I knew we were facing a benefit

INTERESTING how unrelated things can jump up and relate. I was reading a magazine piece about a study made in Spanish Harlem. Of 1,506 poor people interviewed, two-thirds of them said that when they needed food they asked friends, relatives, and neighbors, and got help that eased things. The report found that ethnic and social groups like to help their own -- something I suspect didn't need to be proved with 1,506 questions. But just then my Voice of Authority called, ``Dear, want to bring me the big beanpot? And the hod.''

Notice the emphasis on big. We employ several sizes of beanpots. There's one that's just right for the two of us, and leaves enough over from Saturday night so we can renew the pleasure with Wednesday supper. We've also stable space for some small pots meant for when we send a taste to somebody who is having a birthday, or otherwise wanting a bean, and we ask to get those back for repeats.

The big one is for family gatherings or, as I now found out, for public suppers when we are ``solicited.'' (All those not solicited, please bring cake.) ``I don't know the details, but some kid fell out of a tree, and the family can use some help.''

She might have added, ``Ethnic and social groups like to help their own,'' but she didn't. Instead, she said, ``I don't know who it is -- somebody other side of town.''

The baked bean hod is my own invention. Years ago I heard how Harry Blackstone carried two pots of baked beans to a Masonic supper in great anguish and perturbation because the door of the hall was latched and he couldn't get in. He arrived at the door with hands out and palms up, a beanpot on each palm, and there he was. You try that, and you'll find you can't set one down without disaster. Harry kicked on the door, but nobody inside heard him. There he was. The heat from the beanpots began to seep do wn through his quilted potholders, and his arms went stiff and numb. He kicked and kicked. But it wasn't until somebody else on the supper committee arrived, fortunately, with a can of cream for the strawberries, that Harry was rescued and the door was opened.

I thereupon invented the beanpot hod, which is made on the design of a clamdigger's slatted carrier, called a hod, and has a high handle for avoiding heat. One side is hinged for easy loading and unloading. If Harry had used a couple of my beanpot hods he'd have fared better. So when Spouse asked for both the big beanpot and the hod, I knew we were facing a benefit.

I grew these beans. Jacob's Cattle beans, streak-ed and spotted, finest kind. I mention this without modesty not only to associate myself with the soil (as different from citified) but to emphasize that no expense is spared when the call goes out for a benefit.

I suppose I should mention ``calling on.'' This study of the 1,506 poor people who needed food clearly emphasized that help was asked for -- there was no suggestion in the magazine article that each sat around and waited for somebody to bring a basket. In Maine, that is known as ``calling on,'' and it remains an extremity even after all these years of political welfare. ``If you need anything, call on!'' is an ethnic promise of help, and it can range from sheer charity to a hand with yarding out firewo od.

It relieves the prospective donor of pestering you all the time to learn if you need something, and it also puts the donee on his own. True, there is traditional reluctance to call on if it can be avoided (a man has his pride), but there is a counter-tendency to appear before a man's pride does him a disservice. Balances out, sort of.

Anyway, this benefit was held. Everybody brought something, everybody paid for his supper (and nobody asked for change!), and just about everybody in town became a social group in common cause. I got my beanpot back, empty, and besides baked beans the menu included a 30-foot table of assorted casseroles, maybe 75 pies, and a number of other goodies that were exhausted before we arrived. We were far from the last in a two-hour line. I finished reading that article after we got home and felt good about e thnic and social groups.

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