My mother-in-law's birthday is coming. While my husband is looking forward to it, I’m contemplating calling in a priest for an exorcism. Before I go too far into lala land I should inform you that my husband is African American. "So what you say?" Well, I’ll tell you so what. And with all due respect to the Jewish and Italian mother- in-laws, there is nothing more frightening than an African American mother-in-law. When my inscrutable Japanese ancestry comes up against her “I’m from the South" sistagirl sensibilities it's like WWF on Friday night. Take off the earrings and pass the Vaseline cause it's on!
Of course you wouldn’t notice it by the conversation; it's in the looks and mannerisms where the throw down really takes place, and there is no more an epic battlefield disguised as the dinner table. This battle royale has been going on for fifteen years, and for seven I will admit, I got my ass kicked. On the eighth, I decided I was going to put a beat down on her or commit seppuku.
For seven years, I sat through my husband rolling his eyes and feigning a heart attack due to the culinary ecstasy of every bite of her homemade fried chicken, cornbread and greens, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, ham with the denouement being the sweet potato pie for desert. Yes, you read that menu correctly; I always wondered why his heart didn’t stop and my in-laws didn't pass out with the need of resuscitation after a holiday meal. The coup de grâce was of course, her fried chicken. For seven years, the East bowed to the West or should I say the South? I made it a point to visit her every few weeks and learn at the foot of the master how to make soul food for my man. No, I couldn’t use olive oil it had to be shortening! No, I couldn’t omit the neck bones with tofu and liquid smoke. Yadayadayada.
This went on for seven years, then I grew a pair. When she brought out chittlins, I brought out octopus. When she talked mountain oysters, I talked sushi or at the very least real oysters. The great showdown took place over chicken. My husband has raved over her fried chicken since for frakin ever. Early in our marriage when I said I was going to make fried chicken he would say, "Don’t bother I’ll stop and pick up some Colonel." When we would visit my mother-in-law she would send us home with fried chicken. For Christmas, they got gifts; I got her chicken recipe. Chicken became for me the last battleground. Even my children would say, "Let’s go by Grams and get some chicken."
It took eight years but I was finally able to hold my head high On Wednesday April 11 at 6:30pm in the year of our lord 2004 or as we say Heisei 16 I created fried chicken that was equal but not better than his mother's. Now years later on her birthday I bring my Japanese never- been- below- the-Mason Dixon- line fried chicken to her birthday feast. To her credit she eats it and mutters so low that only I can hear,"This is really good," and then she bashes me over the head with greens and sweet potato pie. But I don’t mind. It’s not that I think my fried chicken is better but at least I can say the Colonel can kiss my flat Asian ass.
Camile Ryerson is our regular contributing writer. Her column appears every Wednesday. Read her views on politics, world affairs, pop culture and of course, what she's reading. Her favorite genre is sci-fi.