Father’s Day in Savannah

“At least they can’t say we didn’t show up with all the bells and whistles.”

That’s what Patsy Callihan, who is as witty as anyone I know and full of stories more than most, had to say about Sunday morning’s breakfast at the Savannah (Ga.) Baptist Center.

I was responsible for those bells and whistles. But not how you might imagine.

On Father’s Day weekend, Galeed Baptist Church’s Vicki Clark will annually lead a group of folks to Savannah for the every-other-month mission trip to feed a group of homeless there that can range from 75 to 200. It’s something that’s been going on about six years now.

On this particular trip, there were nine of us — far more than the four I was part of a few years ago and far less than last year when it was closer to 20. But this group, which had six adults and three youth, was energetic and excited about the challenges that lay before us.

The first challenge was the news that the Center’s commercial refrigerator had conked out and was now unusable. And the money to have it fixed simply wasn’t there. This meant nothing we usually provided for breakfast that required overnight refrigeration — specifically 360 eggs — would be available to us.

I was devastated, but I was already in Miss Vicki’s vehicle and well on the way down Interstate 95. Too late to bail (just kidding, Miss Vicki). But on these trips, the eggs were my thing. And each trip gave me the chance to break in a couple new “eggheads” during the egg-cracking phase.

So for the first time since my inaugural trip, I had no idea what I would be doing. The menu would be grits, biscuits with sausage gravy, and sausage patties. I knew for sure I wouldn’t be doing grits, since I’d made it quite clear just how vile I thought they were (however, it’s an awesome spackling paste); and folks jumped all over the biscuits and gravy right away.

That left washing dishes or sausage.

I’m sure you don’t need three guesses to know what I chose. But that led to the second challenge: We, and by that I mean the only two guys on the trip, Michael Hester and I, couldn’t find the large pans we usually use to cook sausage after an “extensive” search. Turns out they were “hidden” in the one cupboard we failed to search, but too late to be of use to me.

So, my Plan B was to use the flat-top griddle I usually use for eggs to cook the sausage. Made sense to me. It could accommodate 30 patties of sausage at a time and there were 180 to cook. Each set took just 5 minutes, so I would need only about 30 minutes. Perfect.

Sure wish things went that easily.

It all started out OK, but soon I noticed the back right-hand quarter of the grill was getting way too hot. So I started cooking on only the other three-quarters. However, as it turned out, all the grease was running to that hot corner and I couldn’t get it off.

By the time the smoking started, I was almost done and decided to just finish. But the results were … well, not good. Within moments, folks were wondering what was burning, smoke was starting to fill the Center’s dining hall and, to top it all off, the smoke alarm began to shrill at an ear-piercing decible. One would think the huge vent over the stove area would suck that smoke away. But no.

That’s when I heard it … the fire truck, blaring its siren. At first, it was a good distance away, easy enough to dismiss as a coincidence. As it got closer, however, I tried to convince myself they couldn’t be coming here for this.

Sure enough, they were.

Five Savannah firefighters came into the kitchen and asked if everything was OK. By then, the grill was off and getting cleaned, a commercial fan was blowing the smoke out the doors and, um … folks were pointing at me. Even Mark, the Center’s caretaker, was overcome with a moment of humor by quietly asking me if the sausage was cooked. Funny guy.

In some ways, it really was all a bit humorous. But the urge to crawl into a cabinet and hide until the ride home was still pretty strong. Still, it all turned out well in the end. We fed somewhere around 140 people and they all seemed happy with the meal — though, thankfully, they knew nothing of the early morning excitement.

Prior to all the challenges and excitement, the group spent Saturday handing out sandwiches and water bottles around Franklin Square — an area of the city that thoroughly teased me with the aroma of Vinny Van Go-Go’s and seeing folks wolfing down the huge slices of the best pizza in the world — then walking along the City Market, lunch at the Whistle Stop Cafe, an excursion to Tybee Island later for dinner at the outdoor Crab Shack and then time back at the Center for devotion and setting up the kitchen.

All in all, it was another successful Father’s Day weekend mission trip with really terrific people — aside from Vicki, Patsy and Michael, there was Michael’s wife Billie Jo, Theresa Bordeaux and her niece Abbey; Hannah Jackson and Mikayla Winebarger.

The next trip comes the third weekend in August, and I’m really hoping there will be eggs — because, as we all know now, an egg man shouldn’t suddenly be given sausage to cook instead. And besides, I’m sure I’m on some kind of list with the Savannah Fire Department now.

W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.