Good Eating

An elderly man sat beside me. Grandfather to the deceased. He grew up in this church. He estimates he’s attended nearly ten thousand socials in this room.

This room is the size of two living rooms and a broom closet. It has a drinking fountain, olive green kitchen appliances, a piano.

And it smells like heaven.

I can think of no happier square-footage than a rural church hall—complete with card-tables and casserole dishes. And I’m not talking religion. I’m talking fried chicken.

Yesterday, I walked through the food-line in one such church. I held a paper plate and did my best not to get gravy on my necktie.

It was a funeral. I met the mother of the deceased, she was a wreck.

Before the memorial service: food. You should’ve seen the lineup. I won’t go through the whole list, but here are a few standards:

Chicken and dumplings, fried gizzards, deer sausage, and deep-fried backstrap. Drop biscuits, butter beans, squash casserole, creamed corn, cheese grits.

An elderly man sat beside me. Grandfather to the deceased. He grew up in this church. He estimates he’s attended nearly ten thousand socials in this room.

An old woman wearing a houndstooth skirt-suit, sits on my other side. She’s on the funeral committee. She made this potato salad.

It is a majestic concoction. More white than yellow. If I had to rate her dish on a scale of one to ten, I’d give it two hundred fifty-seven.

“It’s just Duke’s and potatoes,” she says. “Ain’t hard.”

Maybe not, but this woman has a gift.

When my father died, we ate potato salad. It was in a fellowship hall—water spots on the ceiling, linoleum floors. The food went down like flu medicine.

A girl my age, named Caroline, had made a layer cake with white icing especially for me. I’ll never forget her. She’d lost her mother earlier that year. We were members of the same club.

There was a note on the cake. It read: “If you ever want to talk…”

Here, funeral’s are administered by feeders, not the clergy. Women who believe in potato salad, who wear smiles on their faces. This is how Baptists do death.

I wish you could’ve heard the prayer, before the meal. The pastor—an eighty-three-year-old—asked the blessing. And when he spoke, the world felt lighter.

He thanked God with words people haven’t used since the time of Abraham Lincoln.

“Almighty Father,” I’m paraphrasing here. “We ask for thy lovingkindess and comfort…”

Sniffles.

“…And we thank you for tender mercies.”

Tender mercies.

“For whether rich or poor, your goodness and grace is the same to us…”

It’s poetry.

And those of us who grew up with such things still need it. We can’t have weddings, births, or deaths without saying words like, “tender mercies.”

This room is special. It’s not a sanctuary. It has no pulpit, no chlorinated baptismal, no hellfire preaching, no offering plates. No religion.

This is a place that’s about something else. It’s about sitting at round tables. It is about water-coolers full of sweet tea. About grieving.

It’s about girls named Caroline, who can’t think of anything better to do than make cakes for their friend.

The world could stand more potlucks.

21 comments

  1. Priscilla S. Adkisson - March 4, 2017 2:29 pm

    Sean, this is beautiful and so true. I have attended several such meals after funerals. We find these people to be “salt of the earth” kind.
    And , yes, some of the best-tasting food ever.
    Keep writing!!!!!
    PSA

    Reply
    • Jean Sheppard - March 4, 2017 3:27 pm

      This is my little country church. We have such wonderful fellowship meetings in a 100 yr old building with lots of ” glory bird”. I love these posts.

      Reply
  2. *Teddi* T. - March 4, 2017 3:13 pm

    AMEN!!!! These ARE what get US through those times when it’s SO hard & when it’s going GREAT – (births, weddings, etc) this is what makes those memories EVEN MORE ChErIsHeD & SpEcIaL!!!! LOVE, LoVe, LoVe YoUr WoRk!!!!!! 🌻💖😁😊 Please keep it coming – I’m SURE that there are others (like ME) who can SO relate!! 😂😂

    Reply
  3. Sandra Marrar - March 4, 2017 3:33 pm

    There’s no better folks. Again, you’ve brought tears to my eyes and so many memories.

    Reply
  4. Regina - March 4, 2017 4:02 pm

    Amen.

    Reply
  5. Sam Hunneman - March 4, 2017 4:18 pm

    Amen and amen.

