I believe in the magnificent loaf of bread, golden from a dash of molasses and sprinkled with poppy seeds that Peter must have risen from bed two hours early to bake. I believe in the three cans of baked beans that Gratia heats on the stove right after service; she made a special trip to the grocery store to buy them. I believe in the blueberry cobbler Chip created from berries she picked yesterday from her own bushes with her children and grandchildren. I believe in the elegant focaccia thick with caramelized onions, chunks of gorgonzola and toasted pecans; I want to get the recipe if I can ferret out the cook. I believe in the big bowl of something I cannot name, but that it won’t hurt me to try.
I believe in potlucks. All sorts of special celebrations and daily rituals center on the ordinary experience of sharing a meal together, but a potluck has unique qualities. The long tables piled with plates and napkins at one end and cluttered with desserts on the other have space for everyone’s contribution, but not for hierarchy or criticism. Everyone brought something to the table.
Parents balancing three plates on one arm encourage young children to try some of the potato salad that doesn’t look quite like the kind served at home. The four-year-old’s initial reluctance to take a taste of anything new wavers in the face of a bowl of wax beans that have bacon, his favorite food, mixed in. A dedicated carnivore sighs when the platter of home-fried chicken disappears before he gets to it. He takes a few of the falafel instead. Later when he comes back for seconds he is relieved to discover there are still a few more in the dish. This time he takes some of the yogurt sauce too. Everyone tries something at a potluck.
As the food table slowly empties, the other tables fill. People sit down with friends. People sit down with folks they’ve been arguing fiscal policy with for the past two weeks or arguing with for two years about whether it is environmentally irresponsible to use weed killer on the front lawn. Mothers, about to sit down with their babies to eat another fitful meal, are relieved by people who “just want to hold that cute little angel for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.” They don’t mind. Newcomers take seats with old timers. Near the door, two glasses of lemonade spill and three forks are dropped. But there aren’t even any kids at that table.
The monthly potlucks at my Unitarian Universalist church are among my favorite gatherings, but I believe in potlucks of all sorts. It is good to sit down and share a meal with people who I know well and those I don’t, with those I agree with and those I don’t. I believe both in contributing and remembering to explore and enjoy the contributions everyone else makes.
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