Columnist: The magic of a fry pan and fried chicken

Lynn Walker Gendusa - Contributing columnist

If you come from the hills of Tennessee or anywhere in the old South, you probably inherited or own a cast iron skillet. I have a stack of them.

I can still remember my tiny great-grandmother standing over her wood burning stove, apron tied around her waist, her hair twisted in a bun, frying something in her old, black fry pan. I now have that skillet that she inherited. It is at least 150 years old and is still frying.

My grandmother had the skillet next, along with an assortment of other sizes she either inherited from someone or bought. One day right before I married she handed one down to me.

She was the funniest woman I have ever known. I still remember her holding that heavy cast iron fry pan up over her head by the handle saying, “Now, Lynn, you know that this can be used for things other than frying, don’t you? Don’t you let anyone hurt you. You whack ‘um with this if they do, you hear?”

When I lived alone for many years, I had that old iron skillet under the bed. I would take it out only when I needed to fry up some chicken.

My mother, the next one in line, swore you couldn’t eat a better grilled cheese sandwich than one she had fried in butter in her tiny iron skillet. She was right, you couldn’t. It is so tiny, it only holds one sandwich and will bake up just enough cornbread for two.

Every time I cook with one of those skillets the memories come flooding back of the wonderful, strong, Southern women who used them. I am reminded of how blessed I am to be able to prepare a meal while imagining they are standing right beside me as I do.

I have determined that fried chicken is as magical as my pans.

I learned to fry it years ago. My recipe is unusual and comes from someone else’s grandma in Florida. I’ll bet they used an old iron skillet and it is associated with its own batch of stories.

When you have an accent like mine, folks expect you to know how to cook fried chicken. That’s the truth!

My friend Susan was diagnosed with incurable cancer many years ago at age 52. She went through brutal rounds of chemotherapy. Back then the nausea was so severe it was hard for patients to eat anything during their treatment.

I was with her one day when the doctor told her she had to eat. He put her on milkshakes and eggs. She hated both. I looked at her and said, “No Susan, you need my fried chicken and green beans!” Which just happened to be her favorite meal I prepared.

I went home and pulled my iron skillet out from under the bed and fried her some chicken. I took it to her house where she ate several pieces along with those fresh green beans, and she never got sick.

I went with her again to the doctor the next week. He asked her if she had been able to eat anything.

“Yes, fried chicken and green beans!” she answered.

Astounded and perplexed, the doctor was silent. I intervened, “Doc, don’t you know Southern fried chicken is healing and the fry pan, magical?”

He then told me to bring some to the cancer ward at Northside Hospital.

My chicken didn’t cure Susan, of course, but it sure did heal her spirit for a while.

A few years back while on a vacation with some friends in Palm Desert, California, we met a wonderful couple who reside there. We don’t see Liz and Harmon much, but the internet does allow us to visit often.

Liz reads my articles every week and is always so supportive and kind.

When we first met them, they invited us over for dinner. In the midst of the visit, they asked if I cooked fried chicken. Like I said earlier — it’s the accent.

They had entertained us all to the max with rounds of golf and good food. Once we returned home we sent them a gift of thanks along with an attached note.

A large cast iron skillet was wrapped nicely in its box.

“Hold on to this fry pan and when we return we will enjoy some Southern fried chicken!”

We did return the following year and gathered around the table with wonderful friends and dove into platters of crispy, golden goodness.

The other day I had lunch with an old, dear friend. He has struggled this past year with illness and is not quite out of the woods yet.

However, I am sure he will be because he is the tallest, best tree in the forest and there are endless amounts of people that are praying for him. I have known him well nearly all my life.

I thought he knew most things about me, but as we were having lunch the conversation drifted to fried chicken. I told him about my stack of fry pans and my specialty.

“You fry chicken?!” he said shockingly.

When I told him I had done so for years and about the chicken’s magical properties, his eyes lit up and his mouth watered. How the heck we had known each other so long and missed that tidbit of information was unthinkable! We both laughed as I promised him a plate in the near future.

It’s is funny about the little things in life. How something as seemingly small as an old fry pan and a piece of southern fried chicken can evoke special memories, cure an illness even for a moment, gather friends around a table and give a promise to a special pal who stands tall in the forest. That kind of magic is a beautiful, golden thing.

Lynn Walker Gendusa

Contributing columnist

Lynn Walker Gendusa is a former LaGrange resident who currently resides in Roswell.

Lynn Walker Gendusa is a former LaGrange resident who currently resides in Roswell.

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