The Harvest Dinner

Chapter 28

December 1, 2011

As promised, I’m starting this week’s column with the weather prognostication, thanks to the “suggestion” of Miss Cecelia Davenport.

Forecast for 11/27 to 12/3/2011: the highs for the week will be in the mid 40s and the lows will be around 20. There is a chance of rain or snow showers on Wednesday, but no accumulation is expected.

There were 123 people from Walnut Shade at the Harvest Dinner on Thursday, 42 guests from out-of-town, and 18 members of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. The Franklin family (Brad and Mary’s son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter) got the prize for traveling the farthest, coming from Seattle.

Here are a few others who made the trip to Walnut Shade:

Nathan Stanford and his wife Jennifer were guests of Ruth Stanford. Ruth’s brother, Hank, visited on Saturday from Harrisonville.

Stephanie Barnett was home from Mizzou. She and her parents went to the Mizzou-Jayhawks football game at Arrowhead on Saturday. Stephanie and Eddy were happy; Jeff, not so much.

Lois Thompson’s sister and brother-in-law visited from Plattsburg, MO.

Gretchen and Rachel Watkins were in town from Rutgers and Paris, visiting their parents, Betty and Harold.

Georgia White hosted her niece and nephew from Garden City.

Liz and Julian Wells were excited to have a visit from Liz’s parents, Nancy and Craig Joyce. Nancy teaches social work at the University of Iowa and Craig is an administrator with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Billy and Dorothy Thornton hosted E.J. and B.J. Cross from Valley Falls.

Ilene Wick’s nephew, Curtis Reynolds, was in town. He was recently promoted to a position in the social media group at Sprint in Overland Park.

Lucy and Jason Grant spent the weekend with Lucy’s sister, Sandy Cramer, Dr. John, John Jr., and Victoria. Lucy and Jason manage an animal shelter in Kansas City.

Doris and Ralph Wright were in town for the Harvest Dinner. They were guest of Arlene and Don Cornett.

Rev. Katherine and Les Derby hosted Les’ parents, Jordan and Helene Derby, from Creston, Iowa.

John and Ann Davis were pleased to receive a visit from Ann’s sister, Grace. Grace lives in Blue Springs, MO.

Stephen Sappington, Mark’s cousin, visited on Saturday. Mark accompanied him back to Arrow Rock, MO, on Sunday and the two then traveled to Jefferson City on Monday to attend a meeting of the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which Stephen chairs.

Larry and Nancy Duncan stopped in Walnut Shade on their way to Chicago, where Larry is planning to open a new bakery to be called the Chicago Boules.

Pat and Sherri Brown hosted Pat’s sisters, Edith and Edna, who live in Marysville.

Jeff and Pat Beck were surprised by a visit from Jeff mother, Cordelia, who was visiting from Topeka.

Joe and Prudence Williams were the guests of Frank and Anna Mae Bundy on Saturday. The Williamses were visiting from Weston, MO. Prudence co-owns an antique store there with Gwen Burton.

Speaking of Gwen Burton, she telephoned Frank and Anna Mae from Paris where she is on a buying trip. She and Prudence also discussed some treasures to be shipped back to Walnut Shade and Weston.

Michelle and Gene Boone hosted Gene’s cousin, David, David’s wife Luella, and their son Frank. David, Luella and Frank live in Marthasville, MO.

Stan and Lois Adams were the guests of Carl and Jessica Cunningham for dinner on Sunday.

Craig and Teresa Duffy spent Saturday afternoon with Bill and Pam Heath. Bill showed Craig the progress on his “water retention structure,” which is filling nicely despite the lack of significant rains lately.

Harry Singleton and Jason Glenn hosted Craig Storey and his partner Felix Rome at the Convent. Craig and Felix were visiting from Manhattan (the one on the east coast).

Connie Thomas of Abilene came to Walnut Shade on Saturday to help her mother, Inez Harris, put up her outdoor Christmas decorations. They went to back Abilene for dinner at Connie’s home where Inez stayed the night.

Lorene Hanson, Lois Hawkins and Kathleen Johnson went to Topeka on Monday for the “Learning in Retirement” program sponsored by Washburn University. Lou Hawkins said the program was just an excuse for the three of them to go Christmas shopping.

Not having started my Christmas shopping, I make no excuses, so…

Until next week, I remain…
Your Faithful Correspondent


The Harvest Dinner was, as usual, a fun- and stomach-filled event. The Elementary School gym was packed with people and food.  Harry Singleton and Jason Glenn provided the entrees, which consisted of organic turkeys from Down Home Farms over at Westmoreland, cured hams from a small producer in Virginia that Jason got to know on one of his antique-hunting trips, buffalo burgers from Higgs Bison, and a vegetarian paella made with local produce. The paella was a particular hit. The rest of the meal was a pot-luck and it’s always amazing how varied the dishes are. A few years ago, the organizers of the dinner, members of the Prairie View Extension Club, devised a system for people in town to contribute, based on the first letter of their last name. So, the As to Es bring appetizers; the Fs to Ls, bring salads; the Ms to Ts bring sides; and, the Us to Zs bring desserts. The system has worked very well, but there are a few variations. For example, Grace Singleton is widely known for her desserts, so she and Flossie Wentworth trade places and Flossie brings her equally famous brussels sprouts. In fact, there is probably as much trading of dishes as there is bringing of the category assigned. Despite that, there are never fifteen green bean casseroles (although no one would object to that; this is a town that dearly loves French fried onion rings), twelve jello molds with carrots and raisins, or nineteen cheese balls (the most we’ve ever had was thirteen, but none of them went home with their creators; cheese is another staple in Walnut Shade).

