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Posted: February 28, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Comfort food

Has anyone seen or heard from Al Gore this year? It would be serendipitous, indeed, for the former vice-president to appear and convince Old Man Winter to pack his bags. Gore can pontificate about global warming to his heart's content, but here in the Deep South folks are tired of being this cold for this long. Easter is but five Sundays away. For crying out loud, in just 39 days Jack and Arnie tee off in Augusta as honorary starters for The Masters!

For Yankee transplants, that means it's time for azaleas and dogwoods to bloom and blossom -- for spring to arrive. Yet still we shiver in the icy grip of the coldest winter in recent memory. Global warming meets an inconvenient truth, indeed.

Last Thursday temperatures in our neck of the woods barely climbed past the freezing mark. Wind from the "Alberta Clipper" which seems to have permanently rerouted the jet stream from the North Pole to Georgia sliced through layers of clothing like Epsom salt through an old lady.

Cold? Goodness gracious! My three backyard bird baths froze over and never thawed all day, despite standing in direct sunlight as weather experts reported temperatures in the 40's.

Quite often, however, there's a silver lining to even the darkest of clouds. Sure enough, the silver lining appeared Thursday, disguised as the Covington Lions Club annual chili supper.

The Neal Banks Lions Club Pavilion features a nondescript concrete block building easily overlooked by drivers as they rush to vitally important appointments. An attractive sign situated at the corner of Legion Drive and Conyers Street marks the location, but unless one is looking for it, the pavilion blends in nicely with the woodsy surroundings.

It really doesn't look much like a silver lining.

But it's hard to beat a steaming bowl of chili on a cold, windy night. It's even harder to describe the ineffable warmth generated within a concrete block building on a concrete slab when the very essence of a community comes together in fellowship in one place at one time. But that's exactly what transpired last Thursday evening at Academy Springs Park.

I grew up, you see, in the small town of Greensboro, Ga., where my dad was a member of the Lions Club. So despite my appreciation for other civic organizations, which also perform wonderful service to and for their communities, sentimentally I've always been partial to the Lions Club. Formed in 1917, the Lions motto is "We Serve." And it's hard to imagine any loftier purposes than these, briefly excerpted from Lions Club International: to create and foster a spirit of understanding among the peoples of the world; to promote the principles of good government and good citizenship; to take an active interest in the civic, cultural, social and moral welfare of the community; to encourage service-minded people to serve their community without personal financial reward, and to encourage efficiency and promote high ethical standards in commerce, industry, professions, public works and private endeavors.

The Lions Club is best known, perhaps, for their invaluable contributions to eyesight. My generation remembers "the Lions Lighthouse for the Blind," which recycled used eyeglasses, funded research and helped people around the world see better.

But the best part about Lions Clubs, I think, is the impact they have on their own communities. Folks who have lived here for any length of time look forward to the annual chicken barbecue, to the nationally certified "Sherman's Last Burning" barbecue contest, and to the chili supper. And it's not so much for the food as it is for the opportunity to gather for convivial conversation, to fellowship and hobnob with people from all walks of life who make this place unique.

You see, the thing is that all of us who live here have a stake in the history of this place and are tied to the essence of what has made us what and who we are. Our common interests glue us together in a wondrous sort of bond. And I don't know what other folks call it, but corny as it may sound, I just call it love. We love our country and our state, true enough. But in magical moments like a church homecoming or high school reunion, or dinner on the grounds, when you have a chance to see people you care about but who aren't your kinfolks, it's all about realizing how we love our town, and how we love each other.

So last Thursday evening, although the Lions club chili helped, ‘twas the warm spirit of fellowship with those who make this place special which defeated the chill of the wintry wind.

And that's a pretty special silver lining for this old boy.

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.


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