One of the first of the church festivals in Milwaukee is Saint Florian’s. Like most church festivals, there is a chicken dinner on Sunday afternoon. In the past, the chickens have run out before two o’clock. The weekend before Memorial Day is not always the warmest in Wisconsin, so sometimes the festival gets some rain, some wind, and over the years, attendance has dwindled and the little fair has seen some shrinkage. When James was a little boy, he remembers being entertained for hours by the games while his parents sat in the beer tent or played some games of their own. When he looks back on it, he doesn’t know whether it is his memory that is wrong or if the fair really has changed that much. There are fewer games, now. Fewer areas for adults to congregate, fewer people eating chickens.
On May 21st, we went to Saint Florian for chicken. There were rows and rows of chickens turning on the spits outside. I didn’t have a proper jacket and was chilly. We went down to the cafeteria, and got our chicken tickets. I forgot to pass on the scoop of canned green beans. And part of me wanted just a little bit of extra mashed potatoes. A lot of people say that the skin of the chicken is the tastiest part. I usually don’t eat it. Maybe because it makes me think too much about the fact that I’m chewing into flesh. Or because I’ve been so often told that the skin part is the fatty part and I’m still trying (half-heartedly) to lose some weight.
We ate at around 1:00 or so. We played a few games to see if any of us could win some money. None of us did, unless a dollar counts after you’ve spent five to get it. When we came back to James’ parents’ house, they were pretty beat. His mom has a bad hip, heart troubles I might have mentioned, and she had already had a very full week before we arrived. She just wanted to sit and relax for the evening. So I called my folks to see what they were doing for dinner.
I called just in time for cocktail hour, and we went over and joined them for drinks, chips and salsa, sweet potatoes and grilled steak with a secret marinade. When I write about Milwaukee, and visits home, vacation in general, it can sometimes be difficult to get past the food and beverage of it all. And it’s not because all we do there is eat. It’s because sharing a meal is an important part of being social. Food is a comfort, it allows a person to be comfortable, to be open and interactive in ways that other activities don’t always provide. This past semester, I wrote some of my favorite nonfiction papers about food and home, and I thought a lot about what makes it so significant. I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter if it’s going for custard or digging into a Dutch oven filled with goulash, steaks on the grill or chicken dinners, the thing that matters most is the person sitting next to you, across from you, or down at the other end of the table. The flavor of conversation enhancing that of the food.