The best meal of my life: Fried chicken with memories

The best meal of my life was on a beautiful fall day, crisp and bright blue, the day of the memorial service following my mom’s death from Alzheimer’s Disease. She had died a few weeks earlier, under hospice care, with two of us present. The relief we felt was real, as the years’ long decline that took her from a witty intelligent and independent woman to a patient with little ability to be herself had lasted so long. It was a blessing to all of us though that she escaped the personality change that often accompanies Alzheimer’s. She was kind and loving until the end.

The five of us at the memorial service,  my husband and I and our two grown children and our minister, sat in a circle in the church sanctuary on folding chairs. Everyone else who might have come was either dead or states away and unable to travel.

We took turns reading from items I had discovered going through her belongings. Things like a deposit slip on which she had scribbled in purple, “One day you’re a peacock, the next a feather duster.” A carefully typed poem  entitled Courage about standing up to loss: “Life brings such blinding things,” it said. And a letter she’d written home during her first year of college, full of longing for her family and the mountains she grew up in but of excitement about the new future  she was crafting. Our little DIY ceremony was her perfect goodbye, though it felt like she was still here, and still does.

So, what else could we have done, but go back to our house for a meal of her favorite foods? The menu:

Fried chicken, not as good as hers, but what could be?

Fried okra, cooked in an iron skillet, indescribably crunchy while soft, blackened without being burned, almost as good as my grandmother’s

Overcooked green beans with salt pork, perfectly mushy Southern-style

Cheesy potatoes from the Rombauer and Becker cookbook she counted on, which she had made with and for my daughter over and over

Blonde brownies, the same ones she made for every class party, holiday, special occasion of my childhood

We didn’t have pear slices on top of iceberg lettuce with a maraschino cherry on top. We didn’t have big glasses of milk, or red jello with fruit cocktail suspended inside, or Chicago Brick ice cream, but we could have. My only regret is that we didn’t make cornbread.

The conversation was cheerful, the meal the ultimate comfort food. We ingested the feelings of the day – gratitude, appreciation, togetherness, wistfulness, relief – right along with the food. We laughed a lot, maybe teared up once or twice, and ate it all.

There will be delicious meals in my future, but none so fitting as this one. I think it’s time to replicate it sometime soon. I hope you have such a meal in your memory bank.

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The memorial service consisted of five people sitting in a circle in folding chairs – my husband and me and our two adult children, and our minister. Everybody else who might have been there was either already dead or states away and too old to travel.  We readfrom random notes I’d found among her things, like the bank deposit slip where she has scribbled in purple ink: One day you are the peacock,ext da

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