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Box Suppers: More Than Meets the Mouth

Updated on September 23, 2017
kenneth avery profile image

Kenneth is a natural-born southerner and grew up his entire life in the south where he has resided now for 63 years in Hamilton, Al.,

This Space is to Introduce

something that used to be the norm, a happening in the community, and something that was looked forward to--especially by the teenagers. I dare say that this topic: the Box Supper, is one of those faded events that are now, sadly, a dusty memory.

I could say and you might also say that the Box Supper was the prototype of the Dating Site with commercials filling our video waves with lonely farmers looking for girlfriends to the owner of his own dating site who does his own ads. On TV he looks like he is in "harmony" with his audiences. I hope that you don't find me smug or cute, but I just grew weary of giving this type of site a chunk of free advertising.

Box suppers were designed to be made so pretty as to give the girls who entered these social events an extra edge in the event.
Box suppers were designed to be made so pretty as to give the girls who entered these social events an extra edge in the event. | Source

I am Going to Tell

you all about the Box Supper. I hope that a good cross section of you will remember this very popular event and if you don't, please ask your parents and test them to talk to you about Box Suppers. Truthfully, a Box Supper has nothing to do with boxcars or The Last Supper. But it does have a lot of sweet, respectful memories that many might still remember today. I also think this to be really nice. Plus very sad to boot, for I do not know of any Box Supper's being put on by my hometown, county or state-wide area of Alabama. But I am not ruling out a Box Supper being made into a remade event that would be the ideal place for incumbent Mayor, William Bell, of Birmingham, Ala., to be the first Alabama city mayor to cut the ribbon on his new business, "We R Box Suppers, LLC." that could open up if the money was available to design a social event of this magnitude.

Box Suppers was a vital part of life in the late 1930s throughout the 1940s because these sociofriendly get-together's made sense for all parties around. The people who owned the school or home were happy. The young couples who were just dying to attend a Box Supper were happy thus making (that) designated town or community a neat place to live. Harmony galore.

I am Happy to

share every Box Supper memory that my parents shared with me when I was 12 in November, 1965. On the 27th to be exact if you are keeping a record. When my parents were telling me that they attended Box Suppers when they were young dating teenagers at New Home School and had a big time from start to end.

So you can join me in being happy that everything I am writing about Box Suppers did NOT come from those "Find-Out-Pedia's" that are so visible on the 'net. Take my word for it. My parents knew how to jack their jaws especially when the subject pertained to them directly and how they got started about Box Suppers when I made the foolish mistake of thinking outloud when I spoke, "oh, how I wish that there were a few pretty girls around this neighborhood," and like the Millennials say in 2017, "it was on" when my mother chimed in with telling her version of being one of the female participants of a Box Supper and she added about the part of her having so much fun.

My dad agreed with her, but said very little about the subject. Not that he was putting her opinion down, but my dad was a man of chosen words. He was not one for shooting the breeze or yakking for no apparent reason. He was a very methodical, precise man of big plans, a steamer full of common sense and knew how to use it. But the one thing that he did comment about a Box Supper was him (at a young age) competing with other guys of his age competing in a Fiddler's Contest which he won by out-playing six other fiddlers at the same place as my mom was remarking about Box Suppers at New Home School. A coincidence? I doubt it. I am not a random-thinker.

Box suppers could be eaten inside a building or on the outside depending on the weather.
Box suppers could be eaten inside a building or on the outside depending on the weather. | Source

Explaining the Box Supper

is not that tough. If it were, I would be barging all over those "Know-It-All-Pedia" sites so I could find out about these all-American events that when they started, it was hard for them to stop. Sorta like a forest fire that started because of a fool who threw out a lit cigarette into an area that hadn't seen a drop of rain for over two months. You get the picture.

No. Box Suppers, when they started, were not as popular as Jesus, allegedly said by the late, ex-Beatle, John Lennon, who I tell you, took a C-130 Hercules full of nasty flak because of that slip of the lip. People in my parents' day valued events like the Box Supper. They would even threaten to have fist-fights if one of the girls in the supper judging was thought to be bribing a serious judge by offering him a dollar bill and maybe a chance rendezvous later that night.

Seriously involved is how I would honestly describe the goings on about the Box Supper.

The Box Supper was Relatively

simple. That is why it was so popular. Don't get your back up by me saying this, but in this day, there were not many grade school or high school graduates who attended the Box Suppers of my folks' Saturday nights. Mostly farming men and women who were raising farming sons and daughters. I am really giving props to these all-American southern folks.

