By Jean Clark
Thanksgiving is one holiday that is still a time of gathering family and friends to celebrate the blessings bestowed on all during the year, in spite of the earlier and earlier “Black Friday” and now Thursday sales. Most of the residents of Uplands Village are far from their families but have an abundance of friends to join for Thanksgiving dinner — 98 to be exact this year.
Back in the early 1990s, two families, the Zekiels and the Lammers, on Maple Circle in Pleasant Hill began inviting to their homes people they knew would be alone on the holidays at Thanksgiving and Christmas. In the beginning the guests fit around each of their dining room tables, but each year more and more people were included until the two families decided to combine forces and hold the dinners in Heritage Hall in the Uplands Retirement Village. Everyone contributed money towards the cost of the turkey or ham and brought dishes that they loved to make.
When Adshead Hall in Fletcher House was opened the dinners moved there to accommodate more people, and it became formally organized. Although the dinner is sponsored by the Uplands Assembly, it is open to the wider Pleasant Hill community and people are encouraged to include visiting family members.
Sharing of food is a custom as old as humanity itself. Cavemen and women probably shared the meat of animals cooperatively hunted and killed. Probably the women tended the roasting meat over the fire while the men drank fermented grapes and cheered on their fellow mates engaged in roughhousing and games. Customs haven’t changed much have they? While browsing through some of the earliest Uplands updates, it was intriguing to read tales of food brought to Dr. May Wharton at the early hospital in Pleasant Hill. For example:
“Dear Dr. May and My dear Nurse:
I am sending you all a box of apples. You can divide them between you both. Those is for love ant for no payment but for love and kindness that I owe you both. I may never see you all again but if I never here meet me up yonder.” (Dec. 1933)”
Dr. May often graciously received offerings of food in payment or in gratitude for her services at the mountain hospital or outlying clinics in and around Pleasant Hill. Money was scarce, but so was food and an offered chicken was a great sacrifice for many local families.
The word pot-luck appears in 16th century England in the work of Thomas Nashe and used to mean “food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest, the luck of the pot.” A communal meal where guests bring their own food appears to have originated in the late 19th century, particularly in the western United States. Among North American Native Americans, a potlatch was a ceremonial feast as a celebration of a special occasion. To the Irish, a potluck was a meal with no particular menu. Everyone participating brought food for all to share. Groups of Irish women would gather together to cook dinner. They only had one pot so whatever ingredients they happened to have were combined to make a meal.
The Uplands Assembly dinner was planned around the Thanksgiving traditional dishes of potatoes, squash, green beans, cranberry sauce and a variety of pies. Each family brought their favorite variation of those dishes.
Many religious or community groups use potlucks as a way of simplifying meal preparation and cost. One variation is the progressive dinner or safari supper where a group of neighbors physically move between different houses for each part of the meal. Another variation is the rota meal. Participants take turns providing food for the entire group. Some expressions used include covered dish supper, Jacob’s join, faith supper, bring and share, take away or carry out used in the same connotation of eating meals other than at home with others bringing food to share.
This week in Pleasant Hill:
The Grab thrift shop at 1944 West Main St. in Pleasant Hill will hold a special $1 per bag sale on Saturday, Dec. 14, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. because it will be closed from Dec. 20 through Jan. 6, 2014. Call 287-3018 for information.
Neighbors Together, the community self-help organization, will sponsor the annual Santa Workshop on Dec. 14 at 1 p.m. in the Pleasant Hill Community House. There will be no admission, but bring a can of food — the cupboard is bare. Call 787-1610 for information.
Uplands Travel Adventurers will go to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville for a special Handbell Choir Concert and Sing-a-Long. They will also view the exhibit “American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell.” Call 277-5114 for information.