GARDINER — In the way of Thanksgiving family lore, there’s the year the turkey took two hours longer than expected to get done, say, or the year the dog ate half the pumpkin pie before anyone noticed.

This year, for a different kind of family, new tales were collected and told.

For decades, the Scottish Rite Masons of Augusta Valley have created an impromptu family at Thanksgiving, drawing in volunteers to cook, assemble and deliver holiday dinners to those who have requested them and to serve meals in the Gardiner Area High School cafeteria for those who don’t like to eat alone on Thanksgiving.

This is the year that family welcomed Shirley Everhart of Monmouth and her daughter Karen Kiefer of South China, who ventured to Gardiner to do something different on Thanksgiving. Everhart arrived first to make sure volunteers were still needed. She tied on her harvest-themed apron and called Kiefer to come ahead.

“I don’t have family close by getting together this year, and I’m trying to find some excitement,” Everhart said, because that’s what she misses.

She found herself stationed at the pie table, counting boxed up slices of pie to complete orders with turkey and all the fixings being packaged in the cafeteria line. Some orders were for a handful of slices, but a couple orders, destined for apartment buildings, numbered 50 or more. Everhart tried to make sure each order offered a selection to choose from. Although most of the pies donated were apple, pumpkin and berry, a few cherry, custard, vanilla cream and coconut cream pies added variety.

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Kiefer had had Thanksgiving breakfast with her daughters before they headed out for other activities. She said she had searched online and called around before she found the Masons’ dinner on fairly short notice.

“I let my mom know,” Kiefer said, “and maybe next year I’ll get my daughters to come over to help, too.”

Annie Couch, a long-time volunteer, met Everhart and Kiefer this year and made time to talk to old friends and new as she pitched in where needed, making sure to put in an order for the dinners she would bring to her sister’s house later.

This may come to be known as the year that turnips gave way to peas, and that’s caused a bit of a to-do.

Vin Lord has been volunteering at the dinner for two decades. His late wife got him started, and he carries on in her honor. “I started out as a dishwasher,” he said, and now everyone in the kitchen looks to him for direction. When he’s working, he moves at a fast clip through the kitchen and out to the cafeteria and back. For five intense minutes, he doled out instructions to a couple of boys on how to prepare the peas in the warming pans.

“Put a little salt and pepper and butter in and mix it up. Mix it all up. Not too much salt or pepper, though. Just a little,” he said, and he was off again.

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The peas, he said, were introduced this year because someone requested them last year, but he didn’t know who. The switch was noted among the volunteers, but no one knows how the change will be received until they hear back from the diners.

Vicki Dill, who has been volunteering at the dinner for 15 years, noted the change. “I like turnips!” she announced.

But after soliciting the pies and rolls, coordinating workers and keeping orders running through the line, Dill said she’d go home, kick her feet up and have a bologna sandwich. “By the time I get done here, I have had enough of turkey.”

This is the year that Joe Atkinson, who coordinates the delivery routes, was just thankful to be there at all. A year ago, he lay in a coma from Nov. 15 to Dec. 3 after suffering both an aortic aneurysm and a heart attack. On Thursday, with his blue tooth earpiece connected his smart phone, a laptop and a stack of papers, Atkinson set up shop at one of the cafeteria tables, taking calls at a brisk clip.

“It started early this morning,” Atkinson said. “I got nine calls just between the time I left my house and when I got here.” The trip from Dresden to Gardiner is no more than about 20 minutes.

His list, captured in a spreadsheet, contained names he’s collected on scraps of paper during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving from people who have called requesting meals or offering to deliver them. It’s also a historic record of anyone who has ever ordered a meal or delivered one, and he calls them all to see if they will repeat again, and many do. He also keeps what he calls his lost list. For whatever reason, their phone numbers are out of service, and they cannot be reached.

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Atkinson dispatched drivers, both those who have a long history and those who showed up for the first time, took calls from people who had yet to receive their dinners and from people still trying to order.

This was the year that deliveries were still heading out the door at 12:30 p.m., a full hour after that portion of the day is usually wrapped up. The number of meals tallied at that point hovered around 450.

For Bruce Farrington, in charge of overseeing the hundreds of details of the holiday dinner for only the second time, this is the year he was also thankful that Atkinson was back, and that last year, the year of the snowstorm, was not repeated.

“It was chaos,” he said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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