Eating with my friend Ben created some memories that I shall never forget.
Eating in the South is special. This did not occur just a few months ago. For a long time people who live in the South have enjoyed eating. For decades we have had church socials, reunions, ice cream socials, decoration days (commonly called funeral picnics by some of us), and on and on it goes. After a funeral, we have food. You name an event and we have probably had food at it.
The food at these events is rarely catered or purchased. We get good old fashioned Southern cooking from homes at these events. In fact, cooks often seize these opportunities to put their skills on display.
I developed a friendship with Ben through some church meetings we both attended. We talked at these events, a lot. Ben could do many things well. Eating and talking were two of his best features. He always could talk to any person he met, whether they wanted ti or liked the conversation was a different matter.
The first time you meet Ben he makes an impression. You will remember him from that point forward, even if a gap of a few decades occurs. Ben routinely had a long beard, although he occasionally wold shave it off. He was also a man of large proportions. I say this because it impacts the memories I have of us eating together. Ben told me he weighed almost four hundred pounds. He had not weighed in a long time he said. He was of average height for a man. So, when he came into a room he made an impression.
Ben told me he was a lot smaller a decade earlier, before he moved to the South. He said Southern food had to be like manna from Heaven. He enjoyed it a lot. Ben said he was a good Christian man and so he did not have vices like smoking, drinking, gambling, and having affairs. With his job he said he did not have time for golf or other sports. So, he had made eating his hobby and vice. He was very proficient at it.
Ben called me one day and asked a mutual friend Bob and I to join him for lunch. I agreed so we could talk about a sundry of things. I was unaware of this restaurant, even though I had lived in the area for several years. Ben had a way of finding the best food. This restaurant was an all you could eat buffet. Bob and I met Ben at the front door at 11:30. He insisted we start early so we got the first food when they opened. So we did. After we met Ben led the way down a long hall to the buffet line. The manager saw us and he had an odd look on his face. Usually the manager of a business welcomes you if he/she sees you. This one did not. I later knew why.
Ben led the way down the buffet line. I picked up a plate and started down the line behind Ben. Quickly I noticed Ben had two plates, not the typical one plate. We went down the line and I never saw so much food put on two plates in my life. He had food piled in layers like he was trying to build a three story building. You could not see any of the plate because food even covered the edges of the plate. It looked like he was carrying food in his hand with no plate. I realized why the manager was not welcoming of Ben and his friends. He saw his profits disappearing with each spoonful of food Ben was putting on his plate.
At the end of the buffet line Ben had two fully loaded and stacked plates of food. The food included three deserts. The person providing beverages asked what he wanted to drink. Ben replied a diet soft drink. The deserts and the diet drink did not seem to go together well, in my opinion.
Ben led the way to a table. He chose one in a dining area away from the main larger dining area. My friend and I followed him absorbing this experience. We sat and said a few words about the food looking good. Now, who says the blessing over the food? Saying grace or thanks for the food is not something everyone does. In a public place even fewer people do it. Eating in public never stopped any of us from our tradition of thanking God for the food. This was no exception. Ben quickly said he would do it.
Most people bow their heads and say their thanks for the food in a normal or even subdued voice. If you are in a public place you do not want to disturb others eating, but you do not want to imply you are ashamed of praying. Ben put one hand on each side of the table, holding it like it was his life preserver in the middle of the ocean. He put his head up and looked to the ceiling. He was ready to pray, but there was a bit of noise in the dining area. Ben quickly looked over his shoulder and said, “I am going to pray now. You folks be quiet for awhile.”
The people looked at Ben, stopped eating, and got quiet. I observed a few with their mouths open in shock or in the process of eating. I am not sure which it was. I felt compelled to look up after Ben addressed the people to see if they would come say something to him or us. No one said a word. A quiet fell over that dining area that probably never occurred before. Ben started this prayer “Lord Jesus…”. After the blessing the noise returned and all in the dining area began to eat again. There were even a few additional amens from some in the dining area.
After the prayer we ate. I had to look around to see how the others in the dining area were reacting. No one was going to attack us it seemed. The three of us ate, talked, and enjoyed being together. After a few minutes the food disappeared from our plates. I had put more on my plate that I would have normally. Maybe because of Ben’s example. Ben got up and went for more food. This time one plate only and one desert. He encountered the manager and told him he was coming back in a few hours with his wife and two boys for dinner. The manager did not reply to Ben. He just looked down to the floor.
Before a year passed, the restaurant closed. We had returned to eat there a few times before it closed. When Ben told me it had closed I thought he might have had a part in it.
(c) Southern Humor