Thanksgiving supper at church

Steve Jernigan, left, and Jimmy Woods fry up Thanksgiving dinner.

Special to Atmore News

Just reading the title of this article brings to mind rows of tables with traditional church food, and a huge turkey as the centerpiece. Imagine the mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes with pecan and brown sugar topping, dressing, green bean casserole, rolls, deviled eggs, cranberry sauce, congealed salad, and desserts.

Oh, the desserts which defy description, each more delicious than the first – apple pie, pecan pie, pound cake, coconut cake, brownies, peach cobbler, and the list goes on and on.

That’s the traditional Thanksgiving meal which most churches have, and the one Brooks Memorial Baptist Church has had in the past. However, things were quite a bit different this year as time for the annual meal rolled around. All it took was two good men with one good idea and a scrumptious meal was the result.

Jimmy Woods and Ellie Bailey like to fish and also tell some good fish stories. We’ve all been privy to fish stories at one time or another. Well it seems that Ellie is such a good fisherman that he literally fills his freezer up with fish. When it is full and he has a new batch of fish to put in the freezer, he just takes the old fish out, buries them in a deep hole, and then has plenty of room for his new fish. Guess buried fish are cheaper fertilizer than buying some in bags from the store.

I’ll ramble here for a minute about when we lived in Belgium, out in a small farming community. Our house was completely surrounded by sugar beet fields. The absolute worst time of the year was when the farmers fertilized their fields. The stench was terrible and smelled like rotten fish, which was exactly what it was. I must admit that it helped produce huge sugar beets and made the farmers happy. We made a beeline from the car into the house and were careful to keep the door closed to keep the smell out. It was nasty!

Back to fishing.

Jimmy, his 78-year-old father, and his brother have a pontoon boat and they take it up to Highway 84 to a landing on the Alabama River. According to Jimmy, the boat has some outdoor furniture with big, comfy pillows and the fishin’ is easy. I can just imagine floatin’ down the river while seated in one of those chairs with my pole hanging over the side of the boat. Life just doesn’t get much better. Ellie’s choice of fishing waters is Hubbard’s Landing and Patterson Lake, which were my parents’ favorite locations too. Both men evidently have this fishing down to a science because they surely do catch a lot of fish.

Well, one day those two men got to talking about all of their fish and one of them asked the other, “Wonder if the women on the food committee would agree to a fish fry instead of a traditional Thanksgiving meal at church? It would be a good way to get rid of those bream, shellcrackers, and catfish.” It didn’t take long before word was out and plans were made for an unconventional Thanksgiving meal at Brooks Memorial Baptist Church. Jimmy and Steve Jernigan manned the fish fryers and later used the same fryers for French fries. Ellie had a two-burner gas cooker on the back of his truck and used it to cook hush puppies. Jane Woods and I hand rolled those thousands of fish in cornmeal after Mark McGill and Gary Hare salted and peppered them. We had quite an assembly line going, with Cereal Daniel and James Jeter carrying uncooked fish to the fryers and then cooked fish back to the waiting pans and covering them with foil. The camaraderie was so much fun that the work seemed like fun as well.

Jane Woods, left, and Nancy Karrick getting fish ready to fry.

Meanwhile, back in the fellowship hall, people began to arrive, each family carrying a side dish, mostly of baked beans, potato salad, and slaw. I’m not even going to the dessert table except to say that the key lime pie and peach cobbler certainly were tasty. Those tables was so full of desserts that I was afraid the table legs would buckle and the food would end up on the floor. Baptist ladies certainly know how to cook and all Baptists know how to eat. I noticed overflowing full plates after coming down the serving line and, except for bones, empty plates going to the trash cans. Judging from the empty plates, the meal was a success.

One thing I did notice was the lack of anything to do with Thanksgiving. There were no fall decorations, no turkey, and the blessing didn’t refer to the holiday. It’s amazing what happens when fish replaces turkey! However, I did see that everyone was much more relaxed, the sides brought were relatively easy to fix and didn’t take as much time as the dishes we usually have at a Thanksgiving meal, and everyone seemed to be having a fine time visiting with friends and remembering how to eat fish around the bones. I think we all owe Jimmy and Ellie a big thank you for their generosity in sharing their fish fry idea and their fish.

Who knows, they may have started a new tradition.