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  By: Judy Connor

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The Practice Brown Dog

Rascal was his name. He was a brown dog. He began as our part time dog. His official owner was E.B. who was our downhill neighbor when I was growing up in Jackson, Mississippi. But as soon as Rascal got to know us, he liked us a lot better than E.B. and them. He started out making short visits, chiefly at mealtimes. It could have been due to the leftovers that were on our front porch. We figured that Rascal was not getting enough to eat at home since he was digging in our garbage. To test the theory, we put some food outside and, proof positive, he was right there each time. Then one dinnertime, we didn’t put anything out there. We had either forgotten or else we wanted it all for ourselves. Anyway, we were pretty well tucked into mother’s fried chicken when we heard somebody knocking at the front door. It turned out to be Rascal banging against the screen door. He was way too short to reach the doorbell.

We invited him in and he accepted with alacrity. Mother fixed him a plate in the kitchen and that was all she wrote. We had us a full time dog and nobody had to tell us how to treat one, either. We were all born knowing that a dog will tell you what he wants; all you need do is listen and watch. For instance, it didn’t take my mother any time at all to figure out that Rascal preferred his chicken gizzards fried crispy—and livers too. If he could get them. Mother was partial to the livers herownself. And if there was going to be dog food, then it must be Mitey Dog. He didn’t care for any other canned dog food and wouldn’t even look at the dry kind. I guess his favorite food was the same as ours—mother’s fried chicken. I’ve tried to talk her into cooking and selling her chicken at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. They’ve got a group that sells some pretty fine chicken out there, but my mama’s is even better. And it’s not just cause she’s my mama—some of her stuff is not that great. But she’s got that chicken down. The main ingredient she puts into it is TIME. She takes a real long time to fix it and it cannot be done any other way. I know because I have tried many times to trick the chicken into thinking it’s done. The chicken comes out looking just perfect, but it’s bloody by the bone. I’m going to tell you the right way to do chicken and sometime when you’ve got a couple of hours to spare, well, you try it.

Judy’s Mama’s Fried Chicken

1 fryer plus many extra wings because it’s Judy and her sister’s favorite chicken part

All purpose flour
Black pepper, cayenne pepper and paprika (if you don’t like spicy, don’t put much)
Good, light vegetable oil like canola
Milk or buttermilk
Big, heavy skillet and cover
Platter and bowl—both big enough to hold all chicken parts
Paper sack and brown paper or paper towels or newspaper

At least two hours before you want to eat chicken you must be in possession of some fresh or thawed out chicken. Rinse it real good in cold running water. Pat dry. Salt and let sit for about l0 or l5 minutes. Then put all parts in bowl and cover with milk or buttermilk (cold water with salt in it is better than nothing—in case you’re like me and won’t go to the store for just one thing unless it’s made out of chocolate or is toilet paper). Put chicken in the refrigerator for an hour.
In that paper sack, mix together the flour, both peppers and paprika. I use a lot, more than mother even. Put about 1/4-inch-worth of oil in the skillet and turn fire to medium. Put 3 pieces of chicken at a time in the sack and shake til covered well with flour mixture. When oil is hot, start adding chicken parts. The object is to brown chicken slowly first on one side, then the other, then first side again. Try to have something soothing to think about or listen to so you won’t get in a hurry. Not being real hungry would help.
Drain on brown paper if possible. It is best served at a bit above room temperature, so mind you don’t food poison everybody. Let cool about l5 minutes, then either eat it or refrigerate it. There won’t be any leftover. If you need some left over, you will have to get you a hiding place. (Like you don’t already have one.)

Rascal was crazy about the Mitey Dog television commercials because he felt they spoke to issues of interest to him. Those items would be that he was on the small side and he had decidedly short legs—so short that they didn’t exactly match the body he’d been given. All the Mitey Dogs had short legs.
Rascal thought of himself as a mighty dog. We did too. In fact, we’d often greet him with a hearty, “It’s Mighty Dog!!” He liked that a lot.

More and more of Rascal’s time was spent at our house. E.B. didn’t even miss him at night because he thought Rascal was sleeping outside like always. I have never understood why anybody would want a pet to keep outside. Unless it’s a pony. I know for a fact that anybody who keeps a dog outside on a chain is going straight to hell. If you want to have a real, working guard dog, then get the thing trained so you don’t need to chain it up. Besides, here’s a bulletin for idiots: There is the odd criminal who is capable of measuring the length of a chain. Back to the going to hell deal: anyone who mistreats an animal in any way, if you so much as hurt their feelings, you are going straight to hell.

