Small Miracles

Fri, 10/27/2017 - 7:45am

When duties for this year's Roll Call Dinner were handed out many were the “what you did last year” default and so I happened to already have been assigned to the greeting of people and collection of money when I tumbled on Sunday and hurt my hand/wrist landing on the pavement.

There were no breaks was the assessment after three X-rays failed to show any – a relief after my insistence it couldn't be broken, it was just swollen and while it hurt a little it wasn't enough to disturb my sleep. Still, I did not want to take any chances and was pleased to have a tangible excuse, even if it was one of those insufferable elastic bandages wrapped and wrapped and wrapped and held together by two little clips waiting to spring forth and be lost.

By the night of Roll Call I was down to one clip, which I anchored with a safety pin I found hiding among paper clips in a desk drawer — and where in the heck did my nice little dish of safety pins go? I was sure I knew where I had lost it, in the midst of doing a lot of manual work I had to do before the rain only because I'd been putting it off, never expecting this absurdity. 

Only a day later did I find the clip in the one place I did not think to look, and the most logical, the depths of the big handbag in which I am always burying my hand, fishing for one thing or another. I happened upon it, of course, searching for something else. But I have to find a second safety pin before I can affix it. . .

It is a wonderful “job,” greeting people, having an opportunity to meet everyone who comes for the sit down dinner and all those who come to pick up take-out dinners, everyone! 

Roll Call began at the start of the last century, before anyone thought of take-out dinners. A trip to town was no small effort, people came to stay. 

The location, on the aptly named Chapel Street, was diagonally across from the big Roman Catholic Church. It had originally had been built as an ultimate outreach, a tabernacle for summer visitors of all evangelical denominations. When the congregation added a winter chapel addition and moved from their home at the old town center, following commerce to the east landing, they found themselves with woefully inadequate heat. 

It was a new century and there was a new pastor, Dr. Horace Roberts, who introduced Roll Call as a fundraiser. It was a literal call of the roll of the membership of the church during a service, followed by a “supper in the galleries and a social reunion,” with the day culminating with special music by a choir of children. 

The first Roll Call solicitation letter penned by Dr. Roberts cites an outstanding debt of $728.15. The year following he reported it had been reduced to $274.62 and they needed only raise as much as they had the previous year to retire it. (One presumes they chipped away at that debt over the course of the year.)

The furnace debt was retired but there was always some other expense and Roll Call became a part of the tradition of the church, internally, a sort of holiday, commemorating the gathering of the congregation in 1765 and affirming the memberships. It is not now the one day event it once was; the calling of the Roll is on the Sunday closest to October 23, the dinner the Tuesday following, the former set forth in the by-laws of the organization, the latter by tradition. 

Another annual tradition, the sort understood by anyone involved in the running of a church anywhere, is the asking of the question “When is Roll Call?” It isn't Easter, I want to respond, the ultimate moveable feast upon which all others rest hinge. It is not some complicated formula written in a no longer spoken language subject to various translations and interpretations the sole copy on fragile parchment locked away in a vault on a remote mountainside.

My own first memories of Roll Call are of my mother and the other ladies working in the kitchen, then a fraction of the size it is today. There was a dark back entry, the south end of the current space, and a passageway to a building which no longer stands, the one-time dining room of the one-time hotel, in my earliest memories a dark, cold space, used for storage.

It is a building difficult to find in old photographs, a simple two-story structure that was taken down probably because painting it was too costly and the notion of it not being white when it had aways been white was unthinkable. 

We can, though, embrace change: since the year the turkey dinner was shifted to buffet style we find ourselves at the end of every Roll Call night wondering over another change and asking, “Why didn't we do this years ago?” The answer is often simple: no one thought of it. 

Tuesday night the weather threatened, but people still came out, many staying to visit with their neighbors while they waited for a seat and then while they ate. It was odd to see everyone yet be so removed from the operation, the serving and clearing and set-ups. It did seem we got through a year with no coffee pot catastrophe, in and of itself a miracle, but word did drift back to the foyer that we were out of pie.

Pie?! Just two days earlier I blithely said we need not worry about coffee next Sunday; we would have pie, we had it in abundance last year. Forgotten was the fact we closed with three pieces, not three pies, three pieces, two years ago.

But, at the end of the night, we still had turkey and a miracle next to functioning coffee pots: stuffing.  

Another Roll Call Dinner behind us, thank you everyone!