When I pulled into the church parking lot, I had a crazy thought. I wondered what the heck I’m doing here. Maybe just a touch of stage fright. I got invited to come talk to the Senior group at Bethesda Baptist Church about plants.

My long-time friends Ronnie and Sonia are members of this church. They call themselves the Silver Liners and they meet once a month for supper and some type of program. They take turns looking for unsuspecting victims who will come and talk about something useful to make the evening interesting.

Sonia messaged me.

“We’re in charge of the program this month and since it’s spring, I wondered if you would come and talk about plants and maybe answer questions?”

I didn’t need to think about it. “Sure,” I said.

“Can you bring your guitar? They like to sing.”

So, this is not just about plants.

“And can you bring your book and share one of your stories with us?”

This is really not just about plants.

“Maybe we could give away a couple of your books for door prizes.”

I have done a lot of plant programs over the years for garden clubs or down at the local library. I’m comfortable with that idea. I can talk shop on woody plants blindfolded with both hands tied behind my back. But you add a guitar and a book to the dog and pony show and I’m in uncharted territory.

Being here means I’m missing the men’s group that I usually go to on Tuesday evenings, so I texted a few of them to say that I wouldn’t make it and why. They were so supportive.

“So, you’ve got a gig.”

“The Georgia Bred World Tour begins.”

“Can I be your driver?”

They’re hilarious.

Sonia and Ronnie met me in the parking lot. Hugs and handshakes were passed back and forth. They helped me carry my stuff inside the building. I looked like a traveling gypsy.

Inside the fellowship hall, it was obvious that the main attraction for the evening was the meal. Whatever disagreements us protestants may have over matters of doctrine, we are in agreement on the finer points of the church pot-luck. There must have been fifteen tables set up with spring-colored tablecloths and mason jars with fresh cut flowers.

“How many folks you expect here tonight,” I asked. I had in my head maybe 30 people.

Sonia said, “We usually have about 50 to 60 show up.”

That’s a lot of faces looking back at some tree farmer with a guitar in his hands.

The crowd started to flow in around 6:15. There were several folks I knew. A lady from my old Callaway days who worked in purchasing. Her husband used to be the Horticulture teacher at the high school.

I saw another man I recognized but couldn’t place. He said he thought he recognized me. It took a while, but we finally connected the dots.

One gal looked “oddly” familiar. The minute she talked and the way she waved her hands, I knew exactly why I thought I knew her. She’s the sister of a good friend in Pine Mountain.

Then there was my Post Office buddy. Miss Gail Shepherd taught my kids in high school. She is a about 5 foot 2 and loaded with enough energy to run Hoover Dam. About every third time I go to the Post Office we run into each other and visit. Her husband Mr. Ray Shepherd was there, too. He has two degrees in forestry management and has probably forgotten more about trees than I’ll ever know.

The point is this. Good food and good friends go together like peanut butter and jelly. It’s hard to beat a gathering like this. Everybody is a friend. No one is a stranger.

With the herd of people that walked through the door came the avalanche of food. Church women fussing over dishes and serving spoons and making sure the casseroles were set in just the right place.

The sweet tea dispenser was size of a Boeing 727 fuel tank. Styrofoam cups being loaded up with ice and set in neat rows.

Just down the wall from there was the dessert table. O Lawd, the dessert table. This is where I want to go when I die. I don’t care about a mansion. I just want banana pudding and blueberry cobbler and that apple crunch thingy with whipped cream and cherries on top. There was a caramel cake built like a tank with icing thick enough to be bullet proof.

The crowd settled in. Ronnie said the blessing for the food. Then came those words I’d been waiting to hear.

“Let’s let our guest speaker go first.”

I never get to go first. The kids always beat me to the serving table at our church. Plus, my mama taught me to be polite and wait my turn. But not tonight.

I found the perfect chicken leg. Got a helping of stewed potatoes with onion. I could smell the turnip greens as I dug into the steaming dish. And then I saw heaven split open. There, right in front of me, was the biggest bowl of creamed corn this side of Jordan. I should have been embarrassed by how much I put on my plate.

The Baptist use the good plates. Plates thick enough they hold up under the weight of God’s bountiful blessings. I grabbed a cold glass of tea and headed for my seat.

When I passed the dessert table, there was a lady already standing there sampling the caramel cake. There’s one in every church. Donna, you know who I’m talking about.

I looked her in the eye and smiled. She said, “Dessert tastes better first.” And she shrugged her shoulders, like that was supposed to explain something.

We ate supper slowly. No one was in a hurry.

Ronnie finally got up and did an introduction for me. I got up and did my presentation. We sang a hymn or two. I gave them some basic things to think about as they begin to get out of doors this spring in the yard. For my closing, I read my story about going up to Hampton to fish in the lake at home with my son one last time.

As I took my seat to sip on the last of my tea, a few announcements were made. Visitors were welcomed. The basket was passed, and money was collected to help fund the food pantry. Door prizes were given out among thunderous applause.

What I liked about the evening the most is that these folks enjoyed being together. You could see it. The room practically glowed in warm tones of friendship. The smiles. The shoulder pats. The eye-contact. There was nothing fake here.

It’s a crying shame that some people are sour on the church. The world could use a little more of what went on in this room tonight.

I also liked that we were done by 8:00. I didn’t want to be out too late past my bedtime.

God bless the Silver Liners of Bethesda Baptist Church.

God bless the dessert table.

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