Pot Luck: What You Make of It

A traditional church pot luck

I was sizing up the spread at a pot luck after a funeral and trying to figure out how much of each dish I was going to be able to get onto my plate. After a beautiful service described as a “celebration of the life of our friend,” the family of the departed had invited their church family to eat and have fellowship with them.

Jim Cloud had lost a battle with cancer. It struck quickly. Photos from just two months ago showed a man who looked strong, vibrant, and healthy. Now, he was gone and those closest to him were grieving.  It’s the kind of thing that always strikes me as odd, but no one should tell others how to mourn. The man who had passed away, it was said, would want us all to have a good meal in the church he loved so much and get to know each other better. Those of us who knew him just a little, like myself, would get a chance to hear stories from those who knew him very well.

Anyone who’s been to a pot luck in a small Texas town knows the pride with which the folks beam when they’re able to bring something unique and tasty, then place it alongside all the other delicious offerings. This group had done well.  Sure, there were some cheaters who brought store-bought stuff, but for the most part these were homemade delights. There’s no way to list everything laid out for us to devour.  What I can tell you is that plates were overflowing with chicken, turkey, sausage, homemade lasagna, salads of various types, okra with tomatoes (pause for respect on that one), something that looked like Thanksgiving dressing but relied heavily on yellow squash, and all sorts of other stuff.

Oh, and the desserts! An amazing apple crumble, chocolate cakes, pies, cookies with toffee chips, and calf slobber. If you’re unfamiliar with the dessert known in the south as calf slobber, I can have nothing but heartfelt sympathy for you.

Our family’s contribution was a huge container of homemade potato salad, complete with red potatoes fresh from my father’s garden. Oh, it was awesome. But, I already knew that was awesome and most of it would make its way home with us anyway, so I didn’t want to waste too much of my precious plate space on the spuds.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they arrange the food on their plate at a southern pot luck. There are those who are greedy and try to get two or more scoops of everything, which strategically means they’ll run out of room on their plate and won’t even get halfway through the smorgasbord before they have to retreat to their table. They’re amateurs.

I like to play it smart and get a very small amount of almost everything, increasing the chances I’ll actually get to try everything that looks good. The bigger the spread, the greater the need to pace yourself and not load up quickly on the initial offerings. The art of compromise plays a key role. You might take a smaller amount of one dish so you can pile up a bigger portion of another. If there’s a long line, that complicates things because it’s harder to walk the table and get a lay of the land before you start building your plate. If you arrive early, you can do reconnaissance to better formulate your plan.

When there was no more room on my plate for anything else, I found a table and sat down next to a guy who knew Jim Cloud very well but didn’t know me at all.  This nice young man, Cory, was working on his life plans. He told me his dream is to be a motivational speaker – traveling the country and helping people get a better handle on how to arrange their lives.  I couldn’t help but notice his plate was overwhelmed with homemade lasagna, with sadly little room for anything else.  Here’s hoping he doesn’t arrange his life that way.

Cory told me Mr. Cloud was an inspiration to him in the way he always reached out to people from all walks and was never shy with his strong opinions.  To me, it sounded like Mr. Cloud made room in his life for a diverse group of people – much more diverse than the way Cory had arranged his plate.

Someone much smarter than I am recently pointed out that the treasure in going to a funeral where you don’t really know many of the other people there is it can force friendships  into existence.  The person who would usually jump in and start talking during the awkward silence is gone, so you have to fill it yourself.

Maybe I’ll reach out to Cory soon to see how those life plans are coming along.

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