Monday, February 06, 2006

Chicken Skin

I remember being a child with crystal clarity. There are gaps of blank time, but on the whole I remember it well. These flashes of memory come and assault me when I least expect them; tonight's came while I was preparing my shopping list.

My-mother-in-the-kitchen is a whole category of memories, most of them good. I learned to sing in the kitchen. My mother would sing while she cooked, or washed dishes, or baked. We were poor and in the South, so there were no convenience foods. There was no air conditioning. For many years, it would be my mother, the heat and me. The back door was off the kitchen and the screen would keep out the mosquitoes but let the breeze in.

My mother would skin chicken she'd bought from Winn Dixie. It was nasty work, but she didn't seem to mind. I am sure my constant chatter was annoying, and to pass the time she'd say "open your hand." I would, every time, full well knowing what was about to happen. I would open my hand, knowing but simultaneously hoping that maybe THIS time it would be different, and it would be a candy or a ....something. Into my hand she would drop raw, tepid chicken skin. I would shriek and it would fly up, up into the ceiling as I threw it away in disgust. She would grin or shout at me for dirtying the ceiling, alternating her reactions depending on her mood. This was our dance, and it passed for intimacy between us. And it got me out of the kitchen, out of her hair.

I remember loving her in a huge pulse, even and especially then, because it WAS the routine. It was a sure thing. I remember the high-pitched creaking of the screen door as it would open and out I would fly, leaving the hot kitchen and the dead chicken behind.

I guess in one way this memory is a gift; I can turn it around and believe that surely G loves me this passionately, and her love is a something to be protected and appreciated. In another, I never skin chicken.

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