Chicken Cutlets

My father got paid once a month. We were all aware of this, especially toward the end of the month. On payday my mother did a huge shopping. Several carts needed. Endless trips back and forth from the station wagon to the kitchen counter. My brothers and I scoping out the doubled-up paper bags as we carried. Week one was a feast, my mother needing to hide bags of chips and Peanut Chews in her room. Week two was a hardy week. Good solid meals, controlled deserts. Week three saw a steady decline. The bags of egg noodles taking center stage. If the hidden chips or Chews weren’t already found they’d make a celebrated appearance. Week four saw creative stretching: the jar of Ragu getting a splash of tap water to further the sauce. What we didn’t realize at the time was why my father often sat watching our plates. One of our favorites, chicken cutlets sizzling in the electric frying pan. The large dish in the middle of the table coated with paper towels to soak up the excess oil. Four forks poked away at the pile. My mother standing over the pan and moving cutlet by cutlet onto the center dish. My father watching. Four growing boys getting their fill. Young eagles devouring their parents’ kill. I thought my father was just being patient or holding off for some other cigarette-related reason, but mostly I didn’t think at all. Not until years later. The heart of the father now within my chest. He was waiting for us to finish. To be satisfied. Then he’d stab at the lone cutlet left in a pool of canola. But mostly he gathered. Collecting the remains from his sons’ plates. Scraps from their master’s table.

—Howard Hain

1 thought on “Chicken Cutlets

  1. Liz Forest

    Wonderful memories pictured that show the care and concern of your parents. Reminds me of the stretchable stew that lasted longer and longer, yet still was a tasty meal. Sometimes called goulash which was the hungarian version, even though we were Irish.


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