“I want you to hear a song,” Al Kridlo said, walking over to a boom box atop a cabinet in the kitchen of his Hughestown home.
It was just a few days after his son, Dale, was killed in action in Afghanistan. A few days after the Sunday afternoon when, as he nodded off watching a football game on TV, he heard a sound on his front porch and opened his eyes to see three people in uniform. Himself an Army veteran, he instinctively knew why they were there.
“Dale and his buddies used to put big speakers in a vehicle and blast this when they headed off on a mission,” Al said.
A photo of Dale, that classic photo in his Army camos, wearing sunglasses and holding a fat cigar, lay on Al’s kitchen table. That photo now hangs on the wall right near the boom box. A copy hangs on the wall of my office at the college.
Al popped in the CD and hit play. And that’s the first time I heard the song “Chicken Fried.” The first time I heard any song by the Zac Brown Band.
It was just the kind of song you’d expect a bunch of American soldiers to use for motivation.
“Listen to the lyrics,” Al said, and then recited them:
You know I like my chicken fried
Cold beer on a Friday night
A pair of jeans that fit just right
And the radio up
“That was Dale,” Al said. “That was my son.”
Weeks later Al asked me to download the lyrics and make copies for a flag-raising ceremony at the hunting cabin he and Dale belonged to. Dale always said he was going to erect a flagpole there and Al wanted to fulfill his son’s wish. “Dale loved the flag,” Al said at the ceremony.
Several dozen people found their way to the cabin in the woods near Meshoppen and when the flag reached the top of the pole, we all sang the National Anthem. Then we sang “Chicken Fried.” Dale Kridlo’s anthem.
Next November will be eight years since Dale gave his life for his country, but “Chicken Fried” still conjures up memories of him, still brings a tear to the eye.
I was in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in January of 2012, for the NFC championship game between the Packers and New York Giants. My wife had put together the trip as a Christmas present. A lifetime Packers fan, I had never been to Lambeau Field.
There I was, sitting on the 20 yard line, just a few rows behind the Packers bench. And watching my team lose.
The Giants upset the Packers that day to advance to the Super Bowl. As the fourth quarter wound down, the stands at Lambeau were mostly empty, save for a couple of hundred gloating Giants fans, all dressed in blue, and a few die-hard Packers faithful, of which I was one. Disappointed as I was, I wanted to drink in every moment of my first Lambeau experience. Then the game was paused for a TV time out, and in the stadium, they blasted “Chicken Fried.”
That was all I needed to put everything into perspective. “My team lost a game,” I thought. “My son wasn’t killed in Afghanistan.”
Three years ago my daughter got married in San Antonio, Texas. The wedding was at the historic Guenther House. The ceremony and dinner were held outside and then the party went inside the old mansion with dancing on the second floor and the bar on the first.
At one point I wandered downstairs for another drink and bumped into my son. “Let’s have a shot,” he said, and I added, “Let’s have a shot of Crown Royal in memory of Dale Kridlo.”
Michael knew all about Dale and knew that Crown Royal was his drink. He was with me at Dale’s grave in Arlington National Ceremony one Memorial Day when Al pulled out a bottle of Crown and poured each of us a shot, including one for Dale which he lovingly poured on the ground.
Another member of the wedding party walked over and Michael told him about the significance of the Crown Royal we were about to drink. He joined us and the three of us raised our glasses to Dale. I left them there and walked back up to the dance floor and as I stepped into the room, the deejay was starting to play “Chicken Fried.” I ran back down the stairs to hug my son.
I’ve been humming “Chicken Fried” and thinking about Dale for the past week, ever since seeing a member of the Zac Brown Band on TV.
Drummer Danny de Los Reyes was talking about a fundraising effort he is spearheading for the people of Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands of residents still have no electricity, where 95 percent of the island is still without potable water some eight months after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island. De Los Reyes’ mother stills lives there. In the days following the hurricane, he did not know if she were alive or dead.
De Los Reyes has the financial wherewithal to bring his mother to the mainland but she refuses to leave Puerto Rico. It’s her home, he said. She will not leave her home.
So he formed a charitable effort, Day Glow Music, and is trying to raise funds for things like solar batteries and bottled water. He plans to bring the items to Puerto Rico himself.
Danny de Los Reyes and the other members of the Zac Brown Band have no idea what their song “Chicken Fried” meant to Dale Kridlo. What it always will mean to those of us who loved him. And perhaps they never will. But I’d like them to.
So when I went to the website dayglowrelief.org to make a donation, I hoped there was a way to add a comment. There was. And I typed a little note that this donation is in memory of Dale Kridlo for whom “Chicken Fried” was much more than just a good song.
If anyone of you care to remember Dale this Memorial Day, you might consider doing the same thing.
And maybe even eating a little chicken.
In a pair of jeans that fit just right.
With the radio up.
Somehow I believe Dale will know.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.