Published in the Columbia Missourian
At 5:30 a.m. the sun is rising over the fields. Clouds obscure the horizon at the edge of a brightening sky.
Clouds fill the kitchen, too, as Two Mile Prairie Elementary School's pancake griddle heats up, throwing smoke into the air.
"Okay, higher math here. 45 servings," says principal Jack Jensen, as he dips a measure cup into a two-pound can of ground coffee.
Volunteers are busy preparing for an onslaught of hungry humans, all trooping in for the school's PTA fund-raising event. Some volunteers supervise the 10-gallon Hobart mixer beating pancake batter into readiness. Others tear into cases of Jimmy Dean pork sausage, setting them in trays for the waiting broiler.
6:15 a.m. The griddle is way too hot, and it smokes as the volunteer chefs struggle to gain control of the temperature.
"Well, I burned the first batch," says first-shift chef Tom Thurston.
"That's to season the griddle, isn't it?" Jensen says, laughing.
With the griddle burning-hot, Thurston shuts the flames off.
"I can cook for at least an hour on this," he says.
Even before the sun made its appearance, the bright-eyed adults had set up 14 tables, with eight chairs at each, in the school gym. They follow one of the eight rules of eating, posted on the wall: "No more than eight to a table." They hope that the guests will obey rule seven: "Eat your own food."
For $2.50, guests get all the pancakes and sausage they can eat, fresh from the Two Mile Prairie kitchen.
The volunteers - among them a small-business owner, an MU administrator, and a homemaker - are armed with four gallons of pancake syrup, 40 pounds of pancake mix and more than 250 sausage patties.
By 6:30 a.m. there are enough volunteers on hand to have some waiting around for things to do. In 90 minutes the doors will open and the eating will begin.
"We had a steady stream of people from 8:00 to about 9:30," Jensen said.
10:00 a.m. The big rush is over. Everyone has lost count of everything.
"I know we've served a lot of pancakes," Jensen said, shaking his head.
What were neat stacks of plates, napkins and forks are now small piles of lonely place-settings.
It's a PTA fund-raising event, but it's hard to tell. Nobody talks about the PTA. All the conversation is about friendships, communities and neighbors.
"It's almost more of a social event," said Rhonda Smith, a mother of four. Two of her children have now left Two Mile Prairie. The other two are still at the school.
Parents gather with their children, greeting friends and talking about Halloween.
"It's like your own little country store," Smith said. Maybe, but it's a country store with a playground. When they're done eating, the kids take their pancake-and-sausage energy outside.
Ten or so of them play soccer in the November sunshine.
11:00 a.m. Katrina, a new kindergartner, plays on the slide with her brother and sister, who have left Two Mile Prairie for Lange Middle School.
Inside, other children are helping the parents clean up. One wields a mop taller than she is. Another stretches to reach the middle of a table with a sponge.
The grown-ups are washing dishes. Everyone is laughing and smiling.
It was a success. The impressive array of food was enough to sate the appetite of the masses. There was no extra. It's all gone.