By Ken Bradbury
I sat down to eat my breakfast at the Kiwanis Pancake and Sausage Day and was served milk by one of the town’s leading lawyers, offered more pancakes by the owner of the radio station, sausage by the owner of The Source, had my coffee filled by the sheriff of Morgan County, and my water glass was replenished by the mayor. I turned to the guy beside me and said, “Who’s running the town today?” He answered, “The same ones who always do it … their secretaries.”
Jacksonville’s a place hosting many gigantic annual events, but few can match the spirit of our annual day of eating pancakes and sausage with the Kiwanis. I always meet my father there for breakfast and since he usually breaks his fast at 5 a.m. I manage to hold him off until the more civilized hour of seven. The annual Kiwanis-Feed resembles the Arenzville Burgoo in that you’re somehow born into the job of dipping soup or serving coffee and you don’t leave the job until six years after your death. If Gary Scott offered me an extra helping of sausage in 2003 then chances are he’ll be the pork pusher again this year. There’s solace in that sort of sameness.
MacMurray’s McClelland dining hall is one of the under-appreciated bits of architecture in our town’s lexicon of buildings. Featuring what’s surely the largest vaulted ceiling in the county, the place always smacks of a regality that even the sight of Bruce Surratt in an apron can’t diminish. My little town of Arenzville is a dandy place to eat breakfast but it’s only at the Kiwanis-Bash that I get to dine under chandeliers. Sure, plastic forks and chandeliers offer an odd juxtaposition, but that’s part of the fun. I realize that there are some years where the sausage cook may have been on his cell phone a bit too long and the little ovals of meat become a test for even the toughest of plastic knives, but again, a part of the fun.
The Kiwanis-Feast always features the same cast of characters among its customers. One year I sat across from a father and three little children who were not used to being up and eating at 7 a.m. The little boy became mesmerized by the act of swirling his pancake around in a small lake of maple syrup. He was actually doing this while still asleep. When I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said, “An airline pilot.” I made a mental note to avoid his planes. Other regulars are the entire work crews who come in to eat en masse, the elderly couples and families who most often opt for the evening meal, the “ladies who lunch” group whom you can hear coming in the door and who heighten the decibel level a notch or two for the noontime crowd.
I’ll confess that I’ve never eaten a hot meal at the Kiwanis-Thingie, but it’s not the fault of the fine team of one-day-a-year-cooks who are serving the meal. No matter what hour of the day I choose to dine, the waiters and guests are always old friends and by the time I’ve finished chatting my meal is cold. It’s well worth the tradeoff. I can eat a hot meal anytime. That’s why God made microwaves. But it’s not often you get to spend some time around the town’s movers and shakers gathered together for such a worthy cause.
Like any organization, some of its members get a bit long in the tooth before the next generation comes along and by the end of the morning shift the aching feet become an issue and some Kiwan-Eyes get a bit blurry. I’m sure that for the typical Kiwanis the only thing better than Pancake and Sausage Day is the day after Pancake Sausage Day. It’s a long, long haul.
But at least in my estimation the most meaningful outcome of the Kiwanis annual project had little to do with pancakes and sausage . . .or even the liquid butter, which I’ve never understood. Two of my Lincoln Land students attended the event this year. I saw them walk in for breakfast and by the looks in their early morning eyes I assumed that they were there on the suggestion of someone else. When we met for class that afternoon they had a few questions. . . Who are the Kiwanis?. . . What was the purpose of the event? . . . How do all those people take off work for a day?. . . and What do they do with the money? It gave me an opportunity to tell them what I knew about service organizations, why people join them and what good they do. I’m not sure how much I helped the cause of pancakes and sausage in the world, but I got to see a couple of eyes open a bit wider. And being teenagers, they summed up the entire enterprise with a simple, “Cool.” I hoped that I was looking at a future Kiwanis, Rotarian, or Ambuc.