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—aske
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…”
“…And we thank you for tender mercies.”
“For whether rich or poor, your goodness and grace is the same to us…”
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.