A church fellowship hall in Chumuckla. There’s a serious church buffet happening. Kindhearted women with white hair keep the line moving with serving spoons.
You can’t visit a place like this without seeing white-haired women with serving spoons.
The chicken is exquisite. The fried catfish was caught in the Escambia River. Fried okra, cornbread, biscuits, macaroni and cheese. Ham hocks—seasoned with a few butter beans.
It’s my second time through the food line. The white-hairs ask how we liked our food.
The phrase of the night is one you’ll hear all over the Great American South:
“We enjoyed it.”
It’s the unofficial motto of Lower Alabama and the Panhandle.
My wife and I sit on folding chairs. I am wearing seersucker.
It’s funny how life repeats itself. As a boy, my mother would’ve forced me into seersucker and penny loafers for a NASCAR rally. Today, I’m wearing such things of my own volition.
The room is alive with voices—talking and laughing. And, of course, there’s singing. You can’t visit a place like this without singing.
The man playing piano is blind. His eyelids are closed. He plays old favorites. “Sweet Sweet Spirit,” and “Give Thanks,” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
His hands feel the keys for the next chords. He’s playing through the musical score of my childhood.
He has a nice voice, but he isn’t trying to impress listeners. That’s not how we Baptists do. If you’re looking for impressive vocal gymnastics, visit the Assembly of God up the road.
“When the shadows of this life have gone,
“I’ll fly away…”
People hum with mouthfuls of peach cobbler. Even kids who aren’t old enough to ride the Teacups at Disney World sing. Some folks are even brave enough to clap.
You cannot visit a place like this and not clap to “I’ll Fly Away.”
At the end of the night, people hug necks. They talk about what they’ve been doing since their last meeting. They talk about how tall their children are. About elderly parents.
“We enjoyed it,” someone says.
“We enjoyed it, too,” is the time-honored response.
“We CERTAINLY enjoyed it,” is a common variation of the theme.
The man playing piano gets off the stool with the help of his wife. People all pitch in to clean the fellowship hall.
Cleaning fellowship halls is in our DNA. Sometimes, I visit Baptist fellowship halls in strange cities just to help scrub casserole pans.
Kids clean tables. Mothers straighten chairs. Fathers wipe children’s faces.
In the gravel parking lot, the goodbyes happen. A proper goodbye in this part of the world can drag out until 11:27 P.M. You cannot visit a place like this and do short goodbyes.
Before leaving, the piano player shakes my hand. He may be blind, but he smiles with his whole face. I can’t help but smile with him. He is a shining example of the best our world has to offer. He tells me that he is thankful for all he has been given in life.
We shake hands.
“We enjoyed it,” he says.
Yes, sir. We certainly enjoyed it, too.