As I was driving to Trader Joe’s in search of some last minute dinner inspiration, I happened to hear the words “ Kansas” and “ politics” come from my radio. I found myself listening to the NPR reporter discuss the well- liked senator from Kansas who is…gasp…a DEMOCRAT. Heaven forbid! She went on to say that only 26% of registered voters in Kansas are Democrats. My first reaction was to be surprised but then I began to drift back to my childhood in Kansas and 26% suddenly seemed like progress. After I finished my grocery shopping, made dinner and got the kids to bed, I sat down at the computer and did a little research of my own. I thought to myself, I wonder if my favorite candidate has any connection to Kansas?
In my e-mail was a delightful message from my mom. It happened to include an attachment of wonderful old family photos. What a stern looking bunch of people they were, though I did see them smile and even laugh on occasion. The family loved to eat and argue (we called it “ lively debate”). My mother’s family was lily white, Episcopal, well-educated and Republican. They saw everything as either black or white both in life and with people. In the small town of Olathe there was the white side of town and the black side of town.
In fact, when my teenage mother came home beaming with excitement after receiving her first pair of bobby socks at the school Christmas gift exchange they were promptly taken away when she let it slip that the giver of this treasured gift was a “colored” boy. My rather progressive mother was heartbroken and could not understand what possible difference it made. Even then she dared to feel that all people were equal regardless of their color or anything else that might make them different from her. What makes this story even more fascinating to me is that when I looked up Barack Obama’s family tree, I had to smile at the fact that his great-grandfather, Rolla Charles Payne was born in Olathe, Kansas in August of 1892. Can you imagine if that boy who gave my mom those bobby socks back in the 1950’s was actually related to Barack Obama!
As a child I loved Grandma and Grandpa “Grampy” Hambleton deeply and unconditionally and it never occurred to me that they were anything other than perfect. I had a very Norman Rockwell sort of childhood in Kansas. Every Sunday we attended the local Episcopal Church and then we would drive to Shawnee Mission to my great-grandparents house to have our usual Sunday supper with the rest of the family. It was the same menu every week: Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, and apple pie. After grace was said we would eat.
The adults would undoubtedly start discussing the economy or politics and some sort of argument would ensue at which point my very gracious and calm great-grandmother, Gladys, would remind them that it was the “Lord’s day” and that they needed to take it outside or change the topic of the conversation. After dessert, we kids would play Chinese checkers out on the screened porch or run loose around the neighborhood if the weather permitted. Grandma Gladys would usually sit at her baby grand piano and play for us as everyone’s food digested.
As I sit here now, I like to imagine what it would be like to sit at that same dinner table as an adult. I am now a vegetarian (something my family still likes to think of as a phase) and the wife of a Muslim Iranian immigrant, who lives in Los Angeles. Our discussion would surely prove interesting and we would undoubtedly be told to take it outside if we started talking about the war in Iraq or why we need a woman or an African American in the White House, instead of another Republican. Would my grandparents have changed enough to be accepting of my foreign-born husband? I would like to believe that they all loved me enough to love the man I chose to marry and that Grampy would be pulling silver dollars from behind my kid’s ears the way he did mine.
It has been said that we are the product of our childhood but certainly that is only the beginning of what we will become. Although I cannot imagine that my grandparents (or even my parents) agreeing with me on my support for Barack Obama, I love them enough to know that we simply do not discuss politics. So we pass the recipes down from one generation to the next and I use canola oil instead of lard, but the memories of those Sunday suppers are indelibly ingrained in my mind. The sensory experience of Sunday supper at my great-grandmother’s home was like a big hug. It still has the power to bring a big smile to my face when I think about it.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
My great-grandmother used lard instead of the oil to fry her chicken.
2½ pounds frying chicken
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons dry dill weed
1½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2½ cups buttermilk
Rinse chicken and pat dry: set aside. Fill skillet to no more than half its depth with oil. Heat oil to 325°F. In a bowl, combine flour, dill, salt and pepper. Fill another bowl with buttermilk. Place chicken, one piece at a time, in buttermilk; shake excess liquid. Roll in flour mixture; shake excess flour. Dip again in buttermilk and flour mixtures. Fry chicken in small batches, skin side down, for 10-14 minutes. Rotate and fry 12-15 minutes longer or until juices run clear. Let stand for 7 minutes before serving.