When "Doctor" George Rockwell, the spurious professional, retired from his career as a vaudeville actor, he came to Maine and settled in as a native. Doc and Madeline "collected" church suppers, and he declared he couldn't afford to eat at home so long as the churches of Maine raised funds by feeding the multitudes for a dollar and a half. It was, I suppose, a spiritual experience to hear Doc rate the persuasions by mince pies and chicken dinners. But he and Madeline were faithful in attendance and disputed not about doctrine if the potato salad was ample. Before too long, Doc called me on the phone: "Got any idea where to find a church supper?"
Earl Wilson, a columnist with a New York newspaper, had heard so much about church suppers up in Maine from Doc Rockwell that he was now on the train coming up to do a column about it. Doc was to meet him at the train in Portland at noon, but it was seemingly a fast day and Doc couldn't find a church supper to go to.
I said, "I didn't know New York had a newspaper."
"They got two," Doc said. "One's in Philadelphia. Now, where's a church supper?"
"You were indeed wise to seek my assistance," I said. "I believe I can offer Methodist, Presbyterian, Free Will Baptist, Adventist, and United Salvation."
Doc said, "Is that all?"
"No! It so happens that the Oak Bend Grange, No. 214, is dedicating its new hall today, and will offer a public supper for $1.75 a plate."
"We'll be there," said Doc. We were to meet at our place, get acquainted with Earl Wilson, and then go to Oak Bend together in one vehicle. Mr. Wilson seemed a fine chap - though like a lot of city folks lacking here and there somewhat - and we took to him at once. He said he'd never been to a public supper, and it was hard to believe the things Doc had been telling him. "Like the pies," he said.
Doc said, "I was telling him about the pies. I said any kind of pie he'd like, they'd have it. Didn't matter. Every woman brings a pie, and put 'em all together and you've got every kind of pie there is sitting there waiting to be asked for. Ain't that so?"
"Yes, I believe that's a safe statement."
Doc said, "I told him, but he don't believe me. I never asked for any kind of pie but I got it. I never knew they made all those kinds until I came to Maine." He turned to Earl. "You'll see."
Thus primed by Doc's jollying, and now supposing every word was so, Earl Wilson came to Oak Bend Grange with us, pencil poised to take notes, and generously beguiled. Doc continued to embellish.
Doc was a professional entertainer, one of the best, and anybody was an audience. Doc had a talent with a brush and painted signs. His "studio" was under a sign that said, "Southport Museum of Art, Fine, Medium, Coarse." And when Hank Goudey, the boat builder, asked Doc to paint the name of a new boat on the transom, he made a special platform on wheels so Doc had a place to stand. That platform was a stage to Doc, and Hank found he was paying vaudeville scale for simple name jobs. The boatwrights loved Doc's "shows," but then Hank rigged a curtain so Doc was alone.
So at the moment, Earl Wilson, the celebrated New York columnist, was under Doc's spell and was getting the malarkey but good. We had a quick tour of the new Grange hall and came to the big dining room. Marline Thompson, who was also Ceres, welcomed everybody to the first supper in the new hall, and called on the chaplain for an invocation. Then it turned out that Marline was to be our waitress, and you can't do better than that.
Marline said they had different baked beans and she'd bring us the kind we wanted. Then Marline had to explain to Earl Wilson about the different kinds of baked beans. Pea beans, kidneys, soldier beans, Lowes champions, yellow eyes, Johnson beans, cranberry beans, horticulturals, and so on. Our choice was Jacob's Cattle beans, which are ring-straked, spotted, and speckled, and that's what Earl Wilson got. But all the time he was eating, Marline kept bringing him a small sample of the other kinds. Some had maple syrup, some had molasses, some had brown sugar, and some had all of them.
Earl got to try seven different kinds of hot biscuits, and had a slab of corn bread and three slices of new bread, one raisin. But he had brown bread, too, and asked for a piece to take back to New York.
During the supper, Yappy Kincaid played the piano - with Warnie Holbrook on the clarinet and Margie Mortimer on the harp - and Earl Wilson forgot all about making notes. Doc and Madeline were eating as if food was about to go out of style, and we chewed in complete agreement.
Sated, full, replete, stuffed, Earl Wilson sat in utter disbelief, and it came time for pie. Marline took our dishes away, and with deference to our special guest she asked Earl Wilson first. "What kind-a pie you want?" Earl had been waiting for that. Doc Rockwell's assurance that any kind he asked for would be forthcoming was fresh on his ears. He might be a city slicker, but he wasn't stupid. Put up or shut up, he'd call that bluff! Earl had been pondering on the most unlikely pie there might be. "Yes," he said to Marline, "I'd like a piece of cranberry, apricot, and raisin pie."
"Yes, sir," said Marline without hesitation. "You want it open, shut, or cross-barred?"