Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Let me Count the Ways I Miss You, Potluck.

As I prepared a meal today for a friend of mine who had surgery, I thought of potluck dinners and how awesome they were. Does anyone still do those?

I attended Mary Branan United Methodist Church for my formative years; there was nothing I liked better than potluck dinners.

Mmm. Mmm. So good.

What was it about all those congealed salads loaded with cream cheese and whipped toppings?

Or the real macaroni and cheese resplendent in cheese with the extra crispy brown crust?

Or heaping bowls of potato salad, my Daddy’s favorite, layered with egg, onion, and potatoes and then mixed with mustard and mayonnaise and topped off with sweet pickle?

But the best part of the potluck dinners was the endless dessert table: apple pies, frosted chocolate cakes, pound cakes flavored with vanilla and almond, fruit cobbler, or banana puddings baked to perfection with the brown heads of vanilla wafers peeking out the top.

*mouth waters*

The church used the Fellowship Hall at Mary Branan for multiple events.

In between Sunday school and church for about 30 minutes {this was the olden days, my blog readers; we had one church service -- Sunday school at 9:30 and church at 11:00}, women set up huge aluminum urns full of hot coffee which adults sipped laden with sugar and cream. The sugar spilled from the bowls on to the white tablecloth and the multiple cream pitchers brimmed with white foam. Teaspoons lay scattered hither and yon as the adults absent-mindly picked them up and stirred their coffee all the time never missing a beat in a conversation with a fellow worshiper.

In my day, no teenager hung around the Fellowship Hall for coffee; they were busy securing seats in the balcony or hitting up their parents for a dime or using their own hard earned money for the Coke machine that graced the hallway in front of the Hall. Sometimes, they shared a sip of that Coke with their siblings or best buddies.

Ugh. I can’t believe I ever drank after anyone.

Cookies were usually the snack fare to accompany the coffee, but on some Sundays, the doughy, yeasty, sugary smell of doughnuts filled the air. We children would sneakily take more than one if our parents weren’t looking.

What were we thinking? We were about to head upstairs for a full hour of announcements, hymns, responsive reading, and preaching. We were about to sit still!!!! Not that sugar intake mattered then -- there was no such thing as processed food with that added sugar that we have today. Sugar was sugar -- and it wasn’t in everything.

My parents instructed us four children to meet them in the Fellowship Hall in between Sunday school and church -- for one reason and one reason only.

If we were not sitting with them, where were we sitting and with whom? Daddy took inventory each Sunday by craning his neck as he searched around the sanctuary to make sure that we were where we said we'd be and with whom we said we would be with. Lord knows, no pun intended, that we were not about to do what we rather do and what some of our friends did -- skip church.

Never gonna happen. We didn’t dare cross Daddy. Nope. Nada. Not smart. Not worth it.

I was not allowed to sit with my friends until I was in high school. Before that I sat with my parents and drew furiously all over the bulletin and the offering envelopes with those little bitty, unsharpened pencils placed carefully in those pencil slots next to the envelopes on the back of the pew in front of me. I always thought the women in the altar guild were mean spirited in never sharpening those pencils.

My mother sometimes handed me a fountain pen from her purse, if she was in a good mood and if I pleaded well, with a stern look to be careful that I only wrote on paper and not accidentally on my clothes. My mother could do some communicating without ever opening her mouth but simply by making certain facial expressions. She could also do wonders with a pinch to the thigh if she found me slouching, leaning my head back on the pew too far, or kicking my legs back and forth madly like I was on a swing. I stood for hymns and sang, closed my eyes for prayer, and read along with responsive readings. Occasionally, or once I grew bored with my doodling on every available white space, I could lean my head against mother or daddy’s arm, but it was on rare occasion that I was allowed to put my head in their laps. I have no idea what would allow that action, as most of the time, they wished me to sit up.

We sat still in church.

BTW: My Aunt Ava told me a hilarious story about how she survived the boredom of church as a child. She and my Aunt Harriett, who were closest in age, would have fits and snorts together by flipping through the hymnal and reading the title of the hymn and then adding “between the sheets.” She said some days she thought she would die holding in the laughter under the watchful eye of my grandmother, a no nonsense, strict disciplinarian. She said that somehow Grandma’s rigidness made their getting away with it more fun.

[Take any hymn right now, blog reader, and add "between the sheets.”]


The church also used the Fellowship Hall for other events. Located directly under the sanctuary, the room had a small stage at one end, a green linoleum floor, and four or five huge windows on either side complete with Venetian blinds.

Folding chairs set up in rows facing the stage allowed parents to watch their children in various accomplishments: receiving ribbons for memorizing verses or the order of the books of the Bible, performing in small plays, sing alongs, or skits, or for the end of Vacation Bible School closing ceremonies where we came together and sang the songs we had learned that week.

Also used for gathering together for Wednesday Night Suppers, prior to Wednesday night prayer meeting or for those special Sundays when the day was called Pot-Luck, the Fellowship Hall was aptly named for its building of fellowship and relationships, the casual camaraderie of coming together.

I wonder if potluck was a quarterly event. I really can’t remember.

Pot-Luck! What a great name -- if I was lucky, I could fill my plate over and over with the goodies brought to that hall -- and I grew up in the age of the casserole. If a mother added cream of mushroom soup and sour cream to anything, it became twice as yummy! Who couldn’t eat broccoli if it was covered in cheese?

