I attended a potluck in the sticks. It was for a funeral. The man who’d passed was a deacon. An elderly man I once knew who used to call me Critter.
I never figured out why.
The covered dish supper took place in an ancient fellowship hall. Linoleum floors. Cheap Christmas decor. Upright piano.
I can’t think of a happier place than this ratty Baptist hall with water spots on the ceiling. This is as close to Heaven as you can get without sleeping in a pinewood box.
I grew up in a place like this.
Consequently, I realize not everyone knows what I’m talking about here. For example: my pal Dan, from New York. His family never darkened the doors of a church. For socialization, his father joined a bowling league.
Dan once asked, “What’re covered dish suppers?”
Allow me to walk you through one, Dan.
For starters: imagine you’re a chubby redhead with a proclivity toward barbecued ribs. Your mama makes you wear a necktie, then she wets your hair with spit.
Now imagine card-tables weighed down with all the artery-clogging poultry permissible by county law.
A few greatest hits on the buffet:
Chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, fried backstrap, potato salad, Jell-O salad, ham salad, chicken salad, creamed corn, ambrosia, and some unidentifiable mayonnaisey deal with raisins.
While you fix a plate, elderly women with beehive hair-dos observe you. Their job is to keep the line moving with horsewhips.
“How ’bout some tea?” one says, filling your plastic cup.
Or, she might say, “How ’bout leaving some damn chicken livers for the rest of God’s children you greedy little cuss?”
At the tables, you’ll find white-haired men in button-downs and steel-toed boots. Good men, who cheerfully give up their seats to anyone wearing makeup.
And every potluck has a prayer.
Take, for instance, the one I attended. The pastor—an eighty-three-year-old—aske
“Almighty Father,” he said. “We ask ye thy comfort upon your faithful. May we remember, whether rich or destitute, fit or infirmed, that your goodness is unto ALL thy…”
I could listen to this guy read a Chinese take-out menu.
After the prayer, you’ll want to hug the grieving widow’s neck. She’s the one with the swollen, red face.
She might say, “You know, the worst part about today?”
“Remembering how much Sam loved potlucks. Remember how much he loved them?”
And when you fix your plate, remember her. Because as it happens, fellowship halls aren’t about fried gizzards and okra. They’re about send-offs, reunions, and each event between.
But mostly, they’re about old men who called you Critter.