By Royden McCoag in Community, Food, People

Seniors become the ultimate critics of church suppers and I, as a member of that elite group, found the best coleslaw ever made at a church fundraiser. It originated in St. Paul’s kitchen in my childhood hometown. It may have been a one-time achievement in cabbage cuisine but I think not. I think I have unrolled the secret.
To understand you must first be aware of the settlement patterns in Southern Ontario. The early immigrants were fresh water mammals and, much like the indigenous muskrats, they sought out the river banks, the lake shores and the bay shores as prime locations for population centres. This meant that they often found themselves in the lowest of lowlands, surrounded by hills. My hometown is a perfect illustration. After descending the south hill the main street stretches along a little terrace, barely out of the floodplain, for more than a kilometer before ascending the north hill. The water lies to the east but to the west the hills rise sharply.
The settlers came from many poverty stricken backwaters of Europe and each boat load brought with it its own interpretation of Christianity. The church leaders, unlike the rabble sought out the highest points as the sites for their houses of worship, each striving to be closest to heaven. The disciples of St Paul won the competition, snagging the best property, right on the top of the highest pinnacle. There they built a magnificent structure carved into the slope so that one could enter the sanctuary at the top almost from the level but could also follow a sloping path to the back where a door opened into a spacious basement hall. For over a century the followers of St. Paul have lorded it over the congregations of St. Thomas, St. George, St, James, St. John, St. Luke, several lesser saints and even some Latter Day Saints. St. Paul’s church sits highest; closest to heaven.
But back to the cabbage achievement; it seems that Victor and Gloria were the coleslaw experts and, on the appointed day, they traveled down to the grocery store in the floodplain and purchased two cases of cabbages, sufficient, they felt, to satisfy the three hundred, or more, hungry seniors clamoring to pass judgment on yet another church supper. This couple, long time supporters of St. Paul, might to some younger viewers be deemed to be getting a little long in the tooth. Indeed, Vic uses a walker (just to steady himself a bit, mind you) but the store clerk helped them load the two crates into the back of their van and they were off.
At the top of the hill, by St. Paul’s main door, they faced a dilemma. If they carried their load into the sanctuary they were faced with long, narrow, steep, winding steps to the basement kitchen. If they took the path around to the back door, it was a long hike and neither felt sure they would be up to the challenge, even if one took each end of a single cabbage crate for each crate held twelve heads. They were heavy. Vic solved the problem. They could wrestle a crate on to his walker and guide it down the sloping walkway to the back door. No sweat; they accomplished their mission with ease. Gloria volunteered to go back for the second crate alone while Vic put the waiting shredding crew to work.
With some effort, Gloria got the second crate loaded and started down the sloping walkway. She soon found that without Vic’s help she couldn’t hold it. The walker got away from her, hit a crack in the pavement and dumped the crate. The crate broke open and, to use a well worn expression, “heads did roll”. Gloria took off after the cascading run-aways.
This spectacle did not go unnoticed. Seeing the rolling, bouncing missiles hurtling down the hill, traffic on the main street came to a halt. Timmy Barker, waiting on the bench in front of the post office for the mail to be sorted, climbed to the highest perch, seeking safety.
When the dust cleared, two heads were found in the town parking lot to the left of the walkway—one under a parked car and one up against the back door of the pool hall; two more were found in Clenny Gray’s garden and he swore they had been growing there, but he donated them to the cause, anyway. One thoughtful motorist got out of his car and captured two heads as they crossed Main Street. One cabbage stopped behind the post office and another rolled to the poorly located United Church. One came to rest near the municipal offices. One got squashed by a motorist who couldn’t stop in time and two were never found.
Eager bystanders helped with the recovery and an embarrassed Gloria could deliver only nine more cabbages to St. Paul’s kitchen. These suffered little damage. Some gravel was picked out and they were washed and shredded and blessed and, I will swear, made into the best coleslaw ever. Perhaps the heads were softened in their downhill journey and that made the difference. At least that is Vic’s theory. I understand it is to be discussed in session as to whether, in future years all cabbages should be rolled down the hill as part of the coleslaw preparation. My only suggestion is that it should be done at about three A.M. to cause less disturbance of traffic.