Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanks Giving

I awoke, laying in my bed thinking of the last minute things that needed to happen for the day. We were stepping into new territory, an evolution of the event that we started six years back now was moving on to a new venue....The Bend Senior Center.

I showered and readied myself still checking things off in my head. The last thing that I wanted to do was to find myself driving back and forth getting things that I had forgotten about that were needed to pull this event off.

I arrived at the diner to find it buzzing with action. The guys were loading Jerry Bugge's trailer with all of the food that was soon to be consumed by hopefully happy Seniors. I am very grateful that Jerry loaned us his trailer. We had taken over the equipment yesterday and the food this morning. Two trips was all that was needed and all because of his huge trailer.

Kevin was on the line cooking off last minute stuff and he prepared me some breakfast as I put together the register and credit card system that we would need. I took a look at the reservation list and realized that I needed to prepare a list for the ones that we needed to pick up and for all of the deliveries.

I sat down at the counter with Gary and John (two of our regulars who had come in through the kitchen to have their morning coffee. Before I had finished, I was informed that everyone was ready to go and the trailer had been buttoned up. I walked out the back with Gary and John whose coffee was on the house as we had no register system. They smiled and waved as I jumped up into Jerry's large truck and fired it up. I was the only one with 'trailer' experience so became the driver for the load.

I arrived at the center and slid up close to the kitchen door. The crew was waiting for me and had the doors to the trailer opened and were offloading before I had even crawled out of the cab. I grabbed the register area gear and made my way to the lobby to set it up. The center had strung a phone line over to a desk in the entry way that we were to use as our cashier station. After a few shifts and moves and an extra power bar, I stood back and stared looking to insure that it was set for the most efficient use.

I then stepped into the dining room area which was set with the tables and chairs for our guests who were to arrive in a few hours. The tables seemed to be a almost perfect amount. We had 20 tables set out that would set for 160 seats. Since we had reservations for 80 per hour, that would lead us with extra seats in case some seniors wanted to linger a bit. This later turned out to be just the case as some of our 12 o'clock guests stayed until after 2.

I walked through with Richard Smith and showed him the various areas that we were soon to use to make the seniors at home. A table was set up by the main entrance with coffee, cakes, and baskets of apples. The TV was on with the pregame show for the upcoming game. The pool tables were uncovered and ready for play. It all felt good and warm and ready.

The trailer now empty, I drove it to the back of the lot and Richard drove me back to the diner. While he drove the large pots of coffee back to the event, I prepared lists on my computer to make the deliveries easier, printing out maps when needed.

I noticed the time and began to get a bit nervous as it was now 10:30 and I was set to talk to the volunteers at 11......and my mind raced with last minute thoughts.....last minute 'what ifs'. Jayden called to ask to be picked up and I made a quick call to Trinity for her to get him as I just didn't have the time. Richard arrived back to inform me that we would need more croutons as the bread company had only given us half of what we needed. A side trip to Safeway made us end up at the center just minutes before I was to address the help.

I took one last look through all of the stations, looking for anything that seemed out of order. With my paperwork still tucked under my arm and my anxiety level at it's peak, I grabbed a group of my friends who had showed up and we circled for a bit of mind relief in the form of a prayer. I had wanted to say a prayer with all of the volunteers but opted to this group not wanting to dilute the day with any negatives that might come from any volunteer who did not believe as we did. The day was a day of thanksgiving and needed to have this as it's foundation. It all felt so right as we stood in that circle with our heads bowed and I could feel my anxiety wash away.

I brought all of the group together and thanked them for coming, reinforcing our goals of the day. I tried to look them all in the eye so that they might better understand the passion for the event. Thanksgiving is a day for family. And all of these seniors who were soon to arrive were just that today.....our family. I made one last statement before we broke up into our respective groups. If you find yourself not knowing what to do at anytime during the day, look for a senior who is not smiling and do something to make them smile. Make the day, their special day.

The COCOA volunteers broke off to their stations and I brought around the Jake's volunteers to go over last minute things with them. I was not sure who I was going to use to guide the seniors as they came in the room and to insure our larger groups could sit together. I smiled as I looked over at three of our volunteers from years past and realized that one of them was just perfect for the part. The daughter of the group was the one who had juggled olives a couple of years back while her boyfriend and Frank had caught them in his mouth. I asked her if she would take control of the flow and her dad smiled and stated that I had picked the perfect person. "I know", I smiled back.

Going over the cashier station with Nita, Frank's girlfriend who had agreed to cashier for the day, I realized a couple of things that I had missed. I sent Trinity back to the diner for the items and then headed down the hall to go over the deliveries with Pam from COCOA who had Meals on Wheels volunteers who were ready to make them.

