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Ham, eggs, jonnycakes are staples of May Breakfast

May 7, 2012

Special to the Standard

NORTH KINGSTOWN – Millie Fountain was not in the kitchen of the First Baptist Church of North Kingstown for its traditional May Breakfast last Saturday.
No, in an unlikely scene, Millie was sitting down as the Tower Hill-based Baptists unofficially kicked off the local season wherein churches, fraternal organizations, schools and civic groups produce countless country breakfasts. The Rhode Island custom of gathering for a massive chow-down began in 1867 and has raised funds for a host of projects.
On Saturday, Fountain, who has been involved with putting on the event for 50 of its 56 years, sat at the front table selling tickets.
“My fingers are slowing down,” she explained.
Instead, a crew of her daughters, grandkids and assorted sons-in-law – with Heidi Lessard in charge – worked in the kitchen as a perfectly-coordinated team, sending out an endless stream of bowls, platters, glasses and cups full of yummy things.
Heidi had arrived at 5 a.m. to get things started with others following shortly after. They’d spent six hours on Friday setting up tables, décor and other essentials. Heather Records, another Fountain daughter, came from California just to help out.
“We all went to Sunday school here,” Lessard explained of the family’s willingness to serve.
“The nicest part is the generations,” their mother declared of the spring ritual. She noted that it was common to see grandparents, parents, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered around one of the long tables in the fellowship hall.
Dave Owens, of Exeter, said his family comes “every other year,” adding that his grandkids had driven “all the way from Cranston” for Saturday’s extravaganza.
Breakfast was served for three-and-a-half hours starting at 6:30 and, by the time it was over, 167 diners – up from 110 last year – had gone away full and happy.
The parking lot across the street was jammed for most of the morning with additional cars lining both sides of Tower Hill Road. On some occasions, people stood in the doorway waiting to purchase tickets ($7 for adults) and find seats.
A joyful sort of cacophony prevailed as old friends greeted one another and caught up on news. “There are a few people I only see at the May Breakfast,” said Lessard.
A steady stream of middle-aged folks converged on Melvoid Benson, the veteran teacher who, in retirement, is a member of the North Kingstown School Committee. They’d all been her students. “She was wonderful,” said one.
Between bites of jonnycake, which Benson said draw her to the event every year, she greeted each person by name and asked about their relatives. She appeared to remember every student she’d taught in her long career.
At the end, as the exhausted kitchen staff prepared to sit down to plates of the food they’d prepared, Lessard estimated the kitchen had gone through 35 dozen eggs, 40 pounds of potatoes, nine pounds of onions, 30 pounds of corn meal for jonnycakes, 25 pounds of ham, eight gallons of orange juice and four pounds of coffee.
They also sold bags of leftover corn meal, baskets of homemade candy and potted plants. Some of the money raised will go toward a new dining room floor.

Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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