Saturday, July 29, 2006

Homecomin and Staying "Grounded"

I had the honor and privilege of attending my first Homecoming.

Don't worry, you haven't pulled a Rip Van Winkle and awakened sometime in November. At this homecoming, there was no football game, no cheerleaders, and no tailgates. This homecoming took place on July 23, 2006 at Lanes Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Downsville, Louisiana. It's an annual tradition that kicks off the church's week-long evening revival services. Lanes Chapel is my paternal grandparents' church. It's the church at which my grandfather still serves as a deacon, as did my great-grandfather before him.

Homecoming is a long-standing tradition among rural country churches. It marks an occasion when all members of the church and their extended families (particularly those who have moved away) come "home" to attend services. "Dinner on the Ground" is an integral part of Homecoming. It was originally a picnic or a potluck meal, with food supplied by those who could provide it for the consumption of all those who were willing to partake. People spread out blankets and ate, literally, on the ground. It was a chance for a church to come together to visit, fellowship, sing, pray, and, of course, eat.

There were no blankets this Sunday. Everyone came in cars instead of wagons. People sat on folding chairs and ate at tables. Dinner was still served between regular morning worship and afternoon service. Still, I watched folks come together to visit, fellowship, sing, and pray. I also watched people laugh, eat, gossip, nap, eat, swat flies, and eat. I was recruited for serving and clean-up duty, but I definitely didn't go hungry.

I learned a lot at my first Homecoming.

I learned that the girl her family used to call "Fat-Fat" has grown up to be rail-thin and model-pretty. I learned that, seated and from the rear, I'm a dead-ringer for my dad when he was my age. I learned that, if God ever gives her a large enough kitchen, my grandmother would try to feed the world. I learned that Terri's Mee-Maw is also my aun-tie.

I learned a lot at my first Homecoming.

I learned that, depending upon who's doing the slicing, three Sara Lee cakes can feed 100 people. I learned that there's nothing to stop a bold teenager from moving from family to family and table to table, getting a new plate of food each time. All he has to do is smile, nod, shake a few hands and kiss a few cheeks. I learned that I'm now too old to get away with this.
I learned a lot at my first Homecoming.

I learned that there's more to making real macaroni and cheese than just a pot of boiling water, elbow macaroni, and a packet of cheese sauce. I learned that the question of who makes the best dressing will not be answered definitively in my lifetime.
I learned a lot at my first Homecoming.

I learned that Lanes Chapel Missionary Baptist Church was founded by freedmen in 1867. The original signatories to the deed made their marks with an "X". Though these former slaves did not know how to read or write, they certainly knew the value of property, community, and family. I learned that, once a year at least, their descendants come together in a way that reinforces that those three things are still important. I just wish that we could find it in ourselves to do so more often.

I learned a lot at my first Homecoming.


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