Noon. Antioch Baptist Church. North Carolina. This place is a small, brick building. It’s on the side of a mountain. Not a fancy mountain, but the kind with mobile homes and cars on blocks.
An eight-year-old named Abigale greets us. She takes our coats and hats and guides us to a plastic table in the fellowship hall.
There’s a boy in the corner playing “Amazing Grace” on the ukulele. He’s not bad.
“What y’all want to drink?” Abigale says.
“Two sweet teas, please, Abigale.”
“Please, call me, Abby,” she says.
Abby’s got a lot of drink orders. Being a waitress is a hardscrabble life.
We’re at a table with six others. One man is wearing a plaid shirt with suspenders. His hearing aids aren’t turned up. His wife repeats things for his benefit.
The fella on my other side is Jerry. Jerry is in his early thirties and he lives at home. His mother is beside him. She keeps a close watch on Jerry at all times.
“I’m SO EXCITED!” Jerry points out.
The table concurs in earnest.
“ARE YOU EXCITED?” Jerry asks me.
“You bet your drumstick I’m excited. For what?”
Abby announces that it’s time to dish our plates. The entire room stands. Fifty people, maybe more. These are salt-of-the-earth folks. Jeans-and-sweat-shirt people.
In the line: two identical twins. They are six-foot-ten. They’re mother says they’re still fifteen. They’re going to eat this place off the map.
Ahead of me is Jerry. His mother piles extra potatoes and dressing on his plate. Jerry asks her to drown it all in gravy.
The food is exceptional. I understand ladies have been slaving in the kitchen since four this morning. They could’ve been home with family, but this is more important.
Today, they’ll serve a hundred and fifty. Last year they served almost that many. For this town, that’s big.
“We feed anyone,” says one woman. “Nobody deserves to have a bad Thanksgiving, no matter how poor. You never know what people’s circumstances are.”
The kid with the ukulele sings, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
Jerry cleans his plate before I’m half finished. He’s back in line. His mother behind him, her hands on his shoulders. Jerry walks with an unsteady gait, he talks to anyone within earshot. People smile at him. He’s a popular guy.
The man in plaid, nods toward Jerry’s mother. “She’s why we do this, you know. The whole thing was her idea. Few years ago, she wanted to help our community.”
The man’s wife corrects him. “That’s not true,” she says. “Didn’t you hear what the pastor said about it?”
As it turns out, this was all Jerry’s idea.