November 29, 2004
Dear Dave, Hope you had a glorious Thanksgiving. I’m not sure I have the words or the energy to describe what it was like around here. At least I am beginning to get the feeling back in my hands and feet. Soon I am hoping to be able to stand up without whimpering. Yep. Thanksgiving nearly killed me.
And I know it always sounds like I’m exaggerating about this place, but we prepared, packed and delivered 637 meals or so to the elderly and shut-in—really, after the first 625, we lost count—and we served over 200 folks a complete holiday dinner at the church. I have the number 211 stuck in my head—but again, we honestly lost count. People were still coming in while we were cleaning up, and we kept filling the to-go containers with left overs and sending folks out the door with precariously stacked dinners piled high in their arms. Let’s just say—we fed a whole lot of people, and it feels like a miracle. Actually, it’s more like a series of miracles.
First, over seventy turkeys came through the door. Forgive me, but I’ve been saying that for days now, and it still inspires an image in my head of a festive parade of turkeys literally walking through the church’s big double doors. For some strange reason they are plucked but wearing top hats.
Fortunately, none of the turkeys we used for dinner came in under their own power, but folks donated one frozen bird after another; and a wonderful restaurateur in the area started the turkey parade by donating the first two dozen. The whole kitchen became a turkey-processing factory—defrost, prep, bake and carve. We worked round the clock in shifts and cooked sixty-three turkeys in four and a half days.
There are three big ovens in the soup kitchen, but one of them doesn’t work half the time even though it’s been “repaired” twice. The other two ovens work well, but one of them is missing the temperature knob. Danny, the volunteer who washes dishes, has become quite skilled at turning it on with a pair of pliers and gauging 350 degrees. I’m not sure why they haven’t replaced the knob, but it does give Danny a sense of purpose.
Despite the challenges, all sixty-three turkeys complete with potatoes, vegetables, stuffing and dessert were cooked to perfection—or at least to temperature. I took the health department class; the last thing I wanted to do was poison anybody. I have now stuck a meat thermometer in more turkey rumps than most pastors my age, and on Thanksgiving Day they were still coming. Folks brought frozen turkeys to the church all day long, and while I’m not sure what anyone thought we could do with a 29 lb. bird as hard and cold as granite—I’m surely not complaining. We gave several still frozen turkeys away, and we have at least nine in the freezer for a jump-start on Christmas.
The next miracle is Ivan. He returned. Once again—I turned around, and there he was stirring a pot. This time he showed up with a pronounced limp, which he refuses to discuss, and a duffle bag full of root vegetables, spices and condiments. He hoisted that duffle up on the kitchen table, grinning like Santa with his bag of toys and handed out goodies to half the soup kitchen. I was amazed at the number of folks he knew by name and at the specificity of his gifts. Danny, it seems, loves spicy English mustard; Nate loves sweet potatoes, and a volunteer who’s name I can never remember was fondly remembered by Ivan with a box of chocolates and three ripe figs. It was quite a scene. In addition to stocking the soup kitchen’s spice collection, he handed out one token after another. His bag seemed endless. Yet, I’m embarrassed to report, he saved the last gift for me.
I got turnips and lots of them. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting turnips, but before I could take them too personally, I realized that Ivan was donating a big batch of turnips to the soup kitchen for our Thanksgiving feast. “I know some farmers,” was all that he said, and a pick-up truck loaded down with those old-fashioned bushel baskets full of turnips pulled up in front of the church. I have always found it difficult to be enthusiastic about turnips, and my dislike must have been apparent because Ivan assured me that he could whip up a batch of turnips pleasing even to the most turnip hating among us. It was hard not to take him up on his offer, and I’m so very glad I did. And yes, he made the best turnips I have ever tasted—with sweet onions and cream and a half a case of donated butter.
But he did more than that. He organized the kitchen and kept the place running smoothly and helped make the miracle of over 800 meals happen with lots of laughter and very little money. I am hoping that the next miracle makes him stay around for a while, but I have a feeling that Ivan’s a travelin’ man.
And I am haunted by the notion that there is something terribly wrong in his life, something that keeps him moving. I will keep you posted. And I will keep you in my prayers.
Much love, Darlene