One of the other surprises this year, in addition to the paella, was a selection of breads and rolls baked by Jerry Hall. Jerry, as we all know, was chosen to be the chef at the Convent and he has been testing recipes on unsuspecting town’s people for the last couple of months. Well, “unsuspecting” isn’t exactly the right word; surprised and elated would be more accurate descriptions. Imagine having Jerry show up at your door around dinner time with a loaf of honey wheat bread baked with honey from Beeyond the Hive in Paola and wheat from Lonny Andrews’ farm up by McDougal. Or think about the smell of a fresh-baked loaf of bread made with nutmeg beer from the Old Town Brewery in Fillmore. Patrons of Shirley’s have had a chance to sample blue cheese bread, walnut pesto bread, rolls made with a combination of rye and gluten-free flour, forty-cloves-of-garlic bread, and fennel and sun dried tomato bread.
One day when Jerry showed up at Shirley’s with loaves of Greek olive and cashew bread, Billy Thornton had had enough.

“Jerry, do you know how to make white bread? All you ever bring in here is something with stuff I’ve never heard of in bread. Next thing you know, you’ll be putting apples in these things.”

“Billy,” Shirley jumped in, “what is it on my breakfast menu that you order almost every morning? And what was it that you alway got when Duncan Donuts was still in business?”

Billy thought a minute and then said without a trace of irony or insight, “Well, I guess mostly apple fritters.”

“So, what kind of ingredients do you suppose those apple fritters have?” Shirley asked.

“Listen, do you think if I was a cook, I’d be in here for breakfast every morning?”

Interestingly, Billy had been a cook once upon a time. When he was drafted in 1966, the Army, in its infinite wisdom, decided that he was culinary material and for two years, he prepared meals for the military personnel who were attending the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that not only has Billy not prepared anything in a kitchen since then, he probably has not even been in a kitchen except to get a beer out of the refrigerator.

Everyone else has been enjoying the bread (and I suspect Billy has too; he just doesn’t want to admit it), so there was none left over after the Harvest Dinner. Jerry confided that he failed to precisely calculate the logistics of producing fifty loaves of bread and thirty pans of rolls in Walnut Shade.

“I used to make twice that much every week for the Faculty Club [Jerry was the chef at that operation at K-State for three years], but I had eight ovens there. The Convent kitchen only has four and I used three of those to finish off the turkeys and hams. I wound up borrowing Shirley’s oven, the two in the Elementary School cafeteria, and the two ovens at Holly House. It was a mad dash from Sunday to Wednesday.”

Harvest Dinner has always been something of a hectic event here in Walnut Shade. Even though it’s called Harvest Dinner, it takes place a good little bit after most of the harvesting has been done around here. We’ve been hosting this for people who live in town, for relatives of residents who spend the traditional Thanksgiving weekend here, and for former residents who regard it as something of a homecoming. We typically have a few visitors from the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation who have helped us think about what the first Thanksgiving of myth and tradition symbolizes for many Native American.

Historians are still debating what took place near Plymouth, Massachusetts in the late fall of 1621. What we Euro-Americans have been taught is that a happy band of friendly Indians shared their corn, squash and pumpkin pies with the Pilgrims who had been out hunting turkeys for a few day. Everybody got along fine and the Pilgrims survived because the Indians taught them to plant corn, beans and squash fertilized with leftover fish. Little  mention is made of what happened to the “happy, friendly Indians” in subsequent years except in dense history books read mostly by graduate students and their professors.

The story that we are taught, with many important details left out, never mentions that the Pilgrims were not the first white people that the Native Americans of New England had encountered. Europeans slave traders had been raiding their villages for a hundred years and already some tribes were experiencing the ravages of diseases brought from the Continent.

While it’s true that the Pilgrims were appreciative of the food that the Wampanoags shared with them, they mainly saw them as heathens and unwitting instruments of God helping his “chosen people.” A peace treaty had been signed earlier in the year that ensured that no harm would be done to the either side and that they would come to the aid of the others if needed. The peace held for several years, but the Native Americans never recovered from their encounters with Europeans. Subsequent wars, spreading disease, land encroachment and broken treaties have been the terrible legacy of that first Thanksgiving.

Here in Walnut Shade, our understanding of the various meanings of “Thanksgiving” has come slowly, but we keep working at it. Harvest Dinner was the catalyst. Now it is one of the most significant celebrations for us. We keep hearing that there are other similar gatherings popping up around the country, mostly in those places where folks with ties to Walnut Shade reside. Once again, our community is exporting something besides apples and donuts: new traditions and reflection on the old ones.

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
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