I recently read an article that said, “the days of backyard barbecues are over.” Another heartbreaking item said: “The pandemic killed potlucks.”
Say it ain’t so.
As a boy I was a perpetually chubby redhead with rosy cheeks and a T-shirt that never quite covered his belly. My favorite place in the world was a covered-dish supper at the Methodist church, Baptist church, holy roller church, or any congregation where people pronounced “Lord” as “Lowered.”
Oh, I miss tiny potlucks held in old community halls. When I close my eyes, I can still see linoleum floors, water stains on the ceiling, and I can still hear 50-some people talking over each other.
I can see the card tables, draped in red-and-white gingham. I see crockpots of chicken and dumplings, Mrs. Martin’s Chicken Divan casserole, and Mrs. Wannamaker’s godawful ambrosia.
I could talk about the food all day, but I won’t. I’ve already covered potlucks in approximately 126,498 columns. Because I am smitten with them. Also, because there is a lot more to potluck than mere food.
Such as the seating arrangements. Have you ever noticed how people find their seats at a church social? It’s a beautiful process. There is no class hierarchy, and no seating chart at a potluck. Everyone just finds a chair.
Nine-year-old girls sit next to 89-year-old men. A young widow sits next to the preacher’s wife, who sits beside a construction lawyer, who sits beside a pipe welder, who sits beside a random fourth-grader, who sits beside an elderly man who once did time in Draper, who sits beside a chubby redhead whose T-shirt doesn’t cover his belly.
That’s what I miss.
I also miss the way people made money trees for special occasions. Have we forgotten money trees? A money tree was for when someone got married, graduated, or retired. It was a barren hickory branch, standing upright with clothespins on its twigs. People would clip dollar bills to the tree for the recipient.
Soon the tree would become weighted with ones, fives, tens, and sometimes hundred-dollar bills. After the social, someone would count the slew of money and announce the total. People would clap and you’d hear folks shout, “GLOW-ree!” Or “Praise’a Lowered.”
People took great personal pride when the dollar-count was high. I don’t know why.
I remember one particularly large social, held for a widower with four kids who married a divorced woman with four kids. Their money tree had nearly $1000 dollars pinned to it.
When the preacher’s wife announced the total we all gave a standing ovation. People were actually crying happy tears over the money. The chubby redhead was clapping with all his heart, somehow never letting the chicken drumstick leave his hand.
But of course I’m skipping over lots of stuff that happens at covered-dish socials. Behind-the-scenes stuff. For example, the ladies in bib-aprons who wash an Everest of dishes. My mother always made me help with dishes.
Often I could often be found in the kitchen, wearing an oversized apron, standing on an overturned crate near the sink. I’d dry plates with a dishrag beside three or four kindly older women who would oversee me, telling me their ancient stories.
These older women would usually tell me about the potlucks of THEIR youth, which sounded infinitely more interesting than our potlucks.
For starters, they had no electricity, which meant no electric fans and no lightbulbs. So when the weather was nice, they all went outside into the breeze. Kids went swimming in the creek. Young men wore shirtsleeves and wide hats. Someone played fiddle.
Young women wore poofy dresses. Most everyone smoked or chewed when nobody was looking. Even the preacher dipped snuff.
After doing dishes, I’d wander into the hall to find the old men doing their part. They’d fold chairs, collapse tables, pushbroom floors, talk.
Some old guy would always tell a rotten joke you weren’t supposed to tell in church. The other men would laugh when they realized their wives hadn’t heard it. So would the redhead.
There were always stragglers who never wanted to leave the hall. So they wouldn’t. They’d sit at a lone table after work was done, sipping coffee. A few of these people would sneak outside, returning with the faint scent of Camels and breath mints. They were probably out there praying.
And when the night was over, they STILL wouldn’t leave. They would simply meander into the darkened parking lot, talking until someone finally stretched out a yawn and said, “Tomorrow’s a busy day.”
And that was how it all happened. That’s what we did. Sometimes I think about those people, and all the things they held dear. And I wonder whether they would care for smartphones, social media, and Zoom calls. Somehow I doubt it.
I miss the things they loved. Also, I miss that chubby redheaded kid with the T-shirt that exposed his pale belly. But hands down, it’s potlucks I miss the most.
Please, Lowered, don’t let them disappear.