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.
Jon Dragonfly - September 4, 2017 2:02 pm
There is NO better eatin’ in the world than at a church covered dish supper!
But I always have to remind myself that gluttony is a sin, too.
Melodie - September 4, 2017 2:16 pm
Potluck casseroles and covered dishes, a definite staple of the South, not to mention the hospitality you’ve ‘covered’ here in this story. Thank You! 🙂
Martha Tubb - September 4, 2017 3:24 pm
Jack Quanstrum - September 4, 2017 2:30 pm
They sure do. And they are good at taking care of others. Up in Chicago where I was raised it is exactly the opposite your taught to relay on your self. If you don’t help your self no one will. When I moved down here it was a culture clash of epic proportions. I was miserable. It took me 20 years to adjust. The 2nd 20 years have been a blessing. I have finally blended in. And Love this cultural you so vividly write about. But I also know that I am a half breed, excuse me for my political incorrectness but it seems the best way to express what I feel. I am half and half like what you put in your coffee in the morning. I am a searcher on a quest. But one thing there is for sure, there’s good and bad in all of us. And despite this every single person has amazing and unique value. Just like all the different wild flowers in a open field in the spring. We all are beautiful creations of God. The good Samaritin. Shalom!
peggy - September 4, 2017 2:41 pm
Just love this TRUE story. I live in a small town and know this church well in my heart. This reminds me of our church.
FD Lester - September 4, 2017 6:12 pm
“So dear to the heart of my childhood!” Love made visible–loving kindness and a pot of peas!
Marty from Alabama - September 4, 2017 2:51 pm
Growing up, our potluck was on the third Sunday in May – Decoration Day. The church building was full as was the church yard. At the noon hour, the concrete table (now gone) was loaded from end to end. And everybody had their same spot from year to year. This was the week the cemetery was cleaned for the year. Ther graves was mounded as was the ways then. We kids were reminded to not walk on the graves! This day was/is etched deep in my memory and is a loving part of growing up when and where I did. The building still stands, has gone through some improvements, the congregation still meets, though much smaller, but the cemetery now has a committee that sees that it is taken care of all year long. The saddest part is the Sunday dinner on the ground is no longer a part of that long ago tradition. Don’t like some changes.
gayle r tucker - September 4, 2017 2:52 pm
I have just seen your commentary for today 9-4-17. We are originally from Atlanta. A huge city of strangers. When we retired we came to Montana, Lincoln County. The poorest county in the state. But, only in monetary measurements. We are in the midst of huge forest fires and have been evacuated from our homes. The small, poor town has gathered around all 500 of us and enfolded us with shelter, food, hugs, prayers and potlucks. I know Houston has major problems but there are so many in trouble because of natural disasters today. The warmth and concern of others is holding us in one piece until we can return to what is left of our lives.
Janet Mary Lee - September 4, 2017 4:02 pm
Gayle, I have a friend back living in Montana, so very well acquainted with the fire situation. Please know you have a bunch of people praying for you from Alabama! Hope they are contained soon.
Pat - September 4, 2017 3:23 pm
Love the small town life!
Vhamlin - September 4, 2017 4:02 pm
You get it every time.
Pamela McEachern - September 4, 2017 4:56 pm
They are the with the best of riches, for them each person is a gem. Life is togetherness and is golden. Thank you for this sweet look inside such a special group, Much Love to you and them.
Laura Young - September 4, 2017 5:46 pm
Small towns know how to throw a pot luck and how to love each other- I thought my SS class was doing good when we took dinners to a sick classmate for a few weeks- 365 days of dinners is phenomenal. In our small town of Wetumpka (though it is not as small as my Wallsboro community nearby), we have folks who cut widows’ grass, cut up and remove fallen trees for folks, collect money to help feed folks whose loved ones were carted off to UAB for specialty care (“they gotta eat”, you know), and pray for all those on our prayer list. I love small town living! I was like the guy who went off to work in the bigger cities but my BP went sky high, too! Two BP medicines later and I decided money wasn’t all that important. Moving back to Sweet Home Alabama and the Wallsboro community and learning how to relax lowered my BP so only on one pill a day now- and working on getting off that, too…
Tony Korey - September 4, 2017 7:33 pm
Such a beautiful nd timely story. We absolutely do not have that as the norm anymore. You are a true Historian and somewhat of a prophet.
Thanks for the Joy.
Jo-Anne the crazy lady - September 4, 2017 11:35 pm
My first visit here and, wow, I do like what I found
Susan in Georgia - September 5, 2017 2:41 am
Marilyn - September 6, 2017 3:58 pm
Thank you for the essay, I am at my sisters house and her husband is dying right now of cancer. He has fought a long hard battle and she has walked every step with him they are both amazing people. I will make sure she read this to help her remember she won’t do this alone.
Amy Armstrong Easton - October 20, 2017 2:36 am
Sean, I so enjoy your ramblings & observations about small town life in the South! Love me a good potluck dinner, but love me a church family that loves well even better!? Thank you and keep.on.writing…? It is your gift and you wield it well.