Whenever I pass one of these mom and pop fried chicken places here in Daejeon on my way home from school or the gym and get a good whiff of some chicken being fried up it unlocks a trove of memories and sends me back to when I was a kid growing up in Oglesby, Illinois.
Back when I was growing up in Oglesby, life was rough for my Mom, younger brother and myself. I know it wasn’t easy for my Mom being a single parent and working in factory. It was a hard life and we sometimes had to do without a lot of things, but Mom always found a way to make life a little less harsh.
One of the things she did was at least once a month on a Saturday night, she would order chicken from Mel Rose Tap just down the alley from where we lived. Like most taverns and bars in towns like Oglesby, the Mel Rose Tap had a kitchen and on the weekends would serve food—usually fried fish on Friday and chicken on Saturday. I can understand the fish on Friday because back then many people still did not eat meat on Friday. To be sure, a lot of bars used to serve free fish (fried perch) on Friday nights. I am not so sure about the fried chicken and why it was one of the more popular carry out menu items on a Saturday night. Perhaps it was just inexpensive and easy to serve up along with some fries and salad.
And that’s exactly what Mom would do when she wanted to treat my brother and I. Maybe a lot had to do with her being tired on Saturday after spending the morning doing laundry and then the shopping. However, I would like to think that Mom wanted to do something special for us.
Mom would place the order with Mel Rose Tap around 5:00 and about 30-45 minutes later my brother and I would walk over to the tavern. It was a big thrill for us to walk into a tavern by ourselves and find a place at the heavily varnished bar—which was usually packed on a Saturday—to wait for the chicken. Usually two chicken dinners—a quarter light or dark piece of chicken, fries, salad (with Catalina Dressing) and a slice of Vallero’s Italian bread (baked in Dalzell, Illinois)—were placed inside a paper bag with the name of the customer written on the outside and the end of the bag stapled shut.
When we got back home a few minutes later, Mom would already have the table set. That would be our Saturday night dinner, but looking back now I can see that it was much more. Mom just tried to do as much as she could on a fixed income to brighten up our lives and treat us to something special.