Chicken Fried Toes – aka “It’s the little things” … Summer Edition

23 May

When our oldest son, Joel, came home for winter break this year, he brought home something new he was into. Now, this isn’t exactly unusual behavior for college students – we all discover new things while away at college. In fact, my mom even said to me the day that they were dropping me at University of Iowa for my freshman year (and my Dad gave both her and I a look that was the embodiment of “eyeroll” and “facepalm” all in one): “It’s not for knowledge that you go to college, but the beer you drink while you’re here.” The point being not to encourage alcohol abuse but instead to embrace the concept that really what you do at college is grow up and create your own life shaped by your own experiences. Anyway, thankfully what he brought home needed neither medical treatment nor legal intervention: he had grown to like Country Music while away at school. Apparently the guys in the race shop at Illini Motorsports (the engineering-school Formula SAE racing team he is a part of) keep country music blaring on the shop tunebox, and well, he came to like it.

We were introduced to a variety of new artists and songs over Christmas Break, including the silly anthem of this past spring, Red Solo Cup. That said, one artist in particular really rang with Joel as he thought of me and that was the Zac Brown Band. Zac Brown’s music can be described as a little Lynyrd Skynyrd, a little Willie Nelson, a little Allman Brothers and some Bruce Springsteen rolled into one band that plays great, guitar-driven songs that are musically complex while at the same time being easy to play and sing if you’re a “cover guy” like me, and have really good, well-thought out lyrics. Joel picked out two tunes that he thought would particularly resonate with me – “Toes” and “Chicken Fried”. Toes is a song about being on an island vacation. My kids well know that there’s nothing that makes me happier than being on an island vacation, and this song describes it well. More below. And the other song that he picked out was “Chicken Fried” – a simple song that observes that the best things in life are the little things. As you well know, that’s something I always seek – enjoyment of the little things. We all get wrapped around the axles too much in our busy daily lives to remember that the things that are most rewarding are the little ones.  “Chicken Fried” is a celebration of that.
The chorus is:

You know I like my chicken fried
A cold beer on a Friday night
A pair of jeans that fit just right
And the radio up …

Well, I’ve seen the sunrise
See the love in my woman’s eyes
Feel the touch of a precious child
And know a mother’s love

Zac Brown goes on in this song to talk about how these values were just a product of how he was raised and grew up. “It’s funny how it’s the little things in life mean the most, not where you live, what you drive or the price tag on your clothes. There’s no dollar sign on peace of mind, this I’ve come to know.”

I want to believe that that’s a key way of how I live my life, and I know I’m not perfect in it, but I do think it’s true. Yes, we lead a very fortunate life, in a comfortable home in an affluent area of the Chicago suburbs. But our friends, and the things we do, are entirely focused on the little things – conversation over a shared home-cooked dinner. A beer on the back deck or front porch. A relaxing walk. A “dive bar”. Etc. Our closest friends are those that share the same values and feel the same way. What is more important is the time spent. Not where we went or what we own. Our dear friends that we met in Cancun and recently visited in Alabama are the embodiment of that.

Speaking of Cancun, Zac Brown’s other “it’s the little things” song also embodies the spirit of enjoying the little things – albeit on vacation in a warm, tropical place.


I’ve got my toes in the water,
Ass in the sand,
Not a worry in the world,
a cold beer in my hand,
Life is good today.
Life is good today.



That pretty much checks off what I love about escaping to anywhere warm and tropical. Now, what’s interesting is that there is a bit of a conflict there – in the first half of this post, I’m talking about the little things, not what you have or what you do but enjoying the little things in life, and now I’m talking about vacationing in Cancun, which, most would say, is a pretty luxurious thing to do. So, I guess I will cop to a little conflict there. That said, honestly, it is both a key to my sanity and a key to my happy marriage with my lovely wife, Robin.  We’ve managed to get away just us for a bit of time almost every year of our marriage. This year is no exception.  I do have to say that we do do these vacations on the cheap.  With all my business travel, we usually use mileage to get where we’re going, and the place we stay in Cancun is not a 5-star resort at all – more like a little 3 1/2 star, but more importantly, it does seem to embody my view of the little things being important.  Where we go is all about the people and all about the party.  The fact that we made a group of lifelong friends there shows that for us.

So, what’s the point? The point is, it’s summer, folks. And to me, summer is all about the little things. Putting up the hanging baskets and flowers on the patio and then sitting back and enjoying it. A quiet glass of wine or cold beer in the afternoon shade of my deck. A night grilling burgers with our friends. Outdoor eating. Long walks with the dog in the early morning or evening twilight. 4th of July, with little kids and sparklers. Washing the car in your bare feet and then standing back and admiring the shine. Loading up said shiny car with the family and driving to Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone. Sitting on my friend GASHM’s screened porch in the evening. Enjoying a summer thundershower. Late sunsets. Early sunrises.

These two songs mean a ton to me, and I have to thank my son Joel for two things: One, introducing them to me. And two, for showing that he knows and loves his old man enough to hear a couple of songs and know that they are in the music of his dad’s heart.

Go find some little things this weekend. It’s the official kickoff of summer.

As you were,



2 Responses to “Chicken Fried Toes – aka “It’s the little things” … Summer Edition”

  1. Brent May 23, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Poetic and great as always Stew!!

  2. Linda Covert Campbell May 23, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    Or as your Grandpa George said “I wonder what the poor people are doing”…or eating…
    best said while standing at a grill flipping dogs for a bunch of hungry kids, or watching the birds picking the bugs out of his freshly mowed lawn….that he had mowed himself….using a hand push reel mower…or eating a tomato, warm from the garden with a slice of home made bread.
    And the quote is “it’s not for knowledge that we go to college but to drink beer while were here…”
    And…there’s a tune to that….now I have to search for it.

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