I grew up in a tiny tiny town, which had been a coal mining community, called Blaine, Ohio. Tiny. As in, no gas station, no grocery or convenience store. We were not far from any of those things, but all our town really had was a post office (shout out to the 43909) and churches. But, come Lent, that is all we needed. Because the church I grew up in, All Saints Catholic Church, had the best fish fry in the tristate area. No joke. Those Catholic Women could cook!
I first started going to the fish fry as a tiny tot, with my Gram. Later, as my mom got more involved with the Catholic Women's Club, I started going down pretty much every week each Lent, after school, to help out (i.e. let all the ladies fuss over me and give me treats). In college, since I was living at home, I also helped out at the occasional fish fry. My Grandma would sit at the baked goods table, and I would often help her.
The weekly Lenten fish fry was such a rich tradition for us. The women got to spend time in fellowship, and help serve the church community by providing a meat free meal. And the food was notoriously good. Our fish sandwiches were always reasonably priced, and you got such a huge portion, you could stretch it out into two sandwiches. And the cole slaw, oh the cole slaw. But the best part was the baked goods. In a church full of Polish, Italian, and Slovak women, you knew the goodies would be plentiful and delicious. And Mom was famous for her berry pie. Seriously, people would call our house and request them. It was always nice to see the people from the community, and catch up on all the news around town.
I have never ever found a fish fry that could compare to the All Saints Fish Fry, either in terms of the community or the food. Sadly, when I was in graduate school, the priest for our church (he also ran a second church) passed away. We had a substitute for quite a while, but eventually the diocese decided it was best to close our church. It was such a sad sad day, and even now when I drive past the old church building (it has since been bought by a Protestant congregation), I feel a wave of nostalgia and sadness. Every year, during Lent, I get to the point where I would give anything to relive an All Saints Fish Fry. Perhaps, that is what heaven will be like.