Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fried Chicken, Gooseberry Pie, and Memories

The rain yesterday made me nostalgic. I couldn’t stop thinking about my brothers and sisters, my mom, Grandma and Grandpa Whittle, and other bygone times. I grew up in the Ozarks and perhaps it was the wind blowing through the trees as storm after storm passed by that had me thinking of the woods of home.

Whatever the reason, I never left the house until late afternoon for my annual trip to Jefferson City for the chicken dinner fundraiser hosted by the local Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk Committee.

I started going to the dinner and auction years ago when my friend, Ted Distler called me up. “Linda Fisher,” he would say, “are you coming to our chicken dinner this year?”

“Of course,” I always answered. “I love fried chicken.”

Fried chicken always makes me think of Sunday dinner when I was a kid. My mom used to cut up chicken, roll it in flour and cook it in heavy cast iron skillets. It took a lot of chicken to feed a family with eight kids. The meal at the chicken dinner last night was much like what we had—crispy chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans—they even had chocolate sheet cake for dessert.

“Well, we have a gooseberry pie to auction off,” Ted would taunt during his annual calls. Ted and I were lively bidders on the gooseberry pie. He usually won, and that’s saying something considering how competitive I am.

This year, I bought two tickets from one of the coordinators at the Caregiver Conference. That’s when I heard that Ted wasn’t planning on being at the chicken dinner. I called him and, reversing roles, tried to talk him into coming. I thought he was convinced, because, after all, who was going to bid against me on the gooseberry pie?

After eating fried chicken, I perused the live auction items. Two things caught my eye—gooseberry pie and an oil painting of Native American pots. Ted wasn’t there to save me from the gooseberry pie, so I bought it for a mere $55. After I bought the oil painting (along with two others), my friend and I headed home.

“If you have milk, I have pie,” I announced, like that was a secret.

Boy, did my taste buds come alive when I took my first bite of the pie. It tasted just like the pie my grandma used to make from the gooseberries grandpa picked. I closed my eyes as I savored the flavor, and a rush of memories whirled through my brain like a good old Missouri tornado. I saw my Grandma and Grandpa Whittle and me in our straight-back chairs in the backyard of their little house north of Stover. Grandpa had gathered a big bucket of gooseberries, and we all stemmed them. I loved stemming gooseberries and talking with my grandparents.

I remember putting salt into the palm of my hand and dipping wet, raw gooseberries in the salt. The tangy flavor made my mouth water, and my jaws locked from the flavorful burst of the berries when I bit into them. The only thing better than raw gooseberries was grandma’s pie and a cold glass of milk.

I picked up the pie plate from the auction and saw a label on the bottom. This wonderful pie, which turned out to be worth more than the $55 I paid for it, was the creation of Esther Kempker. Now that I’ve had a taste of her pie, Ted better be prepared to go the distance, or he’ll never outbid me again.

Thinking about the gooseberry pie makes me hungry—and I haven’t had breakfast yet, unless a banana counts for the most important meal of the day. It may be decadent to eat pie for breakfast, but my heart is telling me to pour a glass of milk, cut a piece of pie, and close my eyes to feel the love.

Copyright (c) May 2010 L. S. Fisher
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