Tonawanda News — About a month ago now, I was seated in the cafeteria of a high school in a small town in Texas, watching a man talk a mile a minute while a woman stood next to him yelling out quips and insults.
You see, I was watching a live auction in action. It was to benefit my uncle — who is battling cancer — at one of the schools at which he used to be superintendent.
I had actually never attended a live auction before that day. I had never been inside that school’s cafeteria. And I didn’t know the majority of the some-150 people attending. But everything about that evening dripped of familiarity.
The folks who organized the event provided a huge barbecue, complete with sausage, chicken, beans, potato salad, green beans (cooked with pork) and so many desserts, I couldn’t even count. I’m leaving out a good portion of the dishes in that spread simply because I can’t remember, but at the very end of the buffet was a platter of pickles and raw, white onions ... that’s how you know you’re at a Texas barbecue.
The auction items spanned the gamut: From baskets of beauty products and jewelry, to bails of hay and gravel filler, there were products to appease the folks who drove in from the suburbs and the men and women who work the farms every day. Oh yeah, and crafts ... lots of crafts.
I didn’t know most of the people, but they all knew my uncle and most knew my mother and her other brothers as well ... funny stories from their childhood were shared. And even if I didn’t recognize someone, most people remembered me as a child, or knew some connection to one or both sides of my family. (I’m the one who lives in New York and works for a newspaper.)
It got me to thinking about similar events I’ve attended in Western New York.
Benefits, community meals, fundraisers and festivals ... these things reveal the true spirit of a community, what it really means to be a Western New Yorker, or even more specifically a North Tonawandan, or in my case a big-city and small-town Texan (I was raised with a little of both).
When I first moved to the area, I had certain expectations when I given my first plate of a Chiavetta’s chicken barbecue. Let me tell you, that was no chicken barbecue I’d ever experienced before, but I still love it.
Basket raffles? I really didn’t know what those were at first. I’m still not really sure what a meat raffle is and why it’s even a thing. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.
And I’m sure a native Western New Yorker might blink at a few things that go on at a Texas community or family event — the raw onions as a garnish thing, for instance. Or maybe how a fish fry is a totally different thing back in my hometown ... just a heads up, it’s more of an event in Texas, and often involves catfish, crawdads and hushpuppies.
There’s almost never any alcohol served at public functions that involve children, except perhaps at concert venues. An event like Canal Fest would probably not have a beer tent in most Texas towns ... definitely not if you’re in a dry county. But you almost certainly will find two large pitchers with sweet and unsweetened ice tea ... always fresh-brewed. That’s a must.
It was an adjustment getting used to the slight different way things are done in Western New York compared to Texas, but I think I’m getting the hang of what to expect around here. And I’m lucky, I’m in the know in two places now.
But one thing’s the same no matter where you go: People out there take care of their own in the best way they know how. (And it usually involves some pretty fantastic food.)Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.