November 20, 2016
I am up very early today……like 4AM! The car was packed with everything that I will need last night, except the things that need to be refrigerated. I was smart this year, I made a list of the items that need to be packed this morning so I don’t forget anything important. (I had to call home last year and have my parents bring some items that I forgot.) Den got up to help me get dressed, since I cannot lace my stays myself. I let Em sleep until I was ready to leave. It is going to be a very long day for us all.
I was on the road to Sand Ridge Nature Center by 430AM. It is a running joke between Jim, the director of the nature center, and myself that we alternated who arrives at the gate first. It’s just a coincidence that we laugh about, because we are both still half asleep when we leave home this morning. This year, Jim was just opening the gate when I arrived. The grounds are so quiet in the predawn hours. It’s kind of nice to have some quiet time while we light the cook fires before the craziness of the day really starts. We have to start the fires early so there are coals for cooking and the wax in the candle pot melts for dipping candles. A necessary early task, but rewarding in it’s own way. This year, I had the fire in the cabin laid and ready the day before, so I only needed to put a match to it to get it going. From that fire we got all the others started. So much easier than trying to get enough dry paper kindling going on it’s own.
Once some of the staff and volunteers arrived, around 6AM, I was off to get other things done in the kitchen. I have a wonderful group (staff and friends who volunteer) that make sure to be there early, so I can get other things done that need doing. So I walked my way up to the nature center and started on the food prep.
For me, the food prep starts with getting all 10 of the turkeys ready. I check all the weights and set the 2 “odd balls” aside for the oven. Then it’s time to rinse, remove the giblets and anything plastic. Finally, the 8 going out to the cook fires get put on the spits. This takes 2 people and this year I have lots of help. Den and Em have arrived and Lisa is here too. I let them get the turkeys on the spits, while I keep rinsing, etc. the remaining turkeys. Once the turkeys are all on the spits, we have to wire them to keep the wings and legs from getting loose and either falling off or getting burned. No one wants this job, so I get my hands dirty and greasy.
After getting the turkeys ready, the rest of the food prep is really easy. When my parents arrive around 8AM, I help my mom get dressed and then send her over to the job she has had for almost 15 years…mix the stuffing! I hate stuffing, so I ask her to do it every year! It also makes her feel wanted and productive, what could be better! While Lisa and Mom work on the stuffing, Den and I get the Apple Butter, Gravy, Cranberries and Squash ready to send down to the fires. We have to wait until Pat, another volunteer, arrived to finish the Succotash and carrots. She is kind enough to par cook them both at home to take some of the load off of me in the way of prep. By the time we have everything ready to go to the fires, Pat has arrived and everything is set. Now we just have to get it all to the fires and then wait. The crew that cooks the turkeys already came to get them going….they take the longest to cook.
By noon, everything is on the fires. The first batch of churned butter is done and the second is in process. I decide it is time to make my rounds to see how all of my volunteer friends are doing, if they need anything and to remind them to go eat lunch. I finally find Jim (he is running around like me…..a little crazy) and convince him to eat something. The lunch menu is always the same…hot dogs, chips, salads and soup. It’s just enough to get us all through to the feast when we close down at 4PM. I made up plates for my Mom and Den and take them some lunch. I made sure to check and see if my Dad has eaten, and he must have seen me coming. He met me on the path and I told him that Mom had her lunch.
After lunch, it’s time to start transforming my makeshift kitchen into a buffet. I have new tablecloths to help make it a festive atmosphere. A few years ago, I talked Jim into getting serving trays with Sterno. This way everyone can have a hot meal, not just the first 10-20 people. By the time we are done getting things ready in the kitchen, the food starts to arrive from the cook fires.
By the time the demonstrations shut down and everyone has packed their cars, we are carving the final turkey. It is a tag team effort to carve 10 turkeys and separate dark and white meat. I think we had 6 people on the task this time and no one got cut! Den was right in there with us and I will always be grateful for all of my friends help.
Once the buffet line is set, I make my way to the office. I let Jim know that we are ready for serving. We make our way to the “dining” area and Jim makes his usual announcements and thank you’s before Lucille says the prayer for us all. Then it is a mad dash for me to beat the line back to the kitchen to double check everything and get all the trays uncovered. I always make it in time and this time, I get there in enough time to get my Mom, Den and Em plates of food before too many people are at the table.
Jim and I have always been the last to go through the buffet. It is just our thing to kind of say this day is really over. We usually eat together and try to go over any problems that occurred and decide if we can prevent those problems in the future.
Now I have to tell you, once Pat has eaten her dinner, she dives into the clean up portion of the night. I sometimes think she eats in the alcove that has the sink! She is a godsend for us all! By the time I eat and get back to the kitchen, she has most of the washing done and waiting for storage. It is really incredible what she does this late in the evening.
After everyone has had their fill, the kitchen crew divides up the left over food. Anyone that wants something can have a “doggy bag”. We usually make up some packages for the staff for the next few days and leave them in the refrigerator. At 8PM, I send Den and Em home, so she can get a shower before bed (she still has school tomorrow.) Clean up goes pretty fast. Before we started using the serving trays, we would have to wait until we emptied the cook pots to wash everything, but now Pat washes as we empty them. Sometime around 10PM, all the clean up is done and everyone has packed up their cars. I am lucky enough to have great friends that pack my car for me so I can make sure everything else is done. We all make one last check on Jim and let him know that we are finally headed home. I remind him to get out of there at a reasonable time and to have a restful week (he always takes some vacation time after this event).
I am home by 1030PM. Em is already in bed and asleep. I make my way to the shower to get the grime and smoke off my body. There are times I feel like I will fall asleep in the shower, but it has not happened yet. I think I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. It was a very long day, but I love it!