That was rhetorical, but my oldest brother wouldn't. He's still weird, btw.

My own mother, a nutritionist, never served casseroles. They were of the Devil.


As I think back to that hall with the long table set up on either side, covered in long white tablecloths and covered from end to end with food, it brings back nothing but good memories of
watching the mothers and other ladies of the church bring bowls of salads and vegetables, plates of biscuits and corn bread, and oblong platters of fried chicken or ham covered with aluminum foil. Adhesive tape adhered to the bottom of the dishes with family last names kept from their being any mixed up as to what plate belongs to whom when so many were similar and empty of food at the end of the dinner. I waited patiently while the minister or a deacon drew our attention to him to bless the food.

I was always proud when my Daddy was asked to say this prayer as he had a beautiful voice, a varied vocabulary, and a way of phrasing that was a gift. I also prayed that it would be short.


I stood in line with my plate, mouth watering, the aromas of good things to come wafting in the air, and then I took my heaping plate of food to the table. If I were sitting with my friends, we saved places by placing purses or coats in chairs or turning it up to lean against the table and mark this spot as "saved."

Heh. Saved. Church.

Never mind.

At that table, we broke bread with our neighbors, our school friends, and our church body. We laughed, we caught up on each other’s lives, and we ate large.

'em, my friends, are some good memories.


You got any? Meanwhile, Brother Blog Reader, pass the fried chicken.


  1. My church still does potlucks! They. are. amazing. And we always added "in the bathroom" to the end of hymn titles. :-P

  2. We had a potluck dinner several Sundays ago after church to celebrate the groundbreaking for a new addition to our building. It was neat to usher in the new with an old tradition. Lots of great fellowship. And the food was yummy.

    Sadly, many of the traditional homemade goodies were replaced by store-bought items. I guess that is a sign of the "busyness" of times. Does this generation know how to fry a chicken? I'll be the first to admit that I don't because Publix does it so well for me, but Publix can't beat my mama's fried chicken. I miss the homemade goodness that has been replaced by convenience. *sigh*

    Great post. Great walk down memory lane.

    And I knew that you had Methodist roots. :-)

  3. Oh, Harriet: I can't wait to read this when I have more time. I will comment again after I do! Lori

  4. Oh I think this was a healthy tradition, where did it go? I missed out on this, although my Mom says they always had food after church. I do remember coffee hour, (with cookies) and sickenly sweet red punch. I remember a wonderful tradition in summer at the Methodist Church. We used to have ice-cream socials. All the women made homemade cakes and the men would be dipping vanilla ice-cream at the end of the line. It was wonderful! What great times you had....Lori

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed this memory. As you know I didn't go to church and my memories of "potluck" meals is different but it's still the same. The saving of seats, the parents watchful eyes, and the socialization I think our present generation misses out on....Jules

  6. Our church still has potluck Sunday on "5th Sundays." I always get tickled at the little ladies who bring one tiny bowl (that holds about 5 spoons full) of green beans and sit them down next to my feed-an-army-sized crock pot. The announcement always says to bring enough to feed your family; just shows how drastically our family size can change over the years. It's a good reminder for me at how differently our tables must be each night...mine with loud ill-mannered laughter while their's must be so quiet. Makes me thankful for my unholy grocery bill.

    When we worshiped in Fayetteville, AR, a bunch of us were discussing the rhythmic nature of some of the members' prayers. You know, how some men will always begin with a certain phrase, use "thee" and "thou" when they'd never use it in everyday speech, etc. One fellow said that when he was a young boy, there was an older gentleman who always ended his prayer with the phrase, "guide, guard, and direct us," but this young fellow always heard, "guard dog protect us." He said for the longest time he truly thought God had a big old rottweiler sitting on the right hand of his throne watching out for us all. LOL Now that we're in Nashville, AR, there's a man at our current church who uses the same phrase...I giggle out loud every.single.time. Amelia

  7. Bleh, pot lucks. Thirty-seven green bean casseroles and that one dish nobody can figure out so it goes untouched. I would have to agree with your mother, casseroles are of the devil. But I'm no nutritionist, I just don't think it's cooking, I think it's cheating. Casseroles are made the same way as Hollywood Blockbusters and self-help books. Toss some things in that don't go together and pray to God someone will like it.

  8. I also decided thirty minutes ago to deliberately put commas in wrong positions, use fragments, and run-on sentences to bother you. I know you've been habituated to fix such things so they must stick out like sore thumbs. The.

  9. I didn't see anything wrong with Blake's post. ;)I am glad you never had to "grade" me.

    Our Methodist church was much like yours. We had the Fellowship Hall, the tiny pencils, the envelopes and probably the same hymnals. A few weeks ago, I went back to the old church to attend a funeral for the mother of a friend of my youth there. There was a potluck meal for the family and friends in the Fellowship Hall after the service. I sat there with four of those precious old friends, absolutely swamped with memories. And yes, there were tiny bowls of corn and green beans nestled beside store bought fried chicken and huge pans of some very tasty noodle casseroles and my all time favorite Parker County Peach cobbler. Georgia isn't the only place known for it's peaches!