Though the farm of my youth was only ten miles from town, we depended upon our nearest neighbors for association, help as needed, and a sense of community. Unlike most families in the more mobile generations, we seldom made trips to town more than two or three times per month, and then only for groceries or supplies, unless we were riding the school bus.
About three miles from home, there was structure commonly called the “Community Building”, used by local farmers for gatherings on a regular basis. It was located at an intersection of two unnamed country roads on a small lot. The wood frame building, painted light green on the outside, had mostly a large open area inside with a small raised stage on one end. There were tables and chairs that could be stowed away. There was a small kitchen area with a long half-wall serving counter. The setting was woven into the fabric of our relationships with our neighbors, the location of many warm memories spent with family and friends. I can fondly recall numerous organized events which included the entire community, filled with joyous camaraderie.
The box suppers and cake walk were combined for an annual event. I presume the purpose was to raise funds for the maintenance of the building, but the box suppers also brought nearby eligible young men and women together under supervision. Prior to the event, the ladies would make a complete supper for two, place it in a box, decorate it with wrapping paper, bows and other attractive ornaments. Each box was auctioned off to the highest male bidder, and the winner got to eat his meal with the lady who had prepared it. No one was supposed to know who’d made any individual supper. It was obvious that some boys knew who’d created a certain box or another. Popular young ladies tended to bring in the most heated bidding, driving the prices up, and benefiting the community overall. So a hushed hint here or there to the boys actually benefited everyone. Having less funds than many, I usually ended up with someone’s grandmother, but many times I ate the best tasting meal.
For the cake walk, a chalk circle with numbered squares was drawn on the floor. Tickets were sold to participants. A cake was picked by the person running the game. As music played, each person would walk from one number to another around the circle. When the music stopped, each person stood on a number. A numbered slip of paper would be drawn, and the lucky person standing on that same number won that particular cake. Those neighbor ladies could make delicious cakes that were out of this world!
Our ice cream social was an event featuring home made ice cream and fresh fruit pies, with tea or coffee served by the ladies. The adults sat around and talked, or gossiped. Teens wandered around in groups, boys and girls mostly separate, being too shy to speak to each other – with a few exceptions. Smaller children played outside, making up games that didn’t require any equipment other than an imagination.
For the adults, every community gathering was about connection. For a teenage boy like me, it was a chance to talk about, glance at, and fall in love with girls within the sight of chaperones.
The Christmas Tree, Mountain Oyster Fry, and the Morel Mushroom Fry, along with other enjoyable events must be left for another telling. Sadly, when stories such as these pass from memory of my generation, those tales of personal connection will fade to black.