I miss potlucks.
During this last year of restrictions on in-person gatherings, that might be the last thing that I thought I would miss. They sometimes feel more like an obligation than a celebration.
But, this past week, we started having some of the end-of-season for our daughter’s high school sports teams. While we could have a masked, socially distanced gathering, with families spread out across the school cafeteria, congregating around a potluck smorgasbord is still not allowed.
I am grateful that we’re able to gather again. It’s nice to see everyone’s faces — or at least their eyes. But without the food, it’s not quite the same.
As human beings, sitting down to share food with each other has a deeper meaning.
Potlucks are different than so many of our other shared meals. As Forrest Gump might say, you never know what you’ll get. Some people don’t like it, but I think the surprise is half the fun.
The menus for other communal meals are predictable — turkey on Thanksgiving, ham on Easter and hot dogs on the Fourth of July. At a potluck, you might get all of those things, or you might get something completely different.
I’ve been to potlucks and filled my plate with nothing but side dishes. I’ve had meals where the only thing green was the frosting on the cupcakes. I’ve been amazed at how many variations there are for tuna-noodle casserole, and just how creative people can be with tater tots.
I should say that potlucks aren’t completely unpredictable. When you’ve been doing potlucks with the same group of people for several years, for example, high school sports banquets, you get an idea of what everyone is going to bring. There’s one family that brings homemade brownies, or another with a killer pasta salad. My wife has an almost famous baked ziti dish. (Full disclosure: if we know we have multiple potlucks on the calendar, she would make an extra pan and put it in the freezer for the next one. There’s a good chance we’ve got a pan of ziti stashed in the freezer in our garage, just waiting for some future team dinner.)
The beauty — and the fun — of a good potluck is that everybody brings something different to the table. Whether they’ve been slaving over a hot oven all day, or let the Keebler elves do all the work, everyone has something to contribute. And even if you can’t bring something, whether it’s because of some extenuating circumstances, or because your student didn’t tell you about the potluck until five minutes before you’re supposed to be there, there’s still always plenty for everyone.
Life is very cautiously getting back to something resembling normal. We still need to be careful, but as more and more of us are getting our COVID-19 vaccines, health officials are saying it’s safe to have small gatherings with other immunized people.
So, I’m looking forward to the next potluck. I wonder if we’ve still got that pan of baked ziti.
Will Morrow lives in Kenai. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.