At the Kanona Fire Hall the pistachio pie seems interplanetary in its greenness, and the ham is the best you'll ever have. Today the snow won't quite stick and a chilly crowd of rural New Yorkers-by the end of the evening, 493 total-trek toward the door where they buy their tickets for dinner.
The flat building with a cement floor stretches about a hundred feet square. The families filling the tables begin to compose a new family, as they sit down with strangers and make conversation. They attack their mashed potatoes with the pepper. A red sign against the far wall boasts that dinners, rather than taxes, fund the functions of the fire department.
In preparation, six to eight firefighters come early to peel 400 pounds of potatoes, and the lady next door brings four-dozen pies. The elderly woman distributing the pie, whose sweater and earrings match the pistachio, was a lunch lady at my high school long before my time. A 12-year-old girl assists her. She wears short camouflage pants, blond work boots, and a bright orange T-shirt. She will soon become a beauty, more beautiful because she knows how to work gladly and enjoy those older than herself.
My mother buses tables. As she predicted, the flow of work begins slowly but soon she forgets her own name in the rush. She trips and pours a bus pan of water down the leg of the 12-year-old girl, a firefighter's daughter, and apologizes profusely.
"Take two, they're small," says the fire chief of the pie.
The same crowd annually pilgrimages to the wee white Methodist church down the street where Democrats make a slim appearance on the ballot. I have never spoken to so many people about the virtues of refusing to tax, nor heard so many strangers rejoice over clinking forks and Corelle Ware.
The exceptional ham, granted, may have attracted the eaters, but I do not understand what drew the volunteer potato-peelers and dishwashers.
As 14 people work away in the kitchen-a small boy drying mugs, the fire chief washing pots-a tall firefighter in a baseball cap and jeans makes jokes about the arrival of the health inspector.
The fire chief's wife, Mrs. Robinson, oversees the take-out line, which forms in the garage. Sitting beside the mortal activity of handing out food to friends, the fire truck doesn't seem so huge. The yellow, reflective firefighter uniforms hang against the opposite wall. The evening has worn on, so that someone serving food says there is now more juice in the corn than corn.
A man ducks in the door. "Here comes the candy man!" cries Mrs. Robinson.
He brings a bag of candy everywhere and distributes, someone explains.
He hands me a golden-wrapped chocolate caramel. I unwrap it, and my fortune says, "Dare to love completely." It tastes like Easter.
I am incredulous. I thought our society was one merely of garage-door openers in which neighbors never met.