Bone in the Chicken
by Holley Gerth
Once a month, Mark and I bring dinner to Saving Grace, the transitional living facility for girls who age out of the foster system or would otherwise be homeless. The same one where we met our daughter, Lovelle. On Thursday nights, Saving Grace has “family dinner,” where everyone gathers around the table. This may seem ordinary to most of us, but for many of the girls, it’s the first time they’ve had this sort of experience.
I usually cook at home, then take the food to Saving Grace. The night before I did so for the first time, I made a quick stop at the grocery store to get last-minute ingredients. I mindlessly grabbed a few packages of chicken thighs and headed out the door.
Now I am not a chef extraordinaire. When it comes to food, I’ve historically been far better at the eating than the making. In high school, my first attempts at cooking included adding tuna and a red sauce to boxed macaroni and cheese. It’s as bad as you’re imagining—possibly worse. When my husband and I married, I felt accomplished if I could open a bag from the freezer and get its contents to the table without burnt bits. I have made ciabatta bread so appalling even the dog wouldn’t eat it. Yes, the same dog who gobbles up smelly things in the backyard on a regular and joyful basis.
But with patience, practice, and the Food Network, I have come a long way, baby. So by the time I signed up to bring dinner to Saving Grace, I thought not much in the culinary world could rattle me. Until I opened those packages of chicken thighs and stared at the contents in confusion and fear. I called my husband at work and he immediately sensed the panic in my voice. Most likely imagining a car wreck, terrible diagnosis, or burned-down house, he asked, “What’s wrong?” I could barely speak the words. “There’s a bone in the chicken.” A quiet few seconds of confusion followed. Then a single word. “So?” Well, that just opened the floodgates. “I didn’t know chicken thighs had a bone in them! The ones I’ve gotten before never did!” He pondered my sanity and the possibility that I’d been abusing a substance. Then, finally, in his ever-practical approach to life, he asked, “How do you think the chickens stand up?”
Looking back, I should have bust into gut-loud laughing in that moment. But I was too freaked out about serving up dinner to a group of new folks in a few hours, so I pressed on with all seriousness and inquired, “Well, what am I supposed to do?” He calmly explained I would need to cook the chicken thighs longer and that, no, the universe was not about to explode.
So I hung up the phone and began preparing the meal. It took forever and a day extra. I checked the chicken over and over— pink, pink, pink, right next to those sneaky bones. And I chose a maple-Dijon sauce that sloshed all over my kitchen, car, and pants. I smelled suspiciously like a cross between a pancake house and a hot dog stand. By the time I showed up at Saving Grace, stunned and breathless, everyone was already circled around the table. Seeing the look in my eyes, someone asked if I’d had an emergency. “Oh, no,” I said. “It’s just that there was a bone in the chicken.” As if that explained everything. Bless their hearts for eating my food after I clearly announced I really didn’t have a clue in the kitchen.
But you know what? In some ways, my answer does explain quite a bit. Because in this life, there is surely a bone in that chicken. Something we didn’t expect. Something that interrupts our nice little timeline. Something that makes things messier and more frustrating and trickier than we thought they would be. Something that happens right when we want to impress everybody and humbles us instead. Something that makes us say, “Good grief, I am still so very human.”
It turned out those silly bones didn’t matter a bit. Bellies got fed, hearts got shared, and good things happened right there around what I thought to be proof that I should not be allowed to feed anyone ever again.
I’d considered, for a moment, not showing up. But looking back, it wouldn’t have been the same. In the eyes of those girls, me not showing up would have been one more adult not keeping their word. It would have been an opportunity missed because of my pride and desire to do it perfectly, to know everything. I wanted to play the role of Martha Stewart and all they really needed was plain ol’ me.
Just this morning a dear friend and I talked about how choosing to be in community is not an easy thing. We picture sharing life like a Thanksgiving spread from a magazine, but it can sometimes feel more akin to gathering around a TV tray with a microwave dinner gone slightly wrong. What matters is that we keep showing up. We keep releasing our vision of how we thought everything would go, how it would all unfold. We stop trying to be the heroines who save the day and instead just find our seats and say, “Yeah, me too.” Then we find a way to talk about it. Or cry about it. Or giggle about it. Maybe all three at the same time, until our words stumble all over each other and our napkins have turned damp from our tears and our sides hurt from the laughing.
To this day, my daughter will still sometimes turn to me and say with a twinkle in her eyes, “Hey, Mom, there’s a bone in the chicken.” And we both smile at our secret joke, our wise little knowing. Oh yes, darling—turns out there always is.
Holley Gerth, Fiercehearted. Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2017, Used by permission. www.bakerpublishinggroup.com
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