Making Stock and Taking Stock

Rotisserie chicken is a great invention, and putting them in warming trays near grocery checkouts is a brilliant marketing strategy. Cooked, in a choice of flavors (barbecue, lemon pepper, original, "savory”), aromatic, ready to eat, easy meaty protein, yet also comfort food — no wonder it was one of the first things to go at the Walmart Neighborhood Market in my 'hood the day after Christmas, when our hundreds of households were among the 265,000 in Arkansas without electricity.

I got one a few days later, after power was restored. The first serving was the simplest and easiest possible: a leg and thigh as soon as I got home, torn warm and laid on a plate with some other tan foods, eaten like a barbarian with my hands.

The thing about a rotisserie chicken, though, is that its peak of promise may be when it's all bright and warm in its steam-moistened package under the lights. The next serving was a sandwich of cold sliced breast meat on wheat bread, buttered, the way Mom made them. The rest of the meat got picked clean and added to a leftover melange of black beans, rice, and corn. Picking cold chicken from a carcass is different from that first falling-off-the-bone ease. The meat is firmer, reluctant; the juices have coagulated into jelly; the suppleness of the bones is gone.

So to get every penny’s worth of that inexpensive chicken, all that scraggly nakedness went into a saucepan with some water, and got boiled, and boiled down to a quart and a cup’s worth of chicken essence.

* * *

Photo: Laura Lynn BrownOn the day I was making stock, I was also taking stock. No doubt many of us do that this time of year, with the old year gone out the back door and the lock turned behind it, the new year just over the threshold, still slipping off its coat.

One way to consider and savor a year: Whom did I meet? What new friends did I collect and get collected by? What correspondents became a face and a voice and a delightfully embodied presence?

There’s the name-dropping list (from which I will drop the names): breakfast with an editor/philosopher/visionary, a young friend, and a memorable waiter at a hotel restaurant in Pittsburgh in February; words and ideas and singing and beignets with an author and thinker I admire over a weekend seminar in Shreveport in March; the fellowship of the seminar table with one of my favorite writers ever for a week in Massachusetts in June; a shy tongue-tied moment with another admired Famous Author that same week; also that week, a serendipitous converging of paths with a book editor, which led to a book; a delightful conversation over late-night cobbler with a magazine editor at a retreat in Texas in September; networking connections with writers and editors at a professional conference in DC in October.

Then there’s the collected-new-friends list, and I won’t display the whole collection here. Many of them were grown in the hothouse environment of that week in western Massachusetts; probably an equal number sprouted from that weekend by the river in the Texas Hill Country. It’s no accident that both events included communal meals at cafeteria tables. Some grew in the workplace. A couple unfolded through correspondence, with people I have yet to meet but who are no less friends.

I will display one bloom from last year, partly because it shows how the interconnectedness of friendships can be something like a family. Friend A, whom I know from many weeklong workshops in Santa Fe, told me to be sure to meet her friend B at that week in Massachusetts. B and I moved from “Where are you from, what do you do, and why are you here?” to “I’m going to open a window on my vulnerable heart now” over dinner in that cafeteria, along with my friend C, who goes way way back. (And nearly seven months later, I could tell you exactly which table and who was sitting where.) When I went to Memphis later in the year for A’s daughter’s wedding, B graciously gave me a place to stay and folded me into a weekend’s worth of gatherings with her own family. On Sunday, I got to do one of my most favorite things to do with friends: worship with them at their home church. She packed me off with a sack lunch for the road, and a promise of “next time” that we both know is not merely a hospitable benediction.

I could also tell about getting to worship with that Shreveport friend (and the whole bonding weekend, the memorable lunch of breakfast foods, and strawberry pie at a local institution, her elder son’s sacrificial hospitality of arranging some of his stuffed animals around my guest room pillow so I wouldn’t be scared in a strange room at night). Or getting to dine on ribs for dinner, and bacon and eggs for breakfast, and companionable conversation for hours at friend C’s home, far from mine but within striking distance of one of last year’s events. Or the letters and cards and photos that came as surprises through the mail slot from folks I didn’t know existed a year ago. But that would only further delay my arrival at the list I am most immersed in taking stock of these days.

I broke some friendships last year.

Some were small breaks, and soon healed. Some required a period of silence to convalesce. Some were not the first time. All involved the first aid of apologies, and the assessment of triage. Some required the debridement and salve and bandaging of wound care. One required utterly conceding to the great physician.

And that is why the trajectory of time with a rotisserie chicken becomes a visual representation of that falling arc of promise to pain. The metaphor quickly breaks down; this chicken is gone (except for that liquid gold in the refrigerator, which has its own shelf life) and there will be other chickens, of roughly the same shape and flavor. But a friendship is the same creature, thriving or withering over time, shaped like no other, seasoned uniquely. And I don’t want to wound another. So this ends where I intended to start: About to make a list of such breaks, as far back as I can remember, and excavate the whys.

Even with the most broken, though, there is hope. Friend C and I didn’t talk for 20-some years. Then we did. Then she came to visit family and spent an evening at my dinner table. And I served rotisserie chicken.

Photo: Laura Lynn Brown

Laura Lynn Brown loves to feed friends at her hilltop home in Little Rock, Arkansas. Links to her writing elsewhere can be found on her blog, lauralynnbrown.com. Her gift book for mothers, Everything That Makes You Mom: A Bouquet of Memories, is forthcoming from Abingdon Press in April.

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