For about 27 years, I hosted Thanksgiving — long before I knew John Tinker — for family and friends who did not have a place to celebrate the blessings (and sometimes even the tribulations of the past year).
It was full week’s work. Firstly, it was the only deep cleaning the house got through the year. I hauled out beautiful china and crystal and even put the Christmas tree early for folks to enjoy.
As the years melted away, too many things changed. Younger family members married and spent Thanksgiving with their new loved ones, others — like Mama and Daddy — died and then one person who had been a guest for years decided to have her own Thanksgiving dinner (at the same time as mine) and took others away.
We added a few when we had room so, as the saying goes, “life — and Thanksgiving — go on.” Here’s the ironic thing — it took 40 more hours of preparation for the dinner than it took to enjoy it. Never, did it last over two and a half hours. And, I, as hostess, never got to truly enjoy it and talk with guests.
Several years into our marriage, Tink began a campaign to get me to drop Thanksgiving at our house. This first happened when he walked into the kitchen and found me on my knees, scrubbing the grout in the brick tile.
“Baby, this is too much work. Let’s just take everyone out for Thanksgiving.”
That’s an idea except — even before Covid — few places were open and they certainly were not amenable to hosting 20 to 30 people.
Last year, finally, after Tink’s years of cajoling, I was agreeable. I was ready to take to my bed on Thanksgiving, thank the Lord for the year that had passed and read.
Then, suddenly, a thought occurred to me.
I called Walt Ehmer, one of my closest friends in the world, who is Waffle House Chairman.
It is rare that I ever call him that he doesn’t answer the phone or text while the phone is ringing, “I’ll call you right back.”
In five minutes, he was on the phone.
“Do y’all send out catering trucks on Thanksgiving?” I asked.
“Certainly, and most definitely for you.”
Within 10 minutes, a lovely woman in charge of Waffle House catering trucks, called me and we had it all set up. We were going to have Waffle House come to our house for Thanksgiving.
Let me pause here to say this: In all Waffle House catering contracts is a clause that states that if a natural disaster occurs, the Waffle House pulls its trucks from personal obligations and send them to the distressed areas. This company of humanitarians who serve mankind above profit. You name it and they’ve been there — Katrina, Ida, Michael, Irma, etc.
The moment that the weather authorities warn that disaster is approaching, Waffle House folks swing into action, load the trucks with food and send them down to feed those without power and whose homes have been severely damaged or leveled.
Last year, our group that gathered, clapped their hands excitedly, laughing joyfully as the Waffle House truck drove in. It was the loveliest of days. Sunny, comfortably warm and, most of all, HAPPY.
It felt like the circus had come to town and we were children who had been waiting weeks for its arrival. The sweet woman in charge, put out the canopy, fired up the grill, placed the menu items on a white board (the truck does carry the entire menu) and folks lined up. The smell of bacon, waffles and hash browns filled the air and laughter sang like a happy melody.
Cars slowed as passing and people stared at the merriment of carnival, certainly a sight to behold.
Then, when all was said and done, I can truthfully say: It was the MOST delightful Thanksgiving of my life.
[Ronda Rich is the bestselling author of “St. Simons Island: A Stella Bankell Mystery. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.”