The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Entertaining The Preachers

By Larry Andrews © 1985

Issue: June, 1985

Mountain people are unique. They are the same wherever they live, and unlike people who live in the flatlands. Now you take city folks and suddenly transplant them into the mountains, or even low lying hills between the mountains and the plains, and unless they are quickly accepted by their neighbors, they would starve to death. Only mountain people know what real vittles are like. They and their forebears have always had to scrabble for a living.

Family fare mostly is very simple. About the only store bought food is limited to condiments, such as salt, pepper, baking soda and powder and maybe cane sugar. I said "maybe" deliberately, because cane sugar cannot be compared favorably with home made maple sugar. Breakfast consists of ham, or bacon, and eggs, pan gravy, homemade bread, or pancakes, milk for the youngsters and coffee from the big pot that is rarely dry. Coffee being the only other store bought item of food.

Dinner is the noon day meal and supper is the evening meal. During the spring, summer and early fall, many families have a midmorning and a midafternoon lunch, which can mean five fairly heavy meals a day. Eating and sleeping are about the only forms of relaxation. Nowadays, of course, nearly every home, be it ever so humble, has at least one radio and some have television, if they can afford a tower or pole high enough to bring in the signal.

None of these were known when my father was a circuit rider in the Ozarks in southwestern Missouri. If you don't know what a circuit rider is, or was, I should say, then your education is limited. They were preachers of the Gospel, and mostly Methodists. My father was a circuit rider, except he had no horse or mule, and had to walk to get to three of his four churches. The one church he could reach easily was just across the road from the parsonage in Red Bird. (Don't try to look for Red Bird, Missouri on the map. You won't find it because two general stores, a blacksmith shop, a church, parsonage and two other houses do not constitute even a village. It is a real place, between Bland and Union in the Ozarks.) That Methodist parsonage was not at all like any of the parsonages furnished the pastors of the big city churches in St. Louis. It consisted of two big rooms downstairs and one big room upstairs. A big kitchen-dining room, and a big parlor were downstairs, and a steep stair led from the parlor to the big attic room where the entire family slept. Of course, there were no utilities. Kerosene lamps were numerous. Water came from a well near the back door, and the toilet was an outhouse, or privy down the hill in the back.

The only entertainment were the socials, either in the church, or in first one home and then another. Biggest event of the year was the revival, or protracted meeting. Father was always able to get an evangelist to spend six to eight weeks in the four churches every year. Members vied with each other for the privilege of entertaining the evangelist. While he stayed in one home, he was expected to eat his noonday meal in first one home and then another.

The women knocked themselves out planning, cooking and serving the evangelist and pastor at those noonday feasts. No home was too small or too humble. Meals consisted of at least three kinds of meat, cold-packed beef, smoked ham, bacon, sausage that had been made into cakes, fried, and then packed in grease that hardened into lard. Always, there was fried chicken and gravy. In addition to potatoes, fried, boiled, baked or mashed, there were always four or more vegetables, such as peas, green beans, corn-on-the-cob, turnips, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, kohlrabies and onions. Then there were the sweets, such as fresh and canned fruits, preserves, jams and jellies too numerous to name, plus pies and cakes. The menu was limited only by the number of serving dishes the housewife had.

One of my father's favorite stories concerned the time he and the evangelist accepted an invitation to have dinner - the noon meal - in the home of a widow not as well off as some of the other church families. She had a teenage son whom one might say was retarded, but in those days considered, "not very bright." Father and the evangelist had places of honor at the table; Father at one end and the evangelist at the other. Sister Smith had worked for two days preparing that meal, and the table, with two extra leaves in it, covered by a big red and white checked table cloth, was loaded: Two platters of meat, five big dishes of vegetables, plus half a dozen smaller dishes of jams, jellies and pickles. When all was ready, they seated themselves at the table, with the evangelist saying grace. Then they began piling food on their plates. Finally Father broke into the conversation to ask,  "Sister Smith, may we have a spoon for the green beans?"

With profuse apologies for her oversight, Sister Smith left the table and crossed the room to the kitchen cabinet. She started rattling the utensil drawer, muttering aloud. Finally, with a note of exasperation, she exclaimed, "Where on earth are all my spoons?"

After about the third or fourth time she asked that question, the boy, who was so awed by the presence of the evangelist that he had not spoken a word until then, drawled; "Now, Maw; there ain't no use in you lyin about it. You know we only got four big spoons" and pointing to the bowls on the table, continued, "There's one, there's one, there's one and this here is the other one."

The poor woman was mortified. Father, a born diplomat, broke in to assure her they didn't need any more spoons; they could use what they had. So saying, he took his fork and raked green beans on to his plate.