Families serve food at the annual Thanksgiving Day fundraiser for Our Lady of Consolation Church. Generations of families have celebrated Thanksgiving for 100 years. Serving the dressing are from left, Judy Temple, Sydney Hubert, Miles Cumberland and Joe Charles Kuntscher.
Teresa May, Our Lady of Consolation Parish
Turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green bean salad. It was standard Thanksgiving food, as I sat at the table with my wife, our newborn daughter, and my wife's family…and about another 400 people in the Our Lady of Consolation Parish hall in Vattman.
For 100 years, members of this small community founded by German-Czech immigrants have been gathering for a Thanksgiving Day Picnic fundraiser. At the end of the day, more than 2,000 people had been served a Thanksgiving meal. Bishop Michael Mulvey celebrated a Thanksgiving Mass with the parish the night before.
For many, like my wife's grandfather Fred Yaklin, it is the only Thanksgiving they have ever known.
When my wife Tiffany and I pulled into the church parking lot, we saw a sea of cars in the grass, and a line of people extending about 100 feet from the parish hall to just in front of the church building.
After praying in the church for a little bit, we were put to work. Our extended family was put in charge of the store outside the parish hall where we sold T-shirts, bags, hats, coffee mugs and other items commemorating the 100th Thanksgiving Day Picnic.
"If it wasn't for everyone's family coming back to work-children and grandkids-if we didn't have extended families come back, we couldn't do it," Ronnie Unterbrink, who chaired the committee that planned this year's picnic, said.
When Tiffany and I took a break, we wandered into the country store, where parishioners had donated hundreds of homemade decorations, jams and knick-knacks to support the parish. I was surprised when I bumped into Bishop Emeritus Edmond Carmody, who said that he comes to the picnic every year.
I had been to Vattman twice in my life before. The first time was for Thanksgiving 2008, when Tiffany and I were still dating, I worked in the kitchen, so I didn't truