Box suppers were a big event in the northwestern Oklahoma community I grew up in — one of the few ways available to raise money for worthy projects.
Ladies, young and old, took a box of food which was sold anonymously to the highest bidder. The buyer then shared the box of supper with the lady who brought it.
Like every other public event, nearly everyone in the community attended. There would be local entertainment — singers, an old bachelor who could whistle a fine tune, a young couple who could be reluctantly persuaded to play the bones, a recitation of all the sad verses to “Old Shep.”
Then came the real purpose of the get-together.
Girls and women packed a shoebox-size box with their best cooking, enough for two people. Fried chicken was a favorite. Big slabs of homemade cake or pie for dessert. The box was wrapped in fancy paper and tied with a pretty ribbon. Someone with an artistic flair might add decorative or amusing touches.
The unidentified boxes were placed on a table to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The idea was that the buyer didn’t know whose box he was bidding on. Married couples somehow wound up with the same box but, for girls, this whole affair was fraught with anxiety.
What each of us hoped was that the boy we liked would buy our box, forsaking all others. What we worried about were all the things that could go wrong.
Tradition ruled that whoever bought your box, you had to eat with even if he were old, mean, ugly, dirty or the village idiot — a deplorable term now unacceptable but, back then, in common use. And men of these descriptions were always on hand to buy boxes because a good meal was rare in their lives.
So what girls would tell their fathers was: “Don’t you dare buy my box unless no one else does or unless — and here the name of one or more of the undesirables was inserted — is bidding on it.”
A few girls, showing more sympathy and maturity, would gamely go ahead and share the meal with the less-than-desirable purchaser.
I remember one year when I must have been in about the 8th grade. I went to the drugstore and the helpful clerk assisted me in picking out gold wrapping paper and purple ribbon for my box, which were also our school colors. I was excited about how pretty my box looked and hopeful that the boy I liked would snap it up.
But the clerk treacherously tricked me. She told her little brother, a couple of years younger than I, what my box would look like and he bought it.
I remember another box supper where I ate with a total stranger. My best friend’s father was chairman of the Democratic Party in our county. There were very few Democrats in the county and when they held a box supper to raise money, he coerced us into going. I have no memory of who bought my box but he must have had a strong character to be a Democrat in such an overwhelmingly Republican county.
Box suppers have gone the way of community Christmas trees, fish fries and line parties to movies in the county seat. Sadly, too often the sense of community has gone the way of box suppers.
Mary McClure lives in Lawton.