January 2, 2020
Christmas has passed, and my favorite event of the season has quickly become the community dinner on Christmas Day.
This year’s dinner was held at the Nassau County Council on Aging facility thanks to the generosity of Ms. Janice Ancrum, President of the Council on Aging. The kitchen and gathering facilities provided a wonderful place for dinner.
Several people assisted with the set-up on Monday. The effort was led by Mr. Don Harley as tables were rolled into position, chairs moved, and table decorations added. Neighbors Walker and Carol Davis were invaluable on Monday, as well. Everything was set for Christmas Day.
Christmas morning saw a flurry of activity in our kitchen. Get a ham into the oven, prepare a lasagna, and throw a salad together with some of the pears presented to us as gifts (we can’t eat that many pears!). We printed a few signs, found our holiday aprons, and loaded a few extra tables just in case. We rolled over to the Council on Aging at 1:00 PM for final preparation.
Steve and Rosemary Murphy were already waiting for us at the Council on Aging. Steve has secured several turkeys and a ham for the dinner from US Foods, the food supplier of the City’s Golf Course where Steve serves as the General Manager. With the banquet facilities at the Golf Course booked throughout December for several events, Steve had the “backside” of the Christmas dinner well in-hand. Steve and Rosemary, joined by Lou and Susan Goldman and Joann Wesberry, carved the turkeys and hams and kept other dishes warm while people arrived. Stephanie Carter, who provides nutrition support for the Council on Aging, was extremely helpful with her “insider” knowledge of the Council on Aging kitchen facilities. With all of that assistance, the kitchen was in good hands and it was clear that we were going to have sufficient meat for the dinner.
People began arrived shortly before 2:00. Plates of deviled eggs, foil-covered green beans, slow-cookers brimming with more beans, towel-wrapped pies, stacks of cookies, more meat, and platters of rolls began to fill the tables. Visitors offered comments in the guest book and greeted each other warmly in the spirit of the season. Carol Walker added to the ambiance by playing some festive Christmas music on the piano. With everyone’s enthusiasm, it was exciting to see that it was again going to be a wonderful community event.
At 2:30 PM, I offered some brief welcoming comments and Rev. Wain Wesberry of the First Presbyterian Church blessed the people, the community, and the food. The crowd appeared to be slightly larger than last year’s inaugural event with about ninety people. It was heart-warming to see so many people gather in fellowship.
As expected, the food was incredible- the turkey and the ham; the green beans and pinto beans and broccoli and cauliflower and spinach and carrots; the mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes; the corn bread and the rolls. The dessert table had cookies and cakes and pies and chocolates.
We mingled and lingered at each table, thanking everyone for joining us for dinner. Many thanks were returned to us for organizing the event. Although I obviously have gotten to know many area residents due to my “day job,” I was unfamiliar with many of the people at the dinner (which made the event even more satisfying)- this wasn’t simply a group of friends, but a true demonstration of community. Some of the guests had participated last year, but I believe most of the people were new this year. I enjoyed meeting everyone again and for the first time.
Mayor Johnny Miller and his wife, Lori, stopped by to offer their support. The other City Commissioners had other work or family commitments, but all had previously offered their own support for the event. The Fire Department’s B-Shift also stopped by to visit (although the four fire vehicles positioned outside did lead to a little bit of consternation as guests arrived). City Attorney Tammi Bach and her family joined us, as well. Thank you for that support.
As if it were Cinderella’s clock striking midnight, promptly at 4:00, the dinner concluded as people gathered their dishes, offered final Christmas and New Year’s greetings, and returned home. Just like those home-based family gatherings, plenty of clean-up remained.
Dan and Deborah Ortega and Maggie provided great assistance as we cleared the tables and stacked the chairs in preparation of another Council on Aging event on the following day (it’s a busy place!). Stacks of leftover food were loaded by Mary Moore of the Salvation Army Hope House to provide meals to those in need and unable to join us. At about 5:30 or so, with the car loaded with remnants of the event (including dozens of table linens to be laundered), we locked the doors on another successful event.
My most endearing thanks go to my wife Lisa. Last year when I floated the idea of a community dinner, she shot me “the look.” This year, she was all-in, and the event definitely was raised a notch because of her efforts. Her efforts and enthusiasm for our “adopted” community were a thrill to be a part of and watch.
The Christmas Day dinner tradition will continue next year, but, with our likely absence for family travels, we’ll have to recruit some stand-ins to help with the event.
Thank you to all who joined us to celebrate this wonderful community. Have a safe and happy New Year.