Guest ministers, including Uncle Scottie, made a point of announcing part way through the sermon that if “we can just get through this, there is plenty of good eating down in the vestry.”

Just this past summer, my father claims he heard an elderly lady stating to her traveling companion that they could have gone to West Paris but the food was much better here.

Em and I often helped Rena with the flower arrangements for the altar at church. She grew quite a crop of flowers in her garden next to Gordon’s vegetables. We would add the wild flowers of West Sumner when they were available. Tiger lilies grew up by McCloskey’s and lupines in the field next to Ronnie’s. In early August, we would find black-eyed Susans all over town to add to the arrangement.

The bell would ring when the service was about to begin. That is when the neighbors close by would scurry out their doors to get there before the minister got through welcoming everyone.

Logging trucks blattin’ down Route 219 were just one of the sounds of West Sumner the preacher had to speak over.

Competing sounds

It was quite warm by 11 a.m. in July and August. The two front doors were left open to keep the air flowing. One might hear the Berry’s rooster, apparently not realizing the sun had risen, cock-a-doodle-doo-ing his own tune. Or the Niemi kids hooting and hollering on their way to the pond to cool themselves. I doubt any of the ministers would have asked to close the doors, thus closing themselves off from the town they were instilling their wisdom on for the morning.

Em and I went to collect the offering. We then sat through a long sermon inspiring to some but we couldn’t quite make it mean anything, wishing we were out riding our bikes instead. After stifling a few yawns and poking each other to keep awake, we’d hear the minister wrap it up.

Finally, it was time for the food.

The squeak of the screen door into the vestry was the noise of a summer morning. The wooden vestry floors had developed a pitch down toward the back hill over the years. The tables were wooden slabs with linoleum stapled over for a covering. The church committee put two members in charge of each Sunday. They’d brew the coffee and set the table, pour punch and be sure there were enough snacks filling the tables so no one would need lunch by the time they left.

No time to tarry

Others had helped themselves already. It was first come, first served. If you really wanted to sample something, you got it your first time through.

There were egg salad sandwiches, ham and tuna, macaroni salad, potato chips, pickles and then we got to the sweet stuff. Irene had sent up the sweetest cake she could find in the Woman’s Day magazine. Patty had made some no-bake cookies. And there on a plate with a few sizable pieces missing was my blueberry cake.

Em followed behind me filling her plate. We stopped for punch and looked for a seat.

I overheard talk of garden crops and failing health on the way to the table. I wondered if Em listened as I did. We looked around and tried to remember the visitors’ names. We’d ask Mom later about the ones we didn’t know. There was Mrs. Gideon, the older woman from Massachusetts with the pink lipstick and bobbing gray hair. She drove a Volkswagen and had Dad change the oil and fix then tires as needed. There was Jane and Darwin and Darwin’s sister, Pauline, from down over the hill. Some older ladies from West Paris came when it was Grampy’s Sunday because he was the minister in West Paris when Dad was younger. Gail and Joanne would come down from the orchard hill.

They’d all greet Em and me. “How nice it is to have young people here,” they’d say and smile again. We’d eat most of what was on our plates, of course saving the second cookie for later. We’d find Mom talking over by the punch and let her know we were leaving. There were a few women cleaning up dishes in the old trough sink. As we left, I heard them comment on how much we’d grown. Done with our duties for another week, we’d run home to get our bikes for a quick ride around town.

Hannah Hinckley is a writer, veterinary technician, whitewater guide and Pampered Chef Kitchen consultant. She lives in Winthrop and may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]
Blueberry Cake

½ cup butter

1½ cups sugar

2 eggs

2½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Salt, to taste

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

2/3 cup milk

1½ cups blueberries

Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Sift dry ingredients. Add alternately with milk to the creamed mixture. Gently stir in blueberries. Sprinkle top with granulated sugar. Cook in 9-by-12 inch pan in a preheated 400 degree oven until knife in the center of cake comes out clean.

The sun glistened through the skylight telling me it was nearing 10 in the morning. Church started at 11 and I had to make my contribution for coffee hour. I’d picked blueberries the afternoon before on Sumner Hill. Darwin’s fields were loaded. We sat with the sun setting on our shoulders barely moving an inch, finding clump after clump, bunch after bunch of wild blueberries, nearly enough to fill our container with each handful. I had heard Darwin or Albert ringing the bell at 9, but knew I still had time to find an appropriate outfit to collect the offering with. First I’d get the cake in the oven.

The first step is to cream the butter and sugar. Easy enough if you have the butter out, but also quickly softened by the pounding of a hand or setting it out on the porch in the morning sun. Next you mix the eggs in. Then blend dry ingredients in a separate bowl to mix in slowly with Mom’s fresh goat’s milk. Mixing quickly is the way to a fluffy cake; over-mixing will cause the blueberries to break, turning the entire cake blue. You can’t help breaking a few, but too many and it just doesn’t look pretty anymore. The last key step is sprinkling sugar on top before baking. If I forgot at first, it was never too late unless the cake was nearly done and the top had set to a firm brown color.

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