I guess we were engaging in a form of dognapping. Definitely alienation of affections. We told ourselves, and I think we were right, that Rascal had hardly any affection for E.B. anyhow. Therefore, so what? We went head on. We hit a home run the night E.B. came home late and kinda loaded. It was about three in the morning; this was plenty late enough for Jackson, Mississippi. Seemed like he’d been having some beer somewhere. Quite a bit of beer. He pulled into his driveway, but didn’t pull into his garage. Probably because he was afraid he might hit something. He turned off everything, and made to get out of his car. That first foot wasn’t on the pavement good when something had a hold of his ankle. Rascal had rushed from the backyard and caught hisself a late nighter. Rascal had a grip and would not let go. E.B. was hollering at him to let go and trying to beat him about the head. But Rascal was quick and, like we said, mighty, and he bit the hell out of E.B.’s leg. My father was quick to seize the advantage in the war for the affections of Rascal. E.B. was already at some disadvantage here, being unaware that there was a battle. He just thought he was mighty lucky to have a dog who was hardly ever hungry and never whined to come inside his house. Anyway, Daddy threw open a window on the downhill side of the house and bellowed into the night, “HEY! E.B.! IF YOU GOT HOME AT A DECENT HOUR, MAYBE YOUR OWN DOG WOULD KNOW YOU!”

After that Rascal just out and out lived with us and E.B. gave up all pretense that Rascal was his dog. Or ever had been, for that matter. I think it’s kind of funny how that went, on account of how now you read now about neighbors hitting each in the head with shovels over the least thing. If my Daddy were alive today, he’d have to live way out in the country. He used to do stuff like spank other peoples’ kids! I can’t hardly believe it. People don’t even spank their own children anymore. Come to think of it, our Daddy didn’t spank us either. All the kids always wanted to play at our house because we really did have the best daddy. So fun. They surely weren’t flocking to play with us—because we were very bossy. One time this kid even rang the bell and asked could Judy’s Daddy come out and play!! I just said that he could not because he was at work. I hadn’t learned to say stuff like, “Why don’t you just go on home and play with your own raggedy-ass Daddy!”
However, kids were not allowed to tear up stuff or each other while they were at our house. A couple of them didn’t get it. These two six-year-olds set about making themselves at home. Daddy told them, “Ya’ll can’t play in the sand box today because somebody left the cover off last night and the cats have used it for their bathroom.” And then he went back to enjoying his wood chopping. When he took a breather and looked around the yard, he spotted the two boys just as they shat in the sandbox.

So he spanked them. They were stunned! They whined that they were going to tell their daddies. He said, “Good, tell them to come on down here; they probly need spanking too.” Nobody went and got their daddy that day. Or any other day. Nothing more would ever be said about their misbehaving and those kids were only too glad to be welcomed back.

I guess what may have saved the Rascal situation from getting unfriendly was that Rascal was not, after all, a treasure. (Perhaps it was the same in the case of the spanked kids.) He was not a fabulous dog. He was a very crabby dog. He once bit one of my mother’s friends totally without preamble. She was a real mild-mannered lady, just standing in the yard chatting with mother. Rascal just marched right up to her and bit the crap out her calf, which he could barely reach. We fussed at him but he was not a bit sorry. Luckily for Rascal, the lady was too mild-mannered to extract her pound, or whatever amount, of flesh from him, which she was certainly entitled to do. Furthermore, she didn’t try to extract money from us. Would this happen nowadays? I don’t think so. My family has more than used up it’s nine lives in the litigation department.
So, Rascal was a starter dog. He was my introduction into the world of brown dogs, which is vast. They all look so much alike but they have got the best and most varied personalities. I am really not interested in spending time with any other kind. Although, I think it is just fine if you want to. If so, I urge you to consider the Schipperke. It’s a pure bred Flemish dog that lives twenty years easy.

The Brown Dog was nothing like Rascal. Except for the brown part, of course. And the crabby part. The brown dog was crabby sometimes. But Rascal kept a frown on his face and was just your all around curmudgeon, whereas, the brown dog was often smiling and laughing. He was just filled with good cheer, as long as you didn’t annoy him. We could even interfere a bit with his eats and he’d be okay with it. Rascal, being a deprived dog, couldn’t bear that. He’d been forced to do without by the unenlightened E.B. for too long to ever relax about his food needs or any other needs for that matter. Whereas, the brown dog had gotten a plenty of everything right from the start and, so, was able to go through life with a certain confidence in that regard. There was definitely the trust factor. The brown dog would never have entertained the first notion that we would fail to see to his needs. Rascal, on the other hand, was like some people you meet who feel they’ve been shortchanged all their lives. They act like they’ve got scratch and scramble for everything they get. Then they jealously guard their pitiful mess of potage, whatever it might be. Also, I think they spend way too much time worrying about what’s on the other fellow’s plate. If Rascal were in the house and you were not either sleeping or fixing him something to eat, then you’d better have been paying him some attention. What a needy dog he was, desiring almost constant physical contact. Whereas, the brown dog was quite content to go off on his own.
The brown dog was fairly sociable, interacting in a number of ways with other dogs. Rascal was completely antisocial. He wasn’t “Fixed,” but we were pretty sure he was a virgin. His social life consisted of chasing all other dogs out of the yard while trying to bite them in the butt. It worked for him. Like it does for some people.

Southern Fried Divorce is available as a special offer only at before its national release by Light of New Orleans Publishing in March, 2004.

Photographs by Cami Johnson,