Southern Folks: Sunday lunch and Monday leftovers...perfection

Bill Stamps

You know what I like almost as much as fried chicken? Cold fried chicken.

It can sit in the fridge for several nights and still taste good with a glass of ice tea. Throw in a little macaroni salad, a dash of salt. Heavy-up on the pepper. Warm up a biscuit, and you're in business. Reminds me of years back, Sundays after church in Tennessee.

When I was a child, I lived with my grandparents on their farm in Middle Tennessee. They didn't go to church very often. At the time, that suited me just fine. When we did end up going, it was a grueling couple of hours for me. I had to live up to my grandmother, Miz Lena's, church etiquette and protocol that felt very much like the four years I spent in the Marine Corps.

She'd say, "Tuck yore shirt in, Son. Fix yore belt. You need to tighten up them shoe laces. Good Lord! How'd you git yore pants dirty, already? Here you are, almost a grown man, and you kain't comb yore hair yet." I was not quite six. And, that was before we even got inside the church.

Sitting in the pew, it was, in a loud whisper, her leaning down toward me, "Stop fidgeting. Sit up straight, Son. No, you can go to the bathroom when the sermon's done." It was a long morning. They were Presbyterian.

It was immeasurably more fun to go to church with Elizabeth, Miz Lena's maid. She and her husband, Booker, and several other black families lived on the farm. They were sharecroppers.

There was a little white clapboard church, just two steps up and over the fence, on the back side of Miz Lena's property. Every Sunday morning, the church doors were opened to the families who worked the fields of the surrounding farms. They came in their "Sunday best." An array of jubilant colors, spit-shined shoes and Adorn-sprayed wigs.

All kinds of musical instruments. Hand clapping. Everybody smiling. Singing. One song after another. The service lasted twice as long as Grand Mom's church. No matter. Sometimes, they'd pass around a couple of tambourines. Elizabeth said I had good rhythm. Baptists knew how to have a good time.

After church, unless there was a baptism to attend, we'd head back to Elizabeth's house for Sunday lunch. Actually, it would already be well past noon. Black Baptist ministers can preach a while.

Miz Lena had pre-approved me having lunch at Elizabeth's. Eating utensils, plates and glasses, were sent down from the "big house." They were exclusively for me. Elizabeth kept them in the bottom of the cupboard in her kitchen. That's just the way it was back then.

While Elizabeth and several of her "sisters from church" prepared lunch, I'd change into my play clothes and run out in the backyard and play tag with the other kids who lived on Miz Lena's farm or attended the church.

One of the sisters hollered out the backdoor, "Y'all chilren, come on now and git cleaned up. Remember, they ain't no runnin' in da house."

We all washed up outside on the porch. On the steps, a shallow tin bowl of pump water; a few wash rags, and a bar of Ivory. The last one to clean up was responsible for emptying the bowl, wringing out the cut-up towels, that we called wash rags, and bringing the soap back inside. Somehow, that always ended up being me.

An assortment of tables and chairs that spread from the kitchen out to the adjoining back screen porch. The feast was laid out, in the kitchen, on the drain board and a fold-out card table. Some of the ladies sat out on the porch with us kids. Most of them sat in the kitchen.

The men sat out on the front porch. They talked "men talk." A couple of them smoked cigarettes while they ate.

After a prayer or two of thanks to the Lord Above, lunch would commence. There was always Elizabeth's famous and perfect fried chicken. Maybe a ham. Pretty much everything came right off the farm.

Every vegetable you can imagine. Some, you don't hear about much anymore, unless you're from the South. Turnips, squash, cauliflower, fried okra, butter beans, collard greens, pinto beans and fried potatoes, sliced thin. There might be a couple of pork chops or a half bowl of sweet corn or mashed potatoes that Elizabeth had kept in her fridge for two or three days. It was like a clearing house. It was sooooo good.

Elizabeth asked me, "Did Miz Lena like dat chicken I send her last time?" I told her that Grand Mom loved her fried chicken and her pie. Kinda self-serving. It just so happened, I loved her pies almost as much as her fried chicken. I told her, "Grand Mom really loves the drumsticks, Elizabeth. And, she said your pies are the best in the county." That made her smile.

Elizabeth packed up a grocery store bag with a little of this and that, including three or four slices of pie and several pieces of chicken, for me to take back up to the "big house." My grandparents and I would have some of the pie that evening. Their's with a cup of coffee. Mine with a glass of ice-cold Sealtest milk.

I always looked forward to our next-day Monday lunches that were affectionally known as "Elizabeth's Leftovers." The leftover vegetables were reheated. They actually tasted better than the day before.

When it came to Elizabeth's chicken, we ate it cold. Because, you just don't wanna take a chance on messing up perfection.