Communication is important, especially between large numbers of people all coming together for the same reason. No, I’m not talking about protest marches or football games. I’m talking about something much more important: pot-luck meals. Don’t think that’s a big deal? You must not have ever been to one.
If you’ve never come across the term, it means everybody attending brings some kind of food. It is also referred to as a covered-dish meal, probably because not that long ago, you had to keep the food covered against insects and dirt until the meal started.
Family or friend pot-luck dinners are one thing. You generally call around, checking to see what everybody is bringing, and the hostess usually makes sure there will be enough meat and side dishes and desserts. But when the occasion becomes bigger, communication is even more important.
Church pot-lucks, for example. All you have to do is go to one where the meat runs out before the line of eaters is finished to realize somebody should have been in charge of coordinating what everybody brought and figuring how many would be there. The latter is sometimes impossible to predict, but at least there was a chance that somebody would be aware that there were only a couple of meat dishes and way too many side dishes.
These past few weeks I have been at functions that brought home the importance of communication. In our area, the usual ritual is to have a meal after a funeral or memorial service, so that family and friends could gather and share their grief and love for the departed one. Friends always took care of planning the meal, because the family had their hands full with grief and trying to deal with arrangements for the funeral or memorial service.
I have been to many of these meals since I am friends with many in our rural area and small towns. Some of them are small with mostly family attending, but a couple have been enormous with a huge number of relatives and even more friends. At one of the largest, the deceased’s employer had offered to cater the meal, and the family paid a young woman to meet the caterers and arrange the food at the community center where the meal would be held, while the mourners were finishing up the funeral at the graveside nearby.
Not everybody knew this, including me. I personally brought several foods, meat and a couple of side dishes, I think. I got there early, forgoing the graveside service, figuring I could help with the meal since the ladies who usually dealt with it were family members of the deceased and were at the graveside service. I discovered the young woman arranging everything in the kitchen, which had two doors and a long counter, with two or three long tables for added surface space.
This immediately told me two things: one, she didn’t know how meals worked in our community center, and two, she had not seen how many mourners had been at the funeral. I had and knew her arrangement was not going to work. She was surprised and balked a little when I advised her the drinks and desserts needed to go in the main dining hall on larger tables. She began to believe me when more ladies began showing up with more food, and the counter began being covered. She had not even set out the meal the caterers had brought yet, keeping it warm in the oven and cool in the refrigerator.
She was astonished and a little dismayed when we finally had everything set up, with three long tables covered with desserts, two long tables covered with tea and coffee and a cooler on the floor full of ice and another full of canned drinks, and a kitchen with a long counter and two long tables all crowded with food. “Won’t this be too much food?” she worried. No, it wasn’t. By the time the family and friends made their way through the line past all the food, the large amount of food the caterers provided and the extra food the friends of the family brought had dwindled to a few desserts. If the friends of the family had not brought their dishes, only half the mourners would have had anything to eat. NOT knowing about the catered food saved that meal.
Last week, another meal after a memorial service occurred. The widow had asked the ladies of her church, which included me, to take care of arranging for food and drink for the family and friends later at a different community center. One of the most experienced ladies here contacted all the usual members who donated food for these meals and figured whether we needed more or less of one food or another. It was going to be simple, with only water to drink and sandwiches and soup and desserts for the food. The only sticking point was how much would be needed since the family had many friends not from our area who would be attending.
The ladies of the church all brought our food, and the lady in charge made sure it got to the community center and got it set up with a few other women. Few from our church and local area could attend the meal since it was almost an hour away and it was a weeknight with everybody needing to work the next day. It was mostly the ladies who were retired who went to the community center to help out. We got the sandwiches and soup set out and worried if there would be enough after seeing how many mourners had been at the memorial service.
We didn’t need to worry. Apparently, the widow had not told their other friends that her church was handling the meal. One man walked in with several large pizzas. One came in with an enormous pan of barbecued sausages. Desserts galore began crowding the dessert tables. Boxes and boxes of fried chicken pressed up against the other meats. By the time they decided to start eating, the dishes were fighting for space on the long line of tables.
When everybody declared themselves stuffed there was still a large amount of food left, and the widow said she could not take it all home. Then she had a brilliant idea. She came up to us as we were contemplating all the remaining food and announced, “I solved it! I just told all the college students they could take all this food back to their dorms!” It was a perfect solution. We got rid of the excess food, the kids got food for a week, and they did all the heavy labor of hauling the food to their vehicles, leaving us to just clean up.
Communication when coordinating is very important. Sometimes you get all the information needed, and sometimes not. Sometimes you just get lucky despite the missing information.