The cakes will be so tall scaffolds are needed to slice them. The music, Gospel, will float out of the windows of the old school where rural western York County kids learned to read and write and count dating back to the days of horse and buggy.
And yes, Big Wednesday, this Wednesday, for the 100th time in a row in western York County on Hopewell Day, means Hopewell Hash. But will this be the last year after 100 of them, the end of an era, because the world now starts school earlier in August and people work far away and Wednesday is in the middle of the week and more people could go on Saturday?
The answer is maybe. The other answer is maybe not.
“I’m not much for change,” said Faye Mitchell, who has baked and volunteered and served and at Hopewell Day all her life. That life is many decades but I do not have the guts to ask how many even if she has kids close to age 60.
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“Some things are pretty good the way they are. This is one of them.”
Faye Mitchell will bake a red velvet cake with so many layers that a collapse would require a crane to clear it away. She will bake a pineapple cake with the acreage of some homes. Dozens of other people will bring baked goods to sell.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Faye Mitchell said of Hopewell Day.
Melvin Howell, who is a magistrate judge by trade and claims to have to retire next year at age 72, is one of many cooks and volunteers. Howell was asked how long he has done it.
“About my whole life,” he said.
Howell said Hopewell Day is part picnic, part church social, part community gathering. He is asked who is invited.
“Everybody,” Howell said.
The rural part of York County is filled with hard-working people whose agricultural heritage was earned through red clay and mules pulling plows. The day started as a celebration of crops brought in, enough money made to eke out a living, and shared community and love. It is arms of men sticking out of short sleeved shirts, veins popping over ropy muscles, women of great courage and resolve to raise families and work, and Gospel music.
There are no butchered cows anymore as the tin radio blared and the prayers were said and maybe a little of moonshine was passed in secret among the hardier types, but hash is cooked the old way as it always has been. A ton of beef bought just down the road at the G&W meat packers, cooked in iron pots with sacks of onions peeled by hand with all the tears that come with it, and pounds of butter and salt and pepper and nothin’ else. Simmered and stirred for a half a day until it is part gravy and part stew and all great.
“Some things in today’s world of fast stuff are better,” said Dale Mitchell, one of the organizers and Faye Mitchell’s son. “Some ain’t. Hash ain’t.”
Hash is served in cardboard schooners with sliced white bread Dale Mitchell orders from Bi-Lo and you can eat it with a spoon or dip the bread in it or pour it over the bread.
Pints are $8 to take home, too, and so many pints get took home that Dale Mitchell has spent two months collecting cardboard boxes for people to put their Mason and Ball jars of hash in for carrying as they leave.
The hash is stirred and skimmed and watched and talked about all night long as the cooking starts Tuesday afternoon. Old men and some not so old cook it, as they have for 100 years. The only thing fast is the tongues.
Hopewell Day is in the tri-cities of Hickory Grove and Smyrna and Sharon in western York County. The three places are not cities but if they say so they are on this one day. Smyrna’s population is 50. Hickory Grove 502. Sharon, 569. If they say city, it’s city.
But country and generosity and a welcome mat for all is the way at Hopewell Day. The songs are sung in the old schoolhouse where all the money raised from hash and baked goods goes to renovations of the schoolhouse so the tradition can stay alive. All clap and sing and the old wooden floors creak. Old friends get reacquainted. New friends are made.
“Pretty great thing we have here,” said Howell the judge, who as judge makes rulings and his ruling of greatness is final.
But all, even Faye Mitchell, concede that area schools now start earlier every year – some recent years school started the same day as Big Wednesday and many kids and parents had to miss it. It is tough to get enough help mid-week. Organizers have talked about moving Big Wednesday to Saturday for a year or two or five. They have not pulled the trigger because changes such as that are not done quickly – if ever.
“We talked some about changing to the weekend,” said Dale Mitchell. “We might talk some more this week. We might not.”
Howell, the judge, said the talk continues.
“And sometimes it stops,” Howell said of talk about changing to the weekend.
Like making hash, decisions like this take time.
There is no hurry at Hopewell Day famous for Hopewell Hash on Big Wednesday. There is just lawn chairs under tall trees as old as York County and music and one of the few things left in the world where the old way was the best way and remains that way. It might change to Saturday. It might not.
But if you have never gone to Hopewell Day on a Wednesday, you better go this year in case it does.
Want to go?
100th annual Hopewell Day, Wednesday at the Old Hopewell School, Hopewell Road, Hickory Grove. Hash is $8 a pint and sales start at 6 a.m. Gospel singing at 10 a.m. Proceeds go to renovation of Hopewell School.