Years ago, my husband came home and told me we were invited to a party at Little Harlem, a club on Lady's Island.
The owner, Alfred Gadsden, had extended the invitation and wanted to make sure I would attend. I asked the usual questions: What time? What's the occasion? What should I wear?
None of those questions could be answered.
But one thing was clear, Alfred wanted me to attend.
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We arrived at Little Harlem, where a handwritten sign said: Closed, private party. When we entered the club, it certainly seemed like a place where a party was to be held, but there was just one table decorated -- with beautiful placemats and fine china. The feeling of elegance prevailed, and one would not have been able to tell from the outside that this would be the kind of atmosphere on inside.
Alfred greeted us and said he was so happy I agreed to come.
"Mrs. Faulkner," he said. "This occasion has been set up for just you and Mr. Faulkner. I want you to know how much I appreciate all the two of you have done and how much I feel that you are a part of my family. My son Donald and my brother Preston call your name in a positive way all of the time."
Money for the jukebox was provided, and Alfred began to serve our meal. The menu included fried fish, deviled crabs, fried shrimp, red rice and lima beans.
As the three of us ate, the conversation went from food to folk. Alfred shared stories of growing up on Lady's Island, and we told him how the community of Beaufort County embraced us -- and we, them -- when we first came here to teach.
Alfred became a family friend, often calling to say he had a bushel of crabs or a quart of oysters for us. But there was more to him than the club, the food, the sharing.
Alfred, like every Gadsden I know -- his sisters, Agnes, Charlene, Earlene, and his brother, Melvin -- can sing.
At his funeral last year, members who had sung with him in quartets shared stories of him through songs.
On the program was a poem befitting a man of Alfred's status:
"My Last Party"
When you come to my last party
Don't come with faces long
In your heart let there be a song
At the close of services, and as people gathered to speak to family members, Alfred's son said, "Mrs. Faulkner, I no longer want to call you my teacher, I want to claim you as an aunt."
What an honor to have -- among the many I shared with a man who loved and cared for people: Alfred Gadsden Sr.Tater-Dipped Oven Fried Fish
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 pounds fish fillets
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups instant potato flakes
1/2 cup butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Combine the eggs and 1/4 cup water, then dip the fish in the egg mixture. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and roll in potato flakes. Melt the butter in a large shallow baking pan, then stir in the lemon juice. Place the fish over the butter mixture. Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, turning once.Grouper Parmesan
2 pounds grouper fillets
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash of hot sauce
Thaw the grouper, if frozen. Skin the fillets and cut into serving portions. Place in a single layer in a well-greased 12-by-8-by-2 inch baking dish. Combine the remaining ingredients, except the paprika and parsley. Spread the sour cream over the grouper and sprinkle with paprika. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until tender. Garnish with parsley.Fried Bass
2 pounds bass, well-cleaned
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Slice the bass and squeeze lemon juice on the slices. Combine the cornmeal, flour salt and pepper, then roll the bass in the seasoned cornmeal.
Fry in 2 inches of shortening until brown, then drain.
Port Royal resident Ervena Faulkner is a retired educator who has always had an interest in food and nutrition. Email her at email@example.com.