Do you miss your church suppers? Could it be that we have become more divisive because we aren’t gathering to eat and break bread? Let's hark back a few years at a time less divisive and where folks treated one another with more civility.
"Let’s eat out" was not a common refrain for housewives in the 1950s. There were no fast food restaurants and to take a family of four or more to eat in a cafe would take most of the allowance given to a housewife to buy her weekly groceries. Eating out was saved for special occasions like anniversaries or going on the annual summer vacation up north or going to the Lutheran Church Ladies Aid Supper in my hometown.
Church suppers were popular then, much like they are today. The big difference is that the price was much less. This is why my family, once a month, took advantage of the Trinity Lutheran Church Ladies Aid supper. They weren’t so much as a fundraiser as they were a community gathering similar to the feasts held in Native American communities.
Make no mistake about it, the food was good. Mrs. Quiram made my favorite, a chicken noodle hot dish with carrots. Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup had not been invented yet, everything was from scratch. It was delicious and you could have second and third helpings. In addition to the cherry Jello with bananas, the hot dish was the only thing I ate plus a piece of pie or cake or both.
Imagine 20 or 30 housewives getting together to plan what they could make to bring to the supper. They would bring their best hot dish or potato dish, best salad, best dessert and their best homemade rolls and bread and lots and lots of sandwiches. It was truly a feast filled with aromas and seasonal decorations brightened up the tables. For only 20 cents a person could eat and eat some more. Small children ate free.
The ladies would first gather around 3 p.m. and have devotions led by my grandfather. They sang a few hymns followed by a short business meeting and then they got to work.
Some of their first customers were the single female teachers from school of which there were quite a few. Single teachers were the rule and not the exception in the 50s. School boards didn’t like to hire a married female teacher and then have to quickly find someone else when the teacher resigned to get married and start a family. No doubt one of the questions asked in an interview, and you could do it then, was, “Do you plan to get married anytime soon?”
Because teachers were poorly (unions were still absent from the scene), a 20 cent, all-you-could-eat meal was not something you could ignore. The feeling was, “Well, you do get the summers off.” No one seemed to realize that teachers also kept on living in the summer and would need to eat.
As a boy of 8 or 9, my first reaction to seeing many of the teachers eat at the Ladies Aid supper was, “I really didn’t know teachers ate.” I had this notion, as did many of my young friends, that teachers just stayed forever and ever at school. You just didn’t see teachers out and about very much.
Since my grandfather was the preacher, he looked at these church supper events as a means for evangelism. He was always around greeting people but was smart enough to stay away from the kitchen. I am sure he mentioned more than once to visitors the time of the Sunday church service. Because my mother was one of the servers, my brother and I would eat and stay around until my father came after work and we would then go home together.
I can’t say for sure but I believe there was some competition involved among the ladies. Each lady might bring two or three of her favorite dishes to set out and I’m sure she kept an eye to see how fast they disappeared. Comments like, “Boy, they sure gobbled up my tuna noodle hot dish” were not uncommon. And then someone would have to say, “Oh, that’s too bad. I really wanted to try that. It looked swell. You’ll have to bring it again.”
Church dinners then like they are today were interdenominational. Eating is not prejudicial. It’s a great equalizer. When people sit down to eat together there is one thing on their mind. “Will I get enough to eat and will there be any of that apple pie left?”
We definitely need to eat together more today to heal our country. President Joe Biden ought to mandate a potluck every noon for about as long as it takes to get the Congress together. Assignments could be made to the legislators to bring a hot dish, salad and rolls or a dessert. Can you see it happening? Politicians would bring things particular to their home state. They would be complementing one another on the pie or cake or watermelon pickles. “Have you tried my Colorado peach cobbler?” “Help yourself to more Minnesota Red Lake walleye.”
There would also be a clean up crew wearing aprons. I can just see it happening and afterwards the house and senate leaders could read off the names of the people assigned to the next potluck lunch. There would be laughter, mingling and friendly conversation.
Maybe some smart politician should run on the idea of having potlucks in our state houses. People would remember their own church suppers and say, “Now that’s an idea worth supporting. You got my vote.” If there were ever a time for more suppers like those ladies aid church dinners of yesteryear, now is the time. “Please pass the chicken noodle hot dish and save me a piece of that apple crumb pie.”
Riddle: If you had six pairs of white gloves and six pairs of black gloves and you put them into a box, how many would you have to take out before you were assured of finding a pair that matched (assuming you were not looking at the gloves)? Answer: 13. One thing is for sure, we need to find ways to come together. Eating more together is as good of an idea as any.
Too many people think that a 100% graduation rate is a good idea but not really all that important. In other words they believe there is no demand for it. How about this? There would be fewer people going to bed hungry and there would be fewer homeless people. How about, there would be fewer people in our jails and fewer people dying at an early age? Those reasons represent pretty good demands for me.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.