Let Them Fry Fish! Lenten Musings
Posted by cmh gourmand on March 7, 2010
I was excited when I was accepted into a Catholic high school. I was making a transition from a small private school with a class size of 12 to a giant educational complex with hundreds of students. How could I not date a cheerleader and be the man of the hour with my wit and charm? More importantly, I was going to be such a better person. I knew a lot about Catholic schools. A Red Hot Chili Peppers song indicated that Catholic School Girls Rule and at that point in my life I had seen no evidence to the contrary. As a child I was raised by a television so I had seen the Bell’s of Saint Mary’s and Boys Town and several other movies of that ilk. I knew Nuns were Ingrid Bergman hot: smart, funny, loving and maybe a bit rebellious. The Fathers were cool hipsters that would help me come up with schemes to win the girl and save the day. These men of the cloth might burst out into an impromptu showtune or offer me Florida orange juice to make me healthy. Yes, high school was going to be awesome with a team like that on my side.
The first day of school resembled the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Within four hours it became very clear that I had been misinformed. I had a deep dread and knew it was indeed going to be a very, very long four years. I frequently thought a GED might not be such as bad option to get away from an environment that seemed to have been created to make me miserable. I clearly did not belong and that point was made to me nearly every day.
Fast forward in time. Every year after, around Lent, I would be reminded of my Catholic school days when Friday Fish Fry signs went up all over town. I heard about how good these events were. I could see lines of people waiting to get into these fund raising feasts at multiple churches on my way home from work. The Fish Frys only reinforced my outsider status since I am allergic to fish. God did not want me at a Fish Fry and I accepted that.
One school has broken ranks by offering Pasta Dinners on Fridays. I drove by a sign about the dinners several times and became intrigued. Could it be that there was a schizm in the Columbus Diocese? I decided to interpret this as an olive branch peace offering. I walked to Our Lady of Peace school near my home and found my way to the cafeteria. For six dollars I had a choice of pasta with Marinara, Clam or Alfredo sauce, a roll and a salad. I was directed to a folding table which had an Italian restaurant style place mat, tableware, a selection of salad dressings and some homemade whipped herb butter. I was immediately greeted by my team of servers, four middle school girls still in their OLP uniforms. While one asked for my order, another fetched my drink and the other two waited in case I had other questions or burst into flames.
As I waited for my plated pasta, I had time to watch the crowd. Clearly everyone knew each other and enjoyed their time together. These dinners serve as fund raisers so the food cost to profit ratio is at a level that any restaurant would envy. (My clam sauce did have a clam in it). It seems to me that Lenten dinners serve a higher purpose. In the dread, dead, dreary days of winter, these meals make sure that people stay connected. I am sure that Fish Frys remind those who can eat the food without an allergic reaction that there are lakes and oceans in places not frozen and that they could choose to go fishing in the spring without cutting a hole in the ice. These memories give hope for Spring. The kids working the dinner were learning about the important connection between good service and a good tip as well as a notion that working for the greater good means some personal sacrifice (a Friday night from 6 PM to 8 PM is prime tweener time for socializing). These kids seemed happy. The mass of pre-teenagers were polite and most worked hard. The hallway into the cafeteria listed a lot of familiar last names from my high school days so it appears others survived their Catholic school sentence better than me. Maybe Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman were not lying to me after all. These dinners are about community first, fund raising second and maybea serving of redemption on the side.