Lonzie’s Fried Chicken

Editor: E. H. Goree

Vol. 7 (Winter/Spring, 2002)

Cover art: E. H. Goree, “Maddie and the Teddy Bears” (b&w photograph)

101 pages (14 short stories, 21 poems), $8.95 (US)

Done Just Right

“Thursday afternoons, I ran home from . . . school, and Lonzie was there to listen to the story of my day . . . Queen of all Thursday’s fragrances was fried chicken, waiting in one of Mother’s serving bowls on the yellow linoleum countertop by the stove. It was close to impossible to resist the urge to pick off a piece of crust. . . . In early 1998, when I needed the most descriptive name for a literary magazine of Southern fiction and poetry…there was no debate. What other thing in my life was as pleasing, there for the taking, and precious for the moments you savor it?”

51; E. H. Goree

For those of you not blessed to live on the correct side of the Mason-Dixon Line, be it known that we Southerners are obsessed with defining who and what is “truly Southern.” Maybe this regional identity crisis is an unavoidable result of “The War Between the States” (as it’s referred to in some circles down here.) Or perhaps it’s a natural by-product of the South rising again, declaring itself “New” and finding itself suddenly prosperous, popular and over-populated with Northerners who threaten to dilute the local culture to a dangerous degree. I’m a true daughter of Dixie, but I’ve lived all over the country and can honestly say I’ve never known residents of the Keystone State to determine authenticity as a Pennsylvanian by Philly cheese steak consumption or West Coast dwellers to decide surfboard ownership is a proof of California citizenship.

Quick Southern IQ test: What is barbecue? No, it’s not the grilled baby back ribs with thick, sticky red sauce. It’s the off-the-bone pig meat that’s simmered for an eternity with vinegar and spices. What is chess pie? If you’re from the North, you don’t have a clue. How about NASCAR, tractor pulls, tobacco chewing, and trucks with gun racks? Hmm, not necessarily Southern. There are lots of guys in other parts of the country who are aficionados of such. Only if a pickup has a Confederate flag flying from the antenna is it truly Southern. Now, sour mash is another subject entirely. Though it’s drunk by people everywhere, only in the South do folks know how to sip and savor it properly.

The one unarguable hallmark of a Southerner, however, is his or her inborn, innate ability to tell a story. Lonzie’s Fried Chicken, a small and succulent literary journal out of Lynn, North Carolina, is busy providing space for the storytellers of the New South to spin their tales and work their special magic. Between its straightforward, cleanly-designed covers, a delightfully eclectic literary menu awaits the reader, always Southern-flavored but skillfully concocted to appeal to any reader who loves a good story or a well-crafted poem.

You’ll find no artificial literary ingredients or “filler” in this mix. No hype, no sensationalism, no shock value, no gimmicks. No stories composed of words without the letter “e” in them. Or that leave you saying “Huh?” -– even after the third time you’ve read it. Or that feature conversations in a foreign language that you don’t speak. With the simplicity and grace that characterize the finest of Dixie writing, the authors and poets in Lonzie’s turn their considerable talents to finding the hidden truths in the humble settings and small moments of everyday life.

In the poem, “Thank You for Shopping Wal-Mart,” the reader joins a harried midlife mother waiting on the check-out aisle with other unhappy shoppers and ruminating on the meaning of an existence that passes too quickly and is spent in places like Wal-Mart: “These days I’m always/ half-depressed, waiting . . . / I’d probably be suicidal if there weren’t/ this tangle of stuff to be bought,/ broken things to be fixed -– / cars, computers, faucets, lives.” In “Gods of Clothes –- Wash Day,” the poet takes us in 14 brief, skillfully written lines from a clothesline in a Southern backyard to Scandinavia and the Mediterranean and the Far East, making the world a very small and familiar place, united by the universal nature of work to be done.

Nothing monumental happens here –- or does it? The gentle, almost offhand, style of the short fiction belies the intensity of what is happening just below the surface, which is another common feature of Southern writing. There is no trace of melodrama in the story “Water’s Edge,” as an old farmer chooses to die in the river that has flowed across his land for centuries rather than rot in the brand-new nursing home to which his well-intentioned family plans to send him. His grown children choose to believe he simply became “confused in the dark,” ignoring the pair of worn old shoes he left sitting on the dock as a clue to his last moments.

Family takes center stage in many of the stories in this journal. In “Rabbit Ranch,” a single mother toughing it out on her own experiences an epiphany of sorts as she cleans up the bloody remains of pet rabbits that her dog has attacked and attempts to console her grief-stricken children who discovered the carnage. “I . . . needed to build a rabbit hutch strong enough to keep a dog out, and a dog pen strong enough to keep one in. I owned up that I didn’t know how to do any of that…” This realization causes her to re-connect with a quiet, gentle man she has formerly spurned who wants to put down roots in her life.

The main character in “Picture Perfect,” a six-year-old girl, describes the Thanksgiving dinner that marked the break-up of her parents’ marriage. Against a backdrop of quirky relatives and regional cooking, the unhappy couple acts out their hostilities, culminating in the taking of a memorable but telling family photograph. As the uncle behind the camera says, “Say ‘cheese!'” the girl’s father raises his middle finger and is forever immortalized in a picture expressing his true feelings for his wife and her family.

Anyone who knows the South knows that it’s full of its own peculiar brand of mysticism, combining the old country superstitions of the early Irish and Scottish settlers with their original roots in Celtic magic and the later influences of voodoo and Pentecostalism. In “Hurricane Blues,” the reader meets a honky-tonk jazz piano-playing mama who protects her little boy from evil with a simple but amazingly effective ritual she has invented for herself. And in “The Jackson Touch,” an ordinary woman’s life is turned upside-down by mysterious powers, passed down for generations in her family, that permit her to change fate by her mere presence in a place or a situation.

There’s plenty of gentle humor gracing the pages of this charming little magazine. The poet in “Peculiar Nakedness” offers amusing insights into the nature of vulnerability and self-revelation through some rather surprising examples. The short story “Missile Envy” carries penis envy to spectacular new proportions as tourists view the rockets in the Kennedy Space Center. In “The Kraut Crock,” an elderly but plucky woman wrestles with an intruder stuffing her family heirlooms and treasures into his baggy pants. Laden with loot, his pants fall off in the struggle, leaving a naked man at the mercy of a very irate old lady armed with an iron skillet.

Lonzie’s Fried Chicken is as satisfying as a home-cooked meal and as appealing as your favorite comfort food. It carefully avoids the cloying, clichéd “quaintness” that often passes for Southern writing these days and which has given the genre a bad reputation in literary circles. In an era where many of the long-standing and self-proclaimed “regional” magazines are ignoring their roots and opting for submissions that feature any other part of the world but their own, it is a real pleasure to read a journal that finds so much truth and beauty in its own backyard.