by Melodie Davis
for release November 10, 2000
Something to Sink Your Teeth Into
In our part of the country, if you have a reason to be on the road at the unrighteous hour of four on a Saturday morning, you may see what seems like a strange sight. Through spring, summer, and most of the fall, you may see smoke rising from a pole barn/shelter out behind a church or community building, like some strange ritual. You may see lanterns or lights in the early predawn hours and a small cadre of people working, drinking coffee, keeping warm.
What is going on? A chicken barbecue of course. Variations of this activity take place in most communities in North America, I'm sure. Whether it is the local Lions club rising to prepare their annual pancake and sausage breakfast, the Music Boosters making homemade soup for the fall festival, or the Ruritans preparing their turkey and oyster supper, working together in clubs and community organizations to raise funds is as much a tradition as Thanksgiving or Christmas. These groups frequently work to raise money not for themselves but for causes ranging from scholarships, to famine relief, to vision and hearing screening, to sponsoring athletic teams for local youngsters. But I'm not sure the funds raised are as important as something else that happens.
Substitute the name of whatever working-together volunteer event you do in your particular group or community. These are the local traditions that mean home, family, community, fond memories. I grew up in northern Indiana where local schools had Jonah Club Fish Fries. Goodness, there was nothing as wonderful as fish from a Jonah Fish Fry! Every fall and spring the junior and senior classes of our parochial school would host these gigantic dinners-three to four thousand in attendance, if my memory serves me correctly. Parents and teenagers slaved dozens of hours to prepare wonderful fish-fried of course in artery-clogging deep fat, but served with zingy cole slaw, potato chips, carrot and celery strips, bread and hundreds of homemade pies. In 30 years, I have never been able to manage to be in my home area when a fish fry was being held, so you can imagine how I crave this taste and this memory. It probably tastes much better in my memory than it would taste in reality.
But these events are about more than great food, memories, and raising a significant amount of money. They are about working together, especially when you are working across generations.
What happens as you work with others to prepare vast amounts of great food? You get to know each other in new and deeper ways, even if the learnings are not always pleasant. You learn who makes a good supervisor and who is just plain bossy. You learn each others' comfort levels with the ratio of quantity of food prepared to expected rush of customers: "Isn't it time to put some more sausages on?" asks Joe, eyeing the kettle of finished sausages which is still adequate but diminishing slowly.
"Nah, I'll wait 'til I see a few more people in line," responds Bob. "I want 'em to be good and fresh." Substitute the name of whatever specialty your group prepares. Some self-appointed chefs are annoyed when other people tell them how to cook.
You learn who can really hustle and who mostly likes to stand around. You learn who can see work to be done, and who has to be told every time the chicken needs turning. Working together is really the best way to get to know other people in your club or organization. I've been in groups where I went to meetings all year long and felt like I was only smiling hi and bye to folks. It was only after I was put on a committee to help plan an event that I moved beyond the superficial introductions.
The same is true in a church. The way to feel more at home is to get involved and take on a job or committee assignment and help out behind the scenes.
Beyond the bonding of working together and getting to know fellow club or church members better, these are the kinds of events that bind communities together, creating special memories for children and families. They are part of what make home, home. At a pancake breakfast, I was surprised to see a group of high school and college kids show up to eat about 7:45 a.m. when most teens aren't even thinking about rolling out of bed yet. One of them exclaimed, "Oh, I couldn't miss the Lion's pancake breakfast. This is just part of our tradition. Our family did it every year."
So when you see smoke rising or homemade posters announcing the local whatever, think: this is not just about somebody's fundraiser. This is not just about our favorite local specialty. This is about family, community, and national tradition. So get involved and enjoy!
Do you have any stories of working together to share? Send it to me at: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
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