Our school holds a fundraising dinner every spring, a well-organized event that has hummed along, unchanged, for decades. Every now and then, someone from the new generation will attempt to modernize or somehow change the order of operations, but those efforts are thwarted by the organizing committee much like sea walls blocking the oncoming tide. Laminated Lists of recipes, menus and coffee maker procedures are held up, their glossy surfaces mocking anyone who even dared to dream that a change could be for the better.
Last year’s event hummed along like all the others – guests sat along either side of the dining tables, their places set by the kindergarten group under the mostly watchful eye of their teacher. Plates of ham left the kitchen, followed by bowls of steaming corn and mounds of mashed potatoes. Everyone had their assigned duty – greeter, ticket taker, ham slicer, apple pie disher-upper, and my favorite, the cart pushers. The kindergarten kids, who because of their age and unawareness, were given double duty in the form of manning this contraption. Four or five of them wobbled it down each aisle, one child slowly pouring juice that splatted on his shirt or shoes, while another carefully carried the cup to each recipient.
I watched this with amused detachment from the kitchen, where I was assigned plate scraping duty. It’s not for the faint of heart – gobs of ham and leftover potatoes get scraped unceremoniously into old coffee cans, taken home by one of the farmers who promptly tosses the mess into his pig pen.
“How do you stand that?” my mother asked, mouth puckering, one eyebrow arched over her glasses.
It wasn’t something I could get out of – the Laminated List had decided, months earlier, that this was my lot in life for the afternoon. I was sliding a leftover mess into a coffee can when Rambo appeared.
Decked out in a tennis-style headband, grey sweatsuit stretched tightly over his round belly, he was apparently expecting to dash madly from table to table, or possibly lead a post-dinner aerobics class. Bear in mind that normally, he’s attired in some form of polyester – jacket, pants, synthetic-fiber shirt – so these casual duds shocked. I suspected I might see thickly-knobbed knees and hairy legs if I leaned far enough over the counter.
“What should I do?” Rambo asked eagerly, looking to my mother for guidance, his eyes peering brightly from behind thick lenses.
Caught between a bray of laughter and total bewilderment, she stared mutely.
“Make something up,” I hissed.
Lame, but I was stumped. Without access to the Laminated List, I could only assume that Rambo knew his duties. I turned behind me for support, and met the eyes of a Ladies’ Service Club member, who stood, dish towel in one hand, dripping plate in the other, staring at the unfolding scene.
“Oh, for gawd’s sake,” she said.
We froze, waiting for someone, anyone, to materialize with the Laminated List and save us from uncertainty. Seconds ticket by, and I realized it was now or never.
“Why don’t you just start clearing tables,” I plunged ahead lamely.
This got a snort from my mom and an eye roll from the Ladies’ Service Club grandma, but it did the trick – Rambo headed for the tables, where the kindergarten kids stopped wobbling the juice cart long enough to let him pass, flotsam in his wake.
In the kitchen, we exchanged wary glances, wondering who among us would be brave enough to approach the organizing committee with a change to next year’s Laminated List…