A Mother, There Is Only One
The days my mom would make fried chicken were extra special. For me, they meant racing in and out of the kitchen, predatorily circling, slamming the barely-there screen door, over and over, it creaking, slowly, even when I carefully tried to close it, until my mother would give me the look, which we all knew meant cut it out, ya basta! It wasn’t so much the eyes that were scary, as much as the brows, the way one would furl up while the other slouched down, almost touching the flour-stained red cheek on my mother’s light complexion. No words were necessary when we got that stare.
Our kitchen was long and simple, a tiny stove on one side, a small fridge on the other side, white cabinets, just big enough to fit our food, at the entrance a screen door that might as well have been a revolving door as much as my two brothers and I jumped through it, onto the cement block right below, just before the sandy, sometimes snake-infested, ground. At the other end a handmade, wooden picnic table which we used as a dining table surrounded by tree stumps for chairs. Behind it a single window with a solid maroon, pink and blue polka-dotted curtain; this is where we celebrated birthdays every couple of months, or in some cases every couple of days, with homemade, marmalade-sandwiched, double-layered cakes covered in egg-beaten, color-dyed frosting . My brother was born in March. My sister in June – ten days before me. My other sister in July. My youngest brother in August – nineteen days before my father. And my mother in December. We were all under 13. My two youngest sisters had not been born yet in these, our early days in the Rio Grande Valley.
Raw chicken dipped in egg whites, rolled over loose flour spread on a bare counter, tossed in a scorching hot, grease-jumping frying pan full of melted lard. Hay, every once in a while my mother would yell when the grease popped onto her arm while making her McCook-famous fried chicken. She knew this was my favorite meal so every time I’d threaten to run away and go hide in the bushes outside she’d start frying and sooner or later I’d come running back to the jumbo bottle of ketchup already waiting for me on the table. When we weren’t mad I’d make sure to stay close at any cost to make sure I got to the fried chicken before anyone else did.
Grease and ketchup running down my arms as I hungrily raced to stuff as many crunchy drumsticks into my mouth as possible, then I’d take my tongue and lick the flavor off my arms and fingers until I couldn’t eat anymore. Cochino! Gross! Nasty! Cochino, marrano del monte!, my brothers and sister s would yell at me for doing this, but my mother would say nothing, she’d just warmly smile, her eyes sparkling at me in approval. After I was done, everyone else would sit down to eat. This was her way of spoiling me and I knew it. Even with the look I knew the fried chicken was for me.