepting member of society. Lois taught me lessons that would help me survive Le Cordon Bleu and Le Cordon Life. There is always room for one more recipe in the book, one more story, one more friend. When the egg shell cracks in your batter, either grit your teeth and chew it, or start over new. If you burn the pot roast 30 minutes before a dinner party, don’t panic, true friends will recognize your effort before anything else. Plus, Pizza Hut only takes 20 minutes to deliver. Crème Brulee is not more important than casserole, just because it has a fancy French name. And if your soufflé doesn’t rise the first time (or the second, or the fifteenth), keep adding, mixing, and baking until you achieve fluffy, satisfying, success.
5. Let the chicken cool for 5 minutes. Serve and enjoy.