Thursday, 3 April 2014

KFC: A treat becomes comfort food through the decades

It was always finger lickin’ good with 11 herbs and spices, promoted by a white-haired southern gentleman in a white suit, bolo tie and white beard and moustache.

To me Kentucky Fried chicken was always a treat, and later a comfort food.

Going to town
Growing up on the farm, I got to Lethbridge, the nearest city, maybe once a week, and always on Saturday. We would check out the stores, and as I got older, me and my mom would go for coffee, while my dad did his own thing for a couple hours.

Every so often my dad would look at my mom and say those fateful words: “You want go for Kentucky chicken?”

Kentucky Fried Chicken was a treat in our house. There were four franchises in Lethbridge, all owned by a man named Sven Erickson. Oddly, he also owned a self-titled restaurant, which was one of the classiest in town. My Aunt Joanne worked at Erickson’s starting out as a waitress and working herself up. The four franchises, which I believe are still in the same spots, are on the corner of Third Avenue and Mayor Magrath Drive, further down on Mayor Magrath beside Erickson’s (which since has been sold and turned into a Keg restaurant), on the north side, and on the west side.

Every time my aunt hosted a special occasion, Kentucky Fried Chicken was the meal of choice. In particular, I recall my grandparents’ 50th anniversary and the confirmation celebration for my cousins Nina, Carl, and Doris.

So, we always stopped at the north side KFC. That was primarily because my Aunt Joanne and my grandparents lived nearby, and we’d stop for supper on our way home from visiting them. In fact, the KFC was almost exactly halfway between their houses.

I loved the chicken, but the favourite part was the fries and gravy – and particularly the gravy.

KFC meet Cousin Carl
We were visiting Aunt Joanne one time, when we discovered she got her son a job at the same northside Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC meet Cousin Carl. (He actually already knew the colonel quite well. All over his room, he had various bits of memorabilia, including a Colonel-Sanders-shaped piggy bank. It was the colonel standing straight up, and the coin slot was in the back of his head).

A few weeks later, we were visiting Lethbridge again, a night Cousin Carl was working. I was disappointed we were not going to see him. My aunt encouraged us to go visit him. His shift was ending fairly soon. So we walked down there, and Carl was just about done. He would have been done sooner, but customers came in late. He finished up, grabbed his coat, and revealed something else. A big, white KFC bag of fresh fries. They had to cook a whole batch up, just for one customer, and he got to take home the leftovers. As we walked back to his place, he said he was going to try to do that as much as he could.

Soon though, he got heavy into his band and left behind the world of 11 herbs and spices.

Quest for chicken
Once life got busy in high school, we never really had KFC. However, things changed for one night in September of 1987 in Edmonton when I was in my first year of university.

It was maybe two weeks into the school year, and our floor coordinator in res, a guy named Doug, had a hankering for KFC. Really, I thought. I had not thought about it for years. But I was tiring of the food in res already. It was a Saturday night when he suggested we walk down to the nearest KFC and get some chicken. I was game. Back then at 17, I was game for anything.

Doug checked out the phone book and found an address. I had never been to Edmonton before I moved there. So we began our trek, chatting while we walked. It seemed like forever when we got there. I have since heard that distance seems smaller when you know where you are going. That was so true, because it seemed to take forever to get to the KFC on 109th Street. A few years later, I took the same walk, and it didn’t seem to take long at all.

So we ordered, waited, got our chicken, and planned how we were going to get back to res. It was hard carrying all that stuff. The plastic bags cut into my hands. Then, when we were about a block away, we heard this yelling, over and over. It was the guy from KFC. We had forgotten our drinks. Those darn pops became the bane of my existence, making the long trek back that much longer and harder.

Still, we made it and ate well – very well. I remember sitting in Doug’s room eating. He had ordered some buns and stuck a piece of chicken into one. He squeezed hard on the bun and pulled out the bones, leaving nothing but meat inside. Instant sandwich.

He was a thinker too. He ordered enough to have leftovers for a week. He had definitely put that MBA he was earning to work.

Comfort food
Fast forward to 1995. I re-discovered Kentucky Fried Chicken in my last year in res. Things were pretty stressful at times. I learned KFC delivered. After one particularly harrowing week, I pulled out the phone book and ordered from that same KFC on 109th Street. The gravy tasted so good on everything – chicken, fries, buns. I did that once every couple weeks after that. My one-time treat had become comfort food.

Parting thoughts
Kentucky Fried Chicken has become something I eat once a year maybe. Every time I do, it brings up memories of growing up in the 80s. My siblings were so much older that by then they had left home, leaving me alone with my parents. It reminds me of those times together, just the three of us, going to town to shop, stopping for chicken, and eating it together at home. It was really about talking, and spending time together. What a simple time it was.

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