As American as the flag, as rural as a tractor-pull and as traditional as Thanksgiving dinner, the Lisbon Volunteer Fire Department's monthly pancake breakfast could be a Norman Rockwell painting that has come to life.
Young families and retired couples sit elbow to elbow at plastic-covered oblong tables that crowd the hall. Tom "Jimmy Dean" Johnson and his father, Charlie, cook sausage on charcoal grills outside as laughter spills from the kitchen. Middle-aged women in their Sunday best chatter happily as they make their way down the buffet piled with bacon, eggs, cooked apples, gravy and pancakes.
This old-fashioned monthly feast has become a western Howard County tradition that more than 400 local residents have come to cherish. It is also the main fund-raising source for the volunteer Fire Department that depends on the generosity of the community to purchase its equipment.
In an area where volunteer fire departments and churches are the center of community life with their oyster roasts, bingo nights and craft shows, Lisbon Volunteer Fire Department's pancake breakfasts are among the most popular events.
"We've kept it running every month. It's always the second Sunday. And people have grown to love the food and like to spend their Sunday mornings here," says Carey McIntosh, the special activities committee chairman in charge of the breakfasts.
Some regulars, like Charlie and Elinora Proffen of Ellicott City, haven't missed a breakfast in seven years.
"The prices are fair, the food is excellent and plentiful, but we come because of the people," says Charlie Proffen, a lifetime member of Savage Volunteer Fire Department.
"We try to support what all the other fire departments do," his wife says. "But this house in particular is very open and caring. They welcome you at their breakfast as if they were welcoming you into their home -- with that same gracious manner."
According to the diners, that atmosphere is the main reason Lisbon's breakfast draws such crowds -- as many as 600 on Mother's Day and Valentine's Day-- that have forced breakfast organizers, at times, to pull out the fire engines and set up tables in the truck bay.
Dianne Rooney of Forever Farm in Lisbon calls the breakfasts a time for family. "You just see everybody -- all your neighbors and friends. And then you see someone new and introduce ourselves and welcome them to the community."
She adds that the "most important thing is to support the Fire Department. Whenever they need help, we try to do that."
And the breakfasts do help.
In 1992, the Lisbon Volunteer Fire Department was able to purchase a new $250,000 engine from the fund raising.
At $4.50 per adult and $2.50 for children ages 6 to 12 (under 6 are free), the Fire Department collects nearly $1,000 each month for their equipment fund. That money is invested until the department needs a new engine or other equipment.
Feeding the crowd is no easy undertaking.
Buying the supplies is a half-day of work for Doris and Bubby Bowman -- he is the man who began Lisbon's pancake breakfast nearly seven years ago.
McIntosh, the breakfast supervisor, begins preparing on Saturday. That way, the tables and chairs are in place when he arrives before dawn Sunday to begin taking out the food.
His first help arrives at 5: 45 a.m. to start the grills for sausage. By 6 a.m., about a dozen volunteers have begun to warm gravy, cook apples and make coffee and orange juice. From 6: 30 a.m. until 11 a.m., nearly 20 cooks crowd the kitchen -- frying potatoes, scrambling eggs and cooking pancakes.
Before the day is over, volunteers will flip more than 1,000 pancakes, grill 200 pounds of sausage and make 60 pots of coffee.
Standing at the pancake griddle, Rod Waddell of Lisbon, jokes with his pancake partner Lisa Lawler, dubbed "The Amazing Flipini" for orchestrating the duo's pancake acrobatics. With a swift motion, she flips the pancake from the griddle to a plate six inches away. But if she sends a brown pancake into nearby cooking batter, he exclaims, "You see, that's grounds for dismissal!
"You could get demoted to bacon duty," he warns, taking an opportunity to tease Jeff Sirk, a volunteer for almost 10 years, who has the hot, unpleasant job of frying bacon.
Tom Johnson says the volunteers keep him coming back to the sausage grills. "It really is fun working with these characters," says Johnson, who isn't even a volunteer firefighter. A friend in the department asked him to help out one Sunday morning, and he has been coming ever since.
Most of the time the breakfasts are relatively incident-free, but the department sometimes receives a fire call or two.
"You should see everyone running," says Lawler.
When a call comes in, regulars and Ladies Auxiliary members pitch in, another example of how the community and the Fire Department work together, they say.
"We're here for the community. People can call us for a little bit of everything," says Jerald Bennett, deputy chief since 1957.
"And in return, they appreciate and trust us."
Besides, says 6-year-old Valerie Tracy of Mount Airy, "The pancakes are good."
Pub Date: 8/04/96