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I believe that the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will be a potluck. The Saints will come from afar, bearing covered dishes, and reclining at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But there will be no tofu, for it will have its part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.
The course of my life can be charted from one potluck to another. We had them when someone was born, when someone died, and for basically any notable event in between. And if we couldn’t think of a notable event, we just got together to eat.
Most of these took place in “fellowship halls” of matchbox churches across the South. Pale and peeling linoleum floors. Water spots on the ceilings. Upright pianos in the corner that hadn’t been tuned since Moby Dick was a minnow. And old men who took to calling me “Porkchop."
Every church in the county is having potluck today. And I think that’s wonderful. In some ways, it’s the closest we get to Heaven without first having been stretched out in a pine box.
I remember trying to explain this cultural phenomenon to Scottish friends when I lived abroad. Many had never darkened the door of a church, so their idea of fellowship was connected to pub crawls and rugby matches. But the notion of regular ‘eating meetings’ appealed to them.
“Imagine being a towheaded boy of 10,” I said. “Your mother has dressed you up in clean Sunday clothes and a clip-on necktie and mashed down your cowlick with spit.”
“Before you are what look to be miles of card tables loaded down with steaming pots and casserole dishes. And there’s a special section dedicated to pies and cakes and cobblers. What you blokes call ‘puddings.’”
Then I went on to explain the eclectic fare that usually made an appearance at such gatherings: fried chicken, fried fat back, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, greens, peas, butterbeans, macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, ham, smoked turkey, homemade breads, and some unidentifiable mayonnaisey concoction festooned with raisins.
“You grab a styrofoam plate, and some ancient woman with blue, beehive hair trains her cold eyes on you. This is both to keep you in line, and keep the line moving with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine.”
“Another lady smiles and says, ‘sweet or unsweet,’ because in the South we are tolerant, allowing for this wide variety in beverages. You take a solo cup of tea and move on down the line.”
“One lady is standing over the fried chicken, slinging legs and thighs like a Brazilian jiu jitsu artist. ‘White or dark,’ she might say. Or ‘How’s about you keep your fat little fingers off that yardbird unless you want to draw back a nub.’ It varies.”
“At the dining tables there's a gaggle of men dressed in button down shirts and hard starched britches competing to see who can tell the biggest lie about a fish they caught or a deer they shot. Then you see them politely rise and give up their seat to anyone wearing lipstick.”
“But before anyone actually starts tucking into their food, there’s always a ‘Brother So-and So’ who rises to say a prayer. He will undoubtedly invoke the Heavens in God’s own tongue (which is conveniently laid out for us in the King James Bible).”
“Almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus,” he says, “We recognize that every good and perfect gift comes from Thy hand, and we understand that Thou hast loaded us daily with benefits. So we give thanks, whether fit or infirmed, mighty in wealth or destitute…”
“And this usually goes on until the mashed potatoes are as cold as a mother in law’s kiss. But no one complains. We know that he’s right.”
“After the prayer, you see your grandaddy move over to the ancient woman with the blue beehive hair and put his arm around her. She’s not really crotchety, she’s just recently widowed.”
“Frank loved these potlucks, you know,’ she says. And your grandaddy hugs her and says, ‘Yes ma’am, I know. We’ll see him again before long. You just remember that he’s eating better than we are today.”
“See, potlucks aren’t really about fried chicken and butterbeans at all. They’re about these people. Your people. These moments are a little bit of Heaven to go to Heaven on. ”
I don’t know if the Scotsmen got it, but it was helpful to me to try to explain it. Because today I will think of reunions past and the Big One still to come. I will hug the widows. And I’ll think about bending elbows in Glory with that old man who used to call me “Porkchop.”
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