The Box Supper really fell on the shoulders of the girls who chose to enter a box of goodies--fried chicken, an Old Fashioned apple pie, an apple and maybe a piece of beef jerky whose mama's had the daunting task of not only preparing and cooking their daughters what might turn out to be a winning box of good supper, but these hard-working southern women had to design the box that was catchy to the eyes of the young single guys who were going to bid for each box and by seeing a pretty box, this was really a subliminal message sent to the mama who designed the box design to keep her daughter's potential beau interested in the daughter's box.

The outcome was sometimes hot and very tense. When the judge of the boxes of delicious supper, probably an area pastor or judge in real life, would hold up the box, mention the girl's name who entered the box and get ready to receive the bids. Sorta like, "I got a nickel . . .do I hear seven cents? I got seven cents . . .do I hear a dime, and so on until the single guys' pocket budget was depleted. The young single man who bid the most, took the girl and box of food and went to some nice romantic locale and (the boy mostly) ate the fried chicken, apple pie and maybe the apple. This young man was hungry alright. He was just arrived from working all day long for his dad, a hard task master in making a successful cotton crop, so you know that he was famished. The winning girl who went with him did not eat that much for her mama, who knew all about single boys, advised her to not "act like a hog" when you eat. And for God's sake, be sure to wipe your mouth in a most-delicate manner. Then if things went to plan, she would be dating this guy the next weekend--and then a short engagement followed by a memorable church wedding. The Box Supper paved the way for a lot of happy and enduring marriages in that day.

So now you understand the overall importance of the Box Supper?

But Prior to The Supper Judging

came the musical entertainment for the evening. I'm telling you that my folks would tell of the early Country Music stars who were working their tails off to pay their dues and hit all of the Box Suppers and Sunday afternoon singings to give them that extra publicity in order to gain fame in a much quicker way.

My mom talked about a Carl Sausman, who loved to fiddle and sing Country tunes of the day and tell a few clean jokes between songs. And there were the very popular duo of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs who went on to be Grand Ole Opry royalty thanks to their sponsor: Martha White Flour. Yes, a young Flatt and Scruggs played New Home School at one Box Supper where my mom was present. I bet that she was the prettiest girl in the place.

Two more up and coming entertainers were from the New Home Community: Collis Terry and Terry Skinner, the Terry Teens. This charming, talented twosome were talented and charming to the point that they sang as good as and maybe better than Don and Phil, the Everly Brothers. A local radio engineer and DJ, a Mr. Edgar Clayton signed on as their manager and with his powerful contacts in Nashville, the Terry Teens were on their way. I had to include these guys for my mom also saw these guys at a Box Supper at New Home School.

So you now understand another reason that Box Suppers were so popular? Crowd appeal. You had to have it if you were going to be successful. The Terry Teens, with Clayton as manager, had a comical sidekick to join their tours across northwest Alabama. His name, Billy Gray Burleson, also a local resident who was able to play and sing with the guitar when called on, but show up on stage as "Jelly Bean," a comic relief. But Burleson, I give him credit, was funny alright--but miles apart from the legendary Rod Brassfield, "Cousin Minnie Pearl's" sidekick.

But as soon as the Terry Teens were backstage with Clayton, the back-up band, and "Jelly Bean," who did play the stand-up bass, all got into a fracus when the band started a mild argument about why they were not being paid like the Teens. One word led to the other and all decided that it wasn't worth the hassle and went home, but not all in the same car.

You cannot really blame the Terry Teens who were on the verge of fame and popularity disintegrating because of them being at a Box Supper. I'm taking the role of the defense here. The Box Supper was totally innocent. The Terry Teens came and performed by their own free wills. It's still so sad how close these guys came to (possibly) eclipsing The Everly's with their special style of singing. But what has been is now gone--but I can tell you that Terry Skinner went on to write numerous Grammy Award-winning songs by Pop and Country Music elite and taught music at U.N.A. (University of North Alabama--Florence, Ala.) Skinner and I worked together in the then-Marion County Little Theater, Hamilton, Ala., with a community theater classic: "Ponder Heart," by Eudora Weldy.

I'm thinking now that maybe the Box Supper might have been the reason Skinner found success (after) the Terry Teens had been dissolved. It's possible.

The Pure Truth About

Box Suppers were honestly, not all cream and milk. No, sir. Along with the girls' winking at the guys and the guys muffling the growling of their stomachs due to hunger and who could forget the singing by the early Country Music singers and dancing? Box Suppers were the total package--entertainment, good food, romance, and a few broken hearts and hurt feelings. My point: if the Box Supper were 100% clean and pure, this area event would be utopia and we are all too smart to know that utopia cannot exist in our corrupt world.

