“It’s the business everyone is dying to get into,” says my eccentric uncle in reference to his casket selling business. Growing up, funerals were an unfortunate staple. However, my family had a more laid-back approach to death.
Outings to the cemetery were a less than dreary event. My relatives would lounge in lawn chairs and spend time with our dearly departed relatives. There were never tears, but plenty of good fashioned arguments and laughter always ensued.
The actual funerals were filled with all the pomp & pageantry a Catholic could dream of. My mom and I would always walk into the funeral home. When we spotted the sea of natural redheads by bottle, mom would proclaim, “I see our family is here.” After hours of sitting and looking at our dead but beloved relatives, we had to brace ourselves for the actual funeral, which followed the next morning.
In our family, the staple funeral food was fried chicken and Stouffer’s lasagna. At the day of the funeral/burial everyone looked exhausted. I would look around at all the eyes, which were anguished with boredom. At that moment, I knew what they were thinking ” I hope they have fried chicken after the burial.” Personally, I was hoping for our favorite funeral food too.
After the burial ceremony, nobody wanted to stick around to see the casket go underground. My family was starved, raced out of the cemetery and headed to a relative’s house. We chowed down on that bucket of fried chicken like wild lions in the jungle.
As years passed our funeral staple faded. Catered Mexican and sandwiches were served for wakes. For a long time, I kept associating fried chicken with our funerals.
It all faded one day. I spent considerable amount of time in Harlem. For me the charming neighborhood is the bright lights of the Apollo theatre, perfectly appointed brownstones, tall NYCHA (the projects) with majestic views of the city and summertime Italian ices.
Sylvia’s soul food is Harlem’s signature restaurant. Judy & I took a foodie field trip there. I ordered the fried chicken and waffles. Soon fried chicken went from funeral food to comfort food delight. Sylvia’s became my favorite place for deep fried poultry. It was also a nice refuge from the icy cold Manhattan sidewalks.
Nowadays, our family serves fried chicken at Christmas parties. Therefore, it’s a celebratory food for both our soul and senses. I haven’t made it up to Sylvia’s in a while, but still crave their fried chicken and waffles with a side of grits.