    Reply
  6. Ramona Cobb - March 4, 2017 4:21 pm

    Wow! I just got a flashback to 1986. Hope you do t mind but I’ll fill in a few spots for you. Those same people who fill you up with fried chicken and potato salad, pecan pie and pound cake, are the same people you find in the hospital waiting room when the doctors have “called in the family” … for me these were the members of Colomokee Baptist church. My father was baptized in this church and so was I … there was Miss Virginia, she was a neighbor and when dad was having a bad night (pancreatic cancer gives you lots of those nights), no matter the time, the phone was ringing, “Child it’s 3 am and I noticed the lights were on, y’all ok over there? Do you need me? Can I help you?, ya know what, I just put on a pot of coffee and I’ll be right there”. Or after dad lost his battle, on many occasions I would bring mom home to a freshly cut yard. And I’m not talking about one of them 1/4 acre plots you have in town, this was a healthy 3 acres of Bahia grass and you had to do a full blown CSI investigation to find out who did it!

    Sweet memories Sean, sweet precious memories

    Reply
  7. Carol - March 4, 2017 4:47 pm

    You didn’t know, my name is Caroline. Jr. really. Named after my mentally ill mother. I hate it and go by Carol. Probably some deep seeded psychological thing.

    These funeral gatherings is where the real healing starts. When I was young they used to anger me. I thought they felt like a party. Then as I aged I came to know that they were a celebration…not a PARTY. A celebration of good memories of the one that has gone to the other side…where ever you might think that is. And food..made with love. Another healer.
    xx, CArol

    Reply
  8. Leon Salter - March 4, 2017 6:22 pm

    It was a wonderful remembrance of countless funerals I attended in Central community near Greenville, AL. Nothing like good food and fellowship with family and friends.
    Thank you

    Reply
  9. Crissy Lambert - March 4, 2017 7:14 pm

    This is more true religion, more “what would Jesus do” than most anything that happens in a sanctuary.

    Reply
  10. Sheron Johnson - March 4, 2017 7:29 pm

    Sean, You’re always spot on!!

    Reply
  11. Wanda Coleman - March 4, 2017 9:06 pm

    Eastaboga Baptist Church fellowship hall. The site of tender mercies and church ladies with big hearts, strong arms and the love of Jesus on full display.

    Reply
  12. Amber - March 4, 2017 9:16 pm

    The act of preparing nourishment that is life giving, and life saving, is the purest form of love that there is. ( And I thought that fried chicken was a religion.)

    Reply
  13. Leon Salter - March 4, 2017 9:28 pm

    I failed to mention that back in the seventies two popular colors for appliances were harvest gold and avocado green.

    Reply
  14. Lyn - March 4, 2017 9:54 pm

    Love all of your posts!❤️From a Southern Magnolia

    Reply
  15. Judy - March 5, 2017 1:53 am

    My Catholic cousin once informed me that he loved Methodist funerals. “The ladies always make red Jell-o with pineapple in it.”
    Yes–there is something to be said about a nice funeral dinner held in the basement of the church.

    Reply
  16. Cherryl Shiver - March 5, 2017 12:08 pm

    There is a reason why in the deep South, it’s called a Home Going. Praise the Lord, again, that we are Southern.

    Reply
  17. Jerry harp - March 5, 2017 6:47 pm

    Great story,been there many times can picture it in my mind,thank you so much !!

    Reply
  18. Deb - March 5, 2017 7:03 pm

    So so true. That room at the church I grew up in was called the “Fellowship Hall”. All kinds of fellowship took place in that room. Back in those days if you got married at church, your reception was in the fellowship hall. Potluck suppers took place in the fellowship hall. Meals for the family of the deceased were hosted in fellowship hall. Great memories!

    Reply
  19. Michelle - March 5, 2017 8:34 pm

    When my cousin Anne preached at my son Kyle’s funeral (or maybe it was something she told me in the days before his funeral -those days have all run together), she talked about a preacher who said something like, “When someone dies, we go to the funeral, listen to the preacher, have a good cry, and then we all go home and eat potato salad.” After Kyle’s funeral, we gathered to eat at his wife Kaitlynn’s grandma’s church fellowship hall and sure enough, there were six kinds of potato salad. I got such a good laugh out of that. And, you know? That was the best potato salad ever. Now every time I eat homemade potato salad, it always tastes full of goodness and light. And it makes me smile. Yesterday, my high school friend, Rochelle buried her 32 year old son who died in a car wreck. So many of us have been broken hearted for her all week and at a loss for how to help. I hope she can taste the love and prayers that went into that leftover potato salad that she’s probably eating today.

    Reply
  20. Kay Keel - March 6, 2017 7:37 pm

    One of my nephews has always called deviled eggs “funeral eggs” because they are always present on the table in the fellowship hall at a home going meal…and they were probably made with Dukes! Mine always are.

    Reply

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