Note from Emily Sue: "Happy holidays to you! I know Thanksgiving's past but this story [relates to] the yuletide season as well!"
Thanksgiving Day loomed ominously close. Ominously because the clock kept ticking and the hacking, debilitating cough I’d had for five weeks refused to turn loose. Late afternoons found me stretched out on the sofa, exhausted and limp as a noodle.
“It will just have to run its course,” droned Dr. Brunson.
“But—I have to cook for Thanksgiving. My family is all coming in,” I sputtered, they being my three offspring, their spouses, and eight grandchildren, a total of sixteen.
And son-in-law, Bubba, whose prowess in the kitchen challenged mine.
“Why don’t you let them take care of you this year?” my physician suggested so calmly that, had I had the strength, I’d have taken his office apart, board by board. He, like my husband, Lee, remained clueless to the fact that my “great cook” reputation wobbled on the line here.
Finally, Thanksgiving Day dawned. I loaded up on decongestants and antibiotics, got an early start and by noon, completed part of my desserts, tea, and endless tedious things which comprise cooking.
“Slow down, honey. You’re making enough for an army,” Lee murmured in passing, snatching goody samples and dodging my swats. Yeh, I thought, feeling particularly nasty, but you have no compunctions about dipping in.
Men just don’t get it with the cooking thing.
Every female alive knows that cooking and feeding folks is affection in its most noble form. Not cook?
“No way Jose’,” I snapped at Lee, who’d again suggested KFC or something equally blasphemous. “Our kids and grandkids want to eat Mimi’s buttermilk biscuits and strawberry jam. What about Chicken Bog? No restaurant around here offers anything that even remotely resembles it.”
Chicken Bog is a tradition at our house.. Each holiday, the low-country Chicken-rice-smoked sausage dish dazzles alongside potato salad, cranberry sauce, dressing/gravy, sweet potato pie, and a dozen other entrees.
Anyway, my Chicken Bog and homemade buttermilk biscuits are the only foods on earth that are not Bubba-specialties. Master chef Bubba juggles grilling tools, spices, and roasting meat with one hand and stirs up incredible gourmet veggie dishes with the other as effortlessly as suppressing a yawn.
“Why don’t you cut down this time since you’re not feeling well?”
“You’re talking to a perfectionist over-doer, remember?” I joked listlessly.
Lee swiped a chunk of smoked sausage and when I didn’t react, murmured, “you really are sick, aren’t you?”
“Yeh. And Pam, Bubba, and the girls will be here soon.” The room began it’s afternoon spin but I groped the counter, took deep breaths, then managed to get the chicken for the bog stewing in pots.
“I’ll watch these,” Lee said as I tumbled onto the sofa and spiraled downward into a short comatose snooze.
“This chicken seems done,” Lee’s voice tugged me from fuzzy Netherlands and onto unsteady feet. I fork-tested for tenderness. Perfect. He tong-lifted the meat to bowls.
“I’ll put these here in the freezer section to cool before I debone and dice the meat.” I did so and whisked cooled potato cubes from the fridge to transform into potato salad.
An hour to go. Measure broth into large pot and season to taste. Add sautéed onions, smoked sausage, then bring to boil. Add rice, cover, steam twenty minutes. Done. More creamy and moist than usual. That’s good. Pot doesn’t look quite as full but there’s plenty.
Buzzer. Pie is golden done. Lee measures coffee into coffeemaker.
Shower. Dress. Cars pulling in driveway. Hugs. Kisses. Laughter.
Shouts of glee—Oooh, Mama’s Chicken Bog! Mmm…. You outdid yourself Mama…Mimi, did you bake biscuits? May I have one now? Hands clasped, blessing said…
Everything seemed swathed in a heavy mist. I blinked away the darned haze. I did it, by George, despite being so danged sick. Fulfillment, thick and sweet, stirred inside me. I settled down to pick at my food, eyes heavy-lidded and watery, waiting for the compliments to continue.
“Great Chicken Bog, Mimi,” said Bubba. A comet—with Pride emblazoning it–flashed across my horizon. Then his forehead creased into puzzlement. “May I ask you a question”
“Sure,” I said, honored that Chef Bubba queried me.
“Where’s the chicken?”
Silence dropped like a thick fog.
All around the table, heads lowered and forks pushed rice around in search of meat. “Oh, no,” I croaked, arose and zigzagged to the upright freezer. Sure enough, there they perched–bowls of cooling chicken, now half frozen.
“Anybody for Rice-a-la-Chicken-Mode?” I slurred, weaving a bit.
Everybody cracked up. “Naw, Mimi,” roared Bubba, having the time of his life. . “Heck, this Bog’s good jus’ like it is!”
We had our first meatless Thanksgiving feast and by far the funniest one.
This, too, shall pass, with Mimi’s spotless reputation restored? Right?
Not on your life.
That holiday is etched in infamy, spawning a special commemoration. Each Thanksgiving now, when we sit down, Bubba grins like possum road-kill and bellows, “Where’s the chicken?”
~~ Emily Sue Harvey
Emily Sue has published 6 books, including Cocoon and Unto These Hills. She is a life member of SWA and a former president. Read other blogs by Emily Sue on The Story Plant.