This girl is funny...not skinny.

This girl is funny...not skinny.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Story From My Childhood: Why I love/fear potlucks.

Good afternoon!

So my church had it's 75th anniversary today and, as most churches do, there was a potluck dinner after services.

Ahhhhh, potluck dinners.  

There are a couple things you should know about me when it comes to potluck dinners.

1)  I have been to more potluck dinners than pretty much anyone I know other than my parents. I love them...and I fear them.

2)  I cannot, CANNOT resist that smooshy pie filling/white stuff on a graham cracker crust dessert. I can't. Never have been able to.

Keep those two points in mind as you read the following:



When I was a kid my parents were both what you'd call leaders in the church. My dad was the principal and upper grades teacher of the parochial school attached to the church. My mother filled in where ever the school or church needed a pair of hands: Sub teacher, art teacher, cleaner, hot lunch lady, organist, all of that. Both were in the church choir, and both were always at everything all the time.  Which means I was as well.

Pot luck dinners,  for those of you who don't know, are dinners put on by a group, generally a church, where everyone who is going to eat brings a dish to pass.  It can be anything, although it's typically a dish that's easy to tote, like a casserole, a pasta salad, or a dessert of some kind.    The food is laid out on a table and everyone can go up as often as they want to, and eat as much as they want to.  Growing up, this was pretty much how my brother and I got fed on Sundays.  We belonged, over the years, to a couple churches that did pot lucks a lot.  We had pot luck for any reason:  Church picnic, anniversary of a pastor or a teacher, church anniversary, even a funeral or two, although funeral pot lucks were very different from regular pot lucks:  More ham, less dessert.

My mother would generally make the same thing every time:  apple cake.  Now, this is a delicious cake made with actual apples, and topped with a lush layer of cinnamon and sugar.  And when we ate it at home, we also got whipped topping of some kind.  When she took the cake to a potluck, however, the container of whipped topping stayed home because it was a second dish and a pain to drag around. What this mean was that her fairly plain brown cake was not noticed on the expansive table over loaded with fruit pies, cakes buried in frosting, or frothy Jello desserts (which were actually passed off as salads...which might be a reason I have a weight problem now.) Therefore, her cake would not get eaten. Or touched.  Which meant she brought it home.

Which meant we got dessert that week...with whipped topping!  (My health conscious mother didn't make dessert often.)

There was one pot luck where my mom was behind a woman who was actually taking a piece of her apple cake.

"I always look for the dessert or dish no one's touched," said the lady.  "I take some of the because I always feel bad when no one touches someone's dish."

She had no idea she was cutting into our dessert. LOL

Anyway, I'm telling you that story to tell you this one, about why I both love and fear pot lucks.  It has to do with plate size.  

Spoiler alert:  I'm going to tell you how they aren't big enough.

See, at a normal dinner you would NEVER, NEVER pile food on top of other food.  You wouldn't. It's weird. It makes things taste weird.  You'd have spaces on your place for meat, potatoes, veggies, and a separate plate for salad.  You'd know you could always ask for seconds.

But see, a potluck is different. You get one pass to get first crack at the dishes. After that, you may not get to taste something you thought looked good. So you pile it up.  And because it's just not proper to take and fill two plates right away (because you have to walk past the people who are waiting to get in line and you don't want to look like you're greedy) you pile it higher.  My dad used to complain that all the food at a potluck runs together on the plate and tastes like nothing.

At some point in my childhood, they switched from actual real china plates to those paper plates with the dividers.  That helped the ladies who had to clean up after the meal, but it didn't help the piled up food problem, in fact, it made it worse because those dividers took up space on the plate that would normally be there for food.

I'm telling you all this because this afternoon while eating at my own church, I was reminded of the day I got into some of the worst trouble I was ever in as a kid. Not THE worst trouble, my Sunday School kids will tell you THAT involved, yes, a church dinner, but not a plate of potluck. That involved a potato, a glass of milk, and a hymnal.  

That's a story for another day.

No this story was a rare outdoor potluck.  For whatever reason, the organizers decided not only to
have it outdoors, but to have it under the trees on the far side of the parking lot. The food line, of course, would still be inside. This meant that we'd fill up our plates, walk 50 feet across blacktop, and find a seat at a long table outside. Oh, and try not to dump anything on the way or spill any one's milk when you tried to scoot your chair closer to the table over rocky, uneven, tree shaded ground.

The oldest I could possibly have been at this even was 9.  It was the first time my parents didn't demand that I go through the line or sit with them. I was drunk with freedom.


I loaded up my plate like I generally did.  But, upon reaching the end of the table where the desserts were, I noted that my most favorite dessert of all EVER, the smooshy blueberry graham cracker thing, was there....and it was going fast.  Typically, potluck protocol says you eat the meal then you go back for dessert...but people who hadn't piled their plates the seven layer salad and six kinds of hot dish casserole were taking it, and I was not about to miss out on this!

My plan was to race to the table, set down my plate, announce loudly that I'd forgotten a fork  (the only reason someone who already had food was allowed to go back to the table before everyone else had gone through, grab a piece of the dessert on a dessert plate, and come back to my seat. My parents would be occupied with my brother and all the other church people, they'd never notice.

The first couple steps of my plan worked well. Bonus, I found a seat as close to the building as possible, and it just happened to be next to my best friend, so it didn't look odd that I sat there with her.  I went back into the church to get my dessert and I was excited to note that I was alone...no one else was there to tell me not to take the dessert.

There was one piece left. One beautiful, glorious, smooshy, blueberry filled piece.

I reached for a small plate.

There were none.

Not a one.

In fact, there were no bowls, nothing. All of the paper plates were being used.  What was I going to do? How was I going to get that dessert to my plate outside, fifty feet away?

I would carry it.  

In my hand.

I got it loaded on the flat of my hand just fine.  However, it was a warm Michigan day...and in Michigan warm usually also meant humid.  By the time I'd crossed the parking lot, the dessert was no longer a piece, it was really more of sauce I managed to set atop the rest of my food.  I looked around for a napkin to wipe off my hands.

Guess what?

I had actually forgotten a napkin.

So there I was, dessert oozing like a thick lava across a fully loaded plate of now cold and congealing hot dishes.  My hand was blue and gooey.  And I had no napkin and, IRONICALLY, no fork.

It was a  this moment that my best friend's mother, a lovely woman who had a very loud voice, said, "Boy I'm glad I don't have to eat that plate of food."  And then she saw me standing there, blue handed, and she said, loud enough for pretty much everyone to hear, "OH GROSS!"

My parents have sort of a sixth sense about certain things...and they know when someone raised their voice at a church function, there was a good chance one of their kids was involved.  

I don't exactly remember what my punishment was, although knowing my mother, it involved no TV for a week.  (As you all know the worst trouble you're going to get into is when you embarrass your parents in front of relatives or church people.) I do remember my father directing me to pick up my plate and follow him into the church where we discarded the mess and I was left getting a second plate made up of stuff that hadn't been eaten already.  If I recall correctly I ate green jello with carrots and raisins in it and several pickles.  

And I'm pretty sure I had a piece of my mom's apple cake.


So yes, today while everyone else was remembering 75 years at church, I was remembering that day in Michigan, some 40 years ago.

And now I want blueberry pie filling.

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