It wasn’t the best news I’d ever received. Cynthia gave me a prescription for a low dose of medicine. Not wanting to be on any medicine, I asked, “What can I do to lower my blood pressure on my own - without meds.”
“Exercise and lose the extra weight.” She said. “I’m working on that.” I told her. “What else can I do?” I asked. “Quit smoking...” She said, “I did that almost nine years ago.” I explained.
“Good for you! Now switch to a more healthy diet.” She said, “Cut down on the salt, alcohol and caffeine.” “Caffeine? As in coffee?” I queried. “Yes. Cut way down or switch to decaf coffee.” She replied. I hung my head and pouted, “Decaf? What’s the point?” She rolled her eyes and continued. “Avoid stress.” She said. I rolled my eyes, “Decaf stresses me.”
“Cut down on fats and red meat. You don’t need to eat red meat more than once a week.” Seeing my delicious steaks, hamburgers and roast beef slipping away from me, I asked, “Cut down on red meat? What am I supposed to eat? Cardboard?” “Eat more chicken and fish.” She said.
“I already eat a lot of chicken - and salmon once a week.” I explained. She responded, “Keep doing these things; we’ll keep an eye on your blood pressure. Get it back down where it should be, then we can get rid of the meds.”
I’ve read the brochures on hypertension. She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know - what she did tell me is that it’s time to start applying that information to MY lifestyle. I also knew for all the healthy things I was eating and doing, the unhealthy habits were taking their toll - it was time to cut out the...ugh...fast food.
As I left her office, I took inventory of what she just told me. “Diet, exercise and lose weight. Avoid stress. No smoking, get rid of the salt, alcohol and caffeine. Cut way back on red meat, eat fish and chicken instead.” My eyes lit up.
“Chicken? She just told me to eat more KFC.” I said aloud. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly what she said, but that’s what I heard and I love Kentucky Fried Chicken!
I was laughing about that as I got in my car and drove away, headed for KFC. One last hurrah if you will, just like Fat Tuesday, before Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Season. It would be like my last supper; a celebration of my new heathy diet...that starts tomorrow.
I started to reminisce about the first time I ever tasted KFC. I was about eleven or twelve years old; we lived in Madison, Wisconsin. My brother Dan worked at Kentucky Fried Chicken at the corner of Monona Drive and Davidson Street - about four blocks from our house.
My brother Gerard and I would walk by the restaurant and look in the front windows. A time or two we knocked on the window to get Danny’s attention. “You guys can’t be knocking on the windows when people are sitting at the booth.” Danny told us, but we didn’t mind - those people weren’t bothering us.
We didn’t have any money, but we knew if Danny saw us and waved, we could run around behind the store to the back door. Danny would come out and give us each a piece of chicken. Needless to say, that was a real treat.
We’d walk back home, eating our chicken right down to the bones, then lick our fingers clean, too. I sometimes wonder if that’s where the Colonel got his slogan. “When I grow up and get a job,” I told Gerard, “I’m going to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken every day.” Those eleven herbs and spices had me, hook, line and sinker.
A few years later, my family moved to Ottumwa, Iowa. My dad was a member of the Rotary Club. It seemed like every time the Rotarians were working on a project, like cleaning up trash from a highway, planting redbud trees in a park, setting up for Oktoberfest, or other such community service, I was recruited to be a Rotarian for the day, too.
I didn’t mind helping, especially because Dale Gottschalk was also a Rotarian, and Dale happened to own the KFC in Ottumwa. It wasn’t uncommon for Dale to bring several buckets of chicken for the workers when the work was done. I was glad to be a worker!
By the time I turned 16, I had already been working for a couple years and had my own money. I bought a motorcycle, then got my license. My little Kawasaki 400 quickly learned the way to KFC at the corner of Richmond and Ferry Streets. Mmm.
As I was driving to KFC that day after my check up, two little people showed up on my shoulders. On the left was a little southern gentleman wearing glasses. He had white hair and a white goatee. He was wearing a white suit with a black southern style string bow tie. “It’s finger lickin’ good.” He said to me, with a drumstick in one hand and a red and white bucket in the other.
On my right shoulder was a little nurse practitioner with a blood pressure cuff in one hand, shaking a little amber vial of pills like a rattle in the other. “How about a nice green salad with grilled chicken, instead?” She suggested.
“Aw geesh!” I said, in a confused state of mind. “Willpower man, willpower!” I turned the car toward a restaurant where I could get a nice hot bowl of oatmeal and some dry wheat toast. Besides, it was only nine in the morning and KFC doesn’t open until ten or eleven, I suppose.
Several KFC free weeks later, my wife and I were on a road trip passing through Kentucky on I-75 making our way to Florida. The big blue square billboard listed the gas stations and restaurants at the next exit.
“Look honey! A KFC at the next exit and we could use gas, too.” “Do we need gas yet?” She asked, I answered, “Not for about fifty more miles, but when traveling cross country it never hurts to be safe and have plenty of fuel in the tank, ya know!”
She looked at me, shaking her head in disbelief that such words would come from my mouth. I’m one who refuels when the gas light comes on...and has been on for awhile. Sometimes quite awhile...
“We’re eating at Cook Out tonight, remember?” She reminded me, “BBQ, great hush puppies and Fresh banana shakes?” I complained, “Why can’t we have KFC tonight? I haven’t had it for a long time.” She continued, “Unless you want to stop in Corbin, 20 miles down the road and eat there...” “What’s in Corbin?” I mocked, “A restaurant that serves the best rabbit food this side of the Mississippi River?”
“Probably,” She said adding, “that and the restaurant where Colonel Sanders first served his Kentucky Fried Chicken.” My eyes widened. “Really?” I asked. She replied,“I suppose we could eat there tonight and have Cook-Out another night, if you want to...” This was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned. We drove on, turning off at exit 29 and drove into the little town of Corbin, Kentucky, my mouth already watering.
Some reviews on the restaurant and museum said the location seemed to be in a seedy part of town. There were several small shops in the area, some weren’t real well kept, but I didn’t care. I really wanted to go to this KFC. It didn’t seem bad to me at all and it certainly wasn’t a dangerous area.
I smiled ear-to-ear when we pulled into the parking lot, which sported a modern sign with a marquee and the famous KFC bucket on top.
The restaurant itself was really cool. It looked more like a house with several tall peaks and a dark shingled roof. It didn’t look anything like a modern, or even an older style KFC. As a matter of fact, it still has the old neon sign over the door that reads “Sanders Cafe.”
The main part of the building where we entered was the original building. The the modern KFC restaurant on the other side has been replicated to look like part of the 1939 motel complex. It was the original part that had me interested.
Harland Sanders started out operating a gas station. He would feed travelers in the garage, eventually opening a cafe. His fried chicken was what his guests loved. It became so popular he couldn’t keep up with demand, and in those days you just didn’t make extra food anticipating to sell it. He found a way to modify a pressure cooker and fry his chicken under pressure in far less time, and kept the chicken very tender.
The really cool thing to me - a guy who loves to cook, especially with pressure cookers - is that his original cookers are still there. His kitchen is still intact. The museum features a room that was made correct to the period, showing the style of rooms Sanders rented. His office also was on display. I was really enjoying the whole experience!
We went to the modern side where the current KFC restaurant is located. There were more cases of old memorabilia; cooking utensils, one of his white suits, and a case with a model of Harland Sanders original motel and cafe buildings the way they were when he was running them. I took it all in.
We got in line at the counter. Melissa ordered a one-piece chicken breast dinner that came with an extra wing - free! I was going to order the twelve-piece bucket with a quart of potatoes and gravy, coleslaw and a mountain of biscuits. After all, this could be my last supper - at least my last KFC for a really long time.
Well, I was going to, until a little southern gentleman in glasses with white hair and a white goatee showed up on my left shoulder. “It’s finger lickin’ good.” He said to me with a drumstick in one hand and a red and white bucket in the other. On my right shoulder was a little nurse practitioner with a blood pressure cuff in one hand, shaking a little amber vial of pills like a rattle in the other. “How about a little moderation?” She suggested.
“Aw geesh!” I said, “Just give me the two-piece dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy and coleslaw.” The cashier repeated my order, “...is that correct?” She asked. “And an extra biscuit. I want an extra biscuit.” Melissa and the nurse practitioner both glared at me. “Okay,” I conceded, “Skip the extra biscuit and that’ll be it.” We chose to sit in the dining area that was part of the original cafe.
I swear, the chicken was fresher than I’ve ever tasted, the biscuits more flakey. Even the potatoes, gravy and coleslaw were better than usual. Maybe it really was, or maybe it just seemed better because I hadn’t had KFC for a long time. Truthfully, it was great food combined with the ambiance of the historical setting that made it extra special and delicious.
When I was finished, Melissa gave me her extra wing. I devoured that, then I licked my fingers and said, “I think I’m going to order one more piece of chicken.” “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Melissa replied. I offered my rebuttal. “Cynthia said I should eat more chicken. I’m doing it for health reasons, under professional medical direction.”
My wife rolled her eyes saying, “I seriously doubt that’s what she meant and you know it.” She slid a small paper sack toward me. “Eat this instead.” She said. “What is it?” I queried. “It’s a chocolate chip cookie. It came with your meal.” I grumbled, “I’ll bet Colonel Sanders never served chocolate chip cookies!”
After cleaning my hands with the traditional KFC wet-nap, I went back to the newer side of the restaurant. On a park style bench sat a life-size figure of Colonel Sanders. He posed casually with his right leg crossed over his left and his left arm stretched over the back of the bench.
I sat next to Harland to have my picture taken. Just before I stood up, I told him, “I’ll be back, my friend.” The colonel said, “I’ll be here.” I smiled at him.
Although it may not be the healthiest, no one can deny his chicken is finger-licking good. Even if this was to be my last supper - what a way to go!
a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!