When you think of Dinner on the Ground, your mind usually goes back to your childhood at your Church or your Grandparent's Church. Mountains of fried chicken, potato salad, melt-in-your-mouth buttermilk biscuits, fresh vegetables of every description. Don't even think about the desserts, that would give you an instant 'sugar high'.
I can only speak from my own upbringing, but Southerners will use any excuse to have this kind of feast, whether it be a Church Social/Homecoming, new preacher coming/old preacher retiring, kick off the annual revival, or at our Church, the 5th Sunday in a month was cause to chow down. Take a second. close your eyes and picture that endless table, sagging in the middle with more food than you could sample if you tried. Think hard and remember where your favorite dishes would ALWAYS be located(for patrons of such to find easily).
And of course, it almost goes without saying that when someone in the community passes away, a feast will be assembled and taken to the appropriate family member's house to console the spirit and the body with nourishment.
There is also another type of get together that requires huge amounts of food, the Annual Family Reunion. Now most are held at the appointed family member's house having enough parking and table space to fit the requirements. But luckily for me in this story, there are lots and lots of families that opt to go to a public park to hold such events and freeing any one person of having to clean up after just such a stampede.
I worked on the City of Newnan(Ga.) Police Dept. the 1st half of the 1970's. The old Newnan Water Works had a public park at the foot of its tallest dam, complete with several pavilions, areas for playing ball, tossing horse shoes, and just sitting and admiring the beauty of this park. A family was required to make arrangements with the park to reserve a particular pavilion for a reunion and in the summertime, in good weather, every area would have a gathering going on.
It was customary for Lt. Smith to assign me to ride(or rather chauffeur)with him on those Sundays that we worked the day shift. At about 11:00am we would make our first pass through the park and smile and wave as if conducting business as usual. What we were really doing was trying to spot a familiar face in each group to contact when the eating began. If that failed, we would go in 'cold' and always scored.
It went something like this; we would pull up to a pavilion, walk up to the person that we knew and ask if the accommodations we satisfactory, the water superintendent took great pride in present a clean, safe park. As soon as we started speaking, others would wonder over(just being nosy), and we would greet them, asking their relationship to the person we were talking to, often asking if they knew so-and-so by the same last name. A few minutes of idle talk always brought on an invite to share in the bounty. Just like Julius Caesar of old, we would refuse three times, saying we didn't bring anything, didn't want to impose, etc. I can not remember a time that someone would take us each by the arm and walk into the crowd and exclaim something like, "Hide the liquor, the Po-lease are here!", which would bring a roar from the crowd. Or there would be any number of other light hearted jokes told at our expense. Women would bring their special dishes to make sure that we got the best food, and on it went.
After eating all we could hold, and usually having a plate of incredible desserts thrust into our hands to take with us, we would give our thanks to the hosts and guests and make our way back to the car. Upon storing the excess to that visit, we would make our way to the next group. They too would offer to feed us, but we would tell them that we had run into Brother So-in-So, and while there had eaten our fill, but theirs did look much better. With that compliment, we would get several to-go boxes with an assortment of meats and vegetables, and not to mention more desserts. After thanking everyone for their generosity, we were back to the car and on to usually the third and final reunion, not that there were not more there, we just could not pack anymore food in the car.
We we finally left the park, waving to all of our new found friends, we headed to the station to share with the dispatcher and decide what we would take home for supper.
Back in those days, very few black families were using the park, but when they did, they were some of the best. Say what you will, it may be the lard, or it may be the love, but black woman sure can cook.
The black families welcomed us, for they knew there would not be any rednecks riding through the park as long as we were there.(remember this was the early '70's and turbulent times) It seems like there was more BBQing going on with these reunions and hardly a time went by that we did not come away with sauce stained uniforms.
What I wouldn't give for one more Sunday in uniform at the Newnan Water Works Park! SHUT YO MOUTH!