Five-year-old Hannah’s eyes widened at the tables spread with a feast. Glancing around, she saw that her mom was talking to the group of ladies in the church vestibule. Confident that no one was paying attention to her, she made her way to one of the tables.
Her stomach rumbled, and it seemed her hand had a mind of its own. It darted out and grabbed a chicken drumstick. Hannah stared at her grubby hands. She hadn’t bathed in three days.
She had eaten half the drumstick when she saw the centerpiece that said, “Happy Birthday Pastor Harold.” Hannah stopped chewing. She knew the words Happy Birthday but wasn’t sure about the other words. She understood this feast was for someone’s birthday.
Sighing, she placed the drumstick back on the pile of chicken. Although there was so much food she was sure one drumstick wouldn’t be missed, she knew Mommy would count this as stealing. Wiping the back of her hand across her greasy mouth, then both hands on her shirt, she walked to the door of the fellowship hall.
Mommy was explaining their plight, plight being the word Mommy used, to the group of ladies. “He just left us. I don’t know where he is. Then we got evicted from our apartment. Been sleeping in the car since. I just need gas money to get to my parents in Dallas,” Mommy said with a quiver in her voice.
From the looks of that group of ladies, Mommy wasn’t getting money or anything else. “This isn’t a good time,” one said. “We’re having a potluck today to celebrate our pastor’s birthday.”
“Usually you wouldn’t even catch us in here, we’d all be in the service,” another said as her eyes raked over her mommy.
Mommy kept talking, so Hannah stepped backwards. Turning, her eyes fell on the dessert table. Her mouth involuntarily shaped into an O. Sidling up to it, she folded her hands on the table, resting her chin there. Pies, cakes, cookies, brownies….oh, my!
“What’re you doing?”
Startled, Hannah jumped, pulling back her hand that had been reaching for a brownie. She stared into the stern face of the lady. “Nothing,” Hannah mumbled.
“Look what you’ve done,” the lady said, pointing at the spot where Hannah’s hands had made a greasy stain on the tablecloth.
“I’m sorry.” Hannah’s voice trembled.
“Oh, no!” the lady shrieked when she saw the half eaten drumstick on the platter of chicken. The other ladies came rushing into the fellowship hall. They seemed to forget that Hannah and her mom were there as they discussed whether they should throw away the whole platter of chicken.
“That’s just dandy. The potluck’s ruined,” the stern lady said.
“Come on, honey bug,” Mommy said softly, putting her arms around Hannah, and tugging her towards the door.
“Wait!” One lady came walking over, motioning for Mommy to follow her. She went into the kitchen and pulled ten dollars from her purse and handed it to Mommy. “We’ll fix you both a plate of food you can take with you,” she said.
A couple of the ladies helped fill plates while the stern lady glared at Hannah and her mom. They had just started out the door with their foil covered plates when people began pouring in, lead by an elderly, silver-haired man.
“What have we here?” Pastor Harold remarked, smiling compassionately at Hannah and her mom.
“Sorry ‘bout that, Pastor Harold,” the stern lady said. “They’re leaving. Come on, we’re ready to pray before the food gets cold.”
“Tell them to pray then, Martha. I want to talk to these lovely ladies,” Pastor Harold said, dropping to eye level with Hannah. “What brings you here for my birthday potluck?” His eyes were kind and his voice gentle.
Despite Mommy’s protests that they were leaving, Pastor Harold brought them into the fellowship hall and sat them at his table, Martha glaring the whole time.
It was a story that Hannah would tell her children, the potluck that changed their lives, reuniting them with her grandparents in Dallas. Not only did they sit at the table with Pastor Harold and his wife, but he filled up their gas tank, set them up in a hotel that night, and gave them enough money for food and gas for their trip.
“He treated us like honored guests, like family. And when Martha warned Pastor Harold not to take any chicken from that platter, he winked at me and took two pieces.”
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