all of the selves we Have ever been
It's a Miracle!
I attended a miracle.
It happened yesterday. In a church basement.
A friend invited me to the weekly Friday fish fry at her church. We went in her car and arrived to a jam-packed parking lot. We took a spot in one of the farthest lanes. Bracing ourselves against the bitter cold wind that puffed up our coat sleeves and bit at our ears, we tried to find the nearest open door.
As we made our way, I noticed that the entire church complex was surrounded by a long string of cars waiting patiently in the take-out line. There were more cars than I have ever seen at any fast food place at meal time.
My friend and I arrived inside and followed the hum of voices that led to the growing crowd. The line for food extended from the serving tables through the community room and further on into the multipurpose room. The line was long and slow moving. No one complained. Some children sat on the steps in front of the stage while others dribbled and passed a basketball occasionally shooting at the hoop. It was impossible to tell which children belonged to which adult. There was that loose, pervasive kind of supervision that occurs in familiar places full of multi-generational groups of happy people.
A handful of adults sat around a square folding table where candy bars were on sale for a dollar a piece. A preschooler stood at the front of the table happily arranging and re-arranging the chocolate.
We got in line behind an older male guest with a shuffling gait. He leaned on a cane. The male guest joined the conversation about the new Menards that opened this week. He told us about the Menards in Cincinnati that is three stories high. In line ahead of the older male guest were a mom, dad and daughter. The little girl was wearing bright pink high-top tennis shoes with floral ribbons for laces. The shoes glittered reflecting the light. Mom told us how the shoes came to be. The father admitted that his daughter got her love of sparkly things from him.
We came first to the table where we purchased our tickets. Cash only. No apps. No self-checkout. We received handmade tickets that he been used over and over again; the edges were crooked and the middles worn thin from all of the thumbs that had rubbed them while waiting in line. People stopped to enter the 50-50 raffle, writing their phone numbers on the backs of small paper rectangles.
As we progressed toward the buffet, a server appeared out of nowhere to assist the guest with the cane. The server got a tray and waited while the guest made his food selections, and then the server patiently fell into step with the short shuffling gait.
Throughout the entire experience, a man kept re-appearing with large aluminum trays full of hot fried fish. I don’t know where he came from or where he went, but every few minutes a voice heralded his return, “Hot fish! Hot fish, coming through!”
The service line was as jammed as the parking lot, except it was volunteers and not cars. Mostly older men filled our plates and refilled the serving dishes. School kids in uniforms staffed the dessert table and described the offerings. Men and women wandered the crowd squeezing into the tight spaces between tables and chairs to offer refills for the all-you-can-eat-fish diners. When the space between the seats was too tight, we all pitched in and passed the plates around.
The room was loud and busy and joyful. There were babies in car seats, toddlers being offered spoons full of macaroni and cheese by dads who also were trying to sneak in a bit of fish. Parents, grandparents, teenagers, and neighbors--if you came by yourself, you were not alone. Not one individual sat staring into a laptop screen. Not a single cell phone was in use.
The whole scene was so familiar. This was how I grew up—in church basements, at the VFW, the fire hall, the school auditorium. These were the places where my worlds and my people came together for fish fries, weddings, funerals, BINGO, bazaars, festivals, bake sales, school plays, and concerts. These gathering places were home away from home. It was a good feeling and a kind of dessert all its own.
After we finished our meals, someone came to take our trays. My friend and I squeezed between chairs and into the main aisle. A man approached us to thank us for coming. He invited us back on one condition—that we bring two more with us.
Maybe that is how miracles happen—people come two-by-two and sit side-by-side. We gather together in the spirit of community and the fish multiply.
I will be back, and next time, I’ll see what happens to the water!
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