Some single gals who entered the Box Supper event, spent their dad's last few nickels (or dimes) in order to pay the entry fee. These fees went to help the school where the Box Supper(s) were held because the Southern schools did not receive Educational Funds by the state in the early days of the Box Supper. The pressure on the girls to win was mind boggling. And the losing girls were left to go home with supper intact in their boxes or be "courted" by some good-hearted teen guy who just felt sorry for her in losing her box not bringing in the winning amount of money.

Another paradoxical fact was sometimes the girls who entered a Box Supper were as pretty as a peach--and the boys all went wild for her, but in some cases, neither she or her mama could cook worth a lick and if by some miraculous turn, this calorically-challenged pretty girl just happened to win her box of supper by some beauty-driven boy . . .he met with a huge surprise when he first bit into that drumstick that was mostly raw because her mama (and the girl) were not knowledgeable about the inner-workings of the kitchen. And the reverse affect: a homely girl's box of food won by a guy who only bid to get a quick meal.

Then there was the ever-present presence of the more-prosperous farmers or loggers. Sometimes, (and this was never proven), a father with a homely daughter's chances of winning a box of good eats were increased if her dad were to "donate" a few bucks to the judge over the Box Supper. This was certainly feasible for the fathers to "win" their homely daughter's box of supper goods when he slipped a handsome teen boy who most certainly would not refuse a few extra Lincolns in his pocket.

Fights? Sure, there was always the possibility of a teen guy who lost his bid to the girl of his choice by those fathers with more dough. But when a fist-fight was brewing, the adults--parents of the boys were ordered to "take it outside" and make sure that the fight was clean. This would be an ego boost to the girl both guys were fighting for.

Another incident that never happened was a pretty girl in the crowd who bid for another pretty girl's pretty box of delicious eats. If a girl were to be so bold (in these days) to do something of this nature, she would surely be sent home. And a stern talking to by the girl who was the object of the other girl's attention.

The other taboo would be a male entering his beautifully-designed box of food for bids by the other males in the crowd. A boy this brave to do this might be taken outside and beaten up--then told to leave. Times were rough in Box Supper Days.

And now you know better than to think that Box Suppers were all delicate, respectful, and a popular place to meet girls.

Couple eating from a box that this guy won the bidding for this girl's box of supper.
Couple eating from a box that this guy won the bidding for this girl's box of supper. | Source

© 2017 Kenneth Avery

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    • kenneth avery profile image
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      Kenneth Avery 8 weeks ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Dear Liz,

      I understand completely. I didn't get to attend anything like this for my controlling dad. He loved me, but in a way that made me feel like a prisoner.

      I could not go with my friends--although I had registered for The Draft to head to Vietnam, and forbid me to go riding with my friends. And me, 18.

      What a life I didn't have.

      Write soon, Liz.

    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 8 weeks ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hello, My Good Friend, Angel,

      I was one of the generations who did not participate with Box Suppers, but I would like to have a Time Machine (Dr. Sam Beckett, Quantum Leap) and leap back to where a very pretty girl was presenting her box of food and I had $3,000 with me. Done and done.

      Plus we would eat a great meal and be friends.

      Then she could leap back with me.

      Does this sound like a screenplay?

      Let me know.

    • kenneth avery profile image
      Author

      Kenneth Avery 8 weeks ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Venkatachari M,

      Box Suppers were pure Americana. They served to have young men and women meet and enjoy a meal that the guy bid on and won. So the girl was honored that the man thought so much of her to spend on her supper.

      I wish they would come back.

      Write soon.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 8 weeks ago from Hyderabad, India

      Never heard of this kind. But, it is very interesting to know about such an event being taken place in those years when girls used to be very much reserved within their own homes and never dared to look at a strange guy.

    • Angel Guzman profile image

      Angel Guzman 2 months ago from Joliet, Illinois

      Hmm...very cool. Interesting, I don't think we did this when I was young in school.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 2 months ago from Oakley, CA

      Interesting. I guess this must have been a "out-in-the-country," or southern states tradition, as I never heard of it, nor did I ever hear either of my parents mention such an event.

      The closest thing we ever had was 'bake sales,' at which cupcakes, cakes, and cookies were sold to raise funds for the school or the PTA. Baked, of course, by the moms...and totally anonymous as to whom had baked what.

      I was born and raised in San Francisco; my parents were both from New England--Yankees through and through.

      ;-)