by Rhonda Owen

January 29, 2018

Grandpa slumps on the three-legged stool, his clouded brown eyes intent on me as I reach into a cabinet drawer to scoop flour for dredging pieces of chicken soaking in a bowl of buttermilk.
“Are you gonna make biscuits?”
“I don’t think so, Grandpa,” I say. “My biscuits aren’t very good.”
“Yeah, Annabelle made the best biscuits,” he says. Grandmother’s biscuits were light and spongy; mine are flat and tough.
My thighs bump the countertop built to scale for my 5-foot-tall grandmother as I drag chicken through flour mounded on waxed paper. The clean scent of melted shortening fills my nose as I lower the pieces into a skillet of hot Crisco.
“Annabelle used bacon grease,” Grandpa says. But there’s no bacon in the house. Grandpa’s been living on sardines and sandwiches. At 86, it’s unlikely he’ll learn to cook.
Fragrant steam rises from the rumbling sizzle of frying chicken. Grandpa gulps the scent and swallows. Since Grandmother died, the idled kitchen has smelled of hard water and mothballs.
I move a pot of boiled potatoes from the stove to drain in the sink. I’ll mash them with butter.
“You’ll make some gravy?” Grandpa asks. I will. I’m better with gravy than biscuits. We’ll eat our chicken, potatoes and gravy with crowder peas, a sliced tomato and Grandmother’s bread-and-butter pickles.
As I flip chicken in the skillet, I hear a sniff, then a sigh.
“Everything OK, Grandpa?”
“Yeah. It’s good to smell food cooking again.”