Somewhere in Alabama—a white clapboard building. The place is a trip backward in time. The steeple was added during the Great War. The cemetery is even older.
It’s a weeknight. Small-town kids play tag on the church lawn.
A mother barks: “Be nice to your sister!”
I meet an old woman who has been the church organist since Davy Crockett sailed the ocean blue.
A black-and-white image of her hangs in the fellowship hall. Think: big hair, petite frame, and one metric ton of eye makeup.
“Wasn’t I pretty?” she asks.
She still is.
Anyway, I have never seen a covered-dish party this size for a church so small. There are more casseroles than there are forks.
One old woman says, “Some of our ladies usually bring two, maybe three dishes. Willie Sue brought the tea.”
There are plenty of elderly people here. Several younger ones in their late forties and fifties, too.
One man says, “I came back last year. Used to work in the big city, for a company that built smartphones. I was miserable. Doctor said my blood pressure was through the roof.”
He quit his job, and he left the tech field. He moved home and started attending potlucks again. They elected him janitor.
Today, he carries the church key ring and takes out the trash.
I meet another man who is missing his right arm below the elbow—a hunting accident. He cooks hamburgers on the grill, using a prosthetic hook.
“When I lost my arm,” he says. “The whole church chipped in and delivered suppers for a year, they never skipped.”
Three hundred and sixty-five foil-covered plates.
The children in the congregation are few. There is only one Sunday school class for them.
Last Sunday, the class learned how to bake oatmeal cookies. The baked goods sit on the buffet line, they aren’t bad.
An old man says, “This place is where my childhood was. Suppers here bring back memories.”
But there are more than just memories in this place. There is history. The common kinds There are marks on the floorboards outside the pastor’s office—where a boy once roller skated.
And the antique community phone in the entryway—where rural folks made calls. It’s just for show now.
There is a quilt, hanging on the wall of the fellowship hall. Each unique square has words embroidered.
“They made the quilt for me,” one woman says. “When my husband was dying, and everyone took turns staying with me in the hospital.”
She is overcome. A few folks place arms around her.
“I was scared,” the woman goes on. “I ain’t got me no kids, no family. When Dale died, I thought NOBODY was gonna to take care of me. Thought I was gonna die all alone.”
A young woman throws her arms around the old woman. Another kisses her cheek. The old girl is smothered in fifty kinds of affection.
“We’re your family,” the man with the prosthetic says.
“That’s right,” says the janitor. “You call me anytime you need me. Even if it’s just to chat.”
Say what you will about small towns.
But they know how to throw a potluck.