Pam took control of the sheets and insured me that they would be handled at the prescribed times. I was so thankful that she was so willing to take that pressure of and I could turn my attention to the guests who were now arriving.

As Judy and I looked across the room, the first thing we realized was that it seemed so quiet and didn't have that 'homey' atmosphere of the diner. I felt that mainly it was because the space was so large and the tables so spread out. Judy mentioned that it needed something and I felt that something might come into play once the band began to play. And it did.

Soon after Paul and his band began, even the server line began to sway with the music. A couple got up and danced in front of the band. Yet another senior got out of his chair and did a little tap dance. I looked across the room at smiling happy faces and it just felt right.

Trinity came and retrieved me as someone from the Bulletin had arrived and I sat and talked with her for a few minutes about how all of this had gotten started. She asked if she could interview a couple of seniors and I said that I was sure that would be OK. I told her to make herself at home with us all and did notice her from time to time during that first hour.

Making my way from station to station, everything seemed to be running so smooth. There were complaints that the band was too loud which was handled easily with a small downturn of the main control on their amp. Then the breakers in the back of the kitchen kept tripping and that was resolved when we moved our heat tables to separate circuits. Those were actually the only two problems that I recall that I needed to help resolve all day. More than one volunteer stated that they could tell that we had put some thought into our preparation.

I walked out onto the main floor to look around and realized something that made me smile even more. Frank was out on the floor making faces smile but there was yet another Frank there also. Frank Spernek who plays poker with us on Mondays and who I have come to realize that is just like us in the 'fun' mode. The next hours musician was walking the floor and both Franks were singing along with his music while they poured coffee. I stepped up as Frank S was harmonizing to one song and joined in on the next one....Sloop John B. As we bellowed out our harmony, seniors around us smiled and clapped. I noticed the Singing Sosas were getting ready to take over for the third hour and had turned to listen. Jeannie Sosa later told me that she did not realize that I could sing. Rousing applause came as we finished our song, bowed to our audience and then went on our way.

I could feel my blood sugar begin to drop so I grabbed a roll from the table and snuck behind the line to the turkey server. "Could you place a couple of pieces on this?", I asked. She turned around startled that someone would be coming behind her for service and seemed almost ready to say, "No" when she realized it was me and smiled, laying out the white meat on my prepared roll with pickles. That is my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal. A roll with freshly baked turkey and pickles. It is so delicious and brings back memories of past days.

The day rolled by not as quickly as past years but with all of the smiles and thank yous along with the hugs and kisses from thankful seniors. One lady stopped me as I walked by her table. "If you had not done this, we would be eating frozen dinners in front of the TV. Thank you!", she said.

All day long, only one face did not smile as I walked around but I soon noticed that Frank was with him....and he was smiling.

As the last hour wound down, I drove the truck back over into place and we began to break down. Helpers broke down tables and chairs as last minute eaters were still eating. I stopped at the table of one of them and reassured the woman that we were not trying to hurry her. "Please take your time and enjoy", I stated. She cupped my face in her hands, kissed me on the forehead, and gave me a hug. With that jesture, she melted my heart.

I stopped to see an old friend and his father who were enjoying their meal. I pointed across the room to Judy and told them that she was my wife. He looked at me in shock. "I am so sorry.", he said, "She is the one that I tried to pick up on when I came into the room.". "No problem.", I returned, "I can see you have good taste in women.".

Judy and I loaded up the cash register area and the remaining ice cream into her car and returned it to the diner. By the time we returned the truck was nearly loaded, the floor now clear, and the kitchen almost clean thanks to the help of some of the Band of Brothers who had showed up to help.

I drove back to the diner where the remaining crew helped bring out the perishables and items needed for the next day. Jimmy showed up right behind me after stopping at the police station with some of the left overs. That too has become part of the ritual of the event. Our leftovers are taken to the Bend PD who have to work on this holiday so that they can partake also.

With the items put away, the restaurant buttoned up, and security set, Jay and I headed home around 6:30. "It feels like almost midnight.", Jay said. I had to agree, it had been a long day.

My mind wondered to all that I had seen and experienced in the day. I recalled walking by a table where a man there stopped me. "Did the TV stop by for this event?", he said. "No", I answered. "They should have.", he said, "This is great.". "Yes, that would have been nice", I countered, "But that is not what this is all about.". He looked up at me and asked, "What is it about?". I smiled back and said, "You.". I saw a tear in his eye as he grabbed my hand and thanked me. If nothing else had happened that day, that one event, in that one moment, my day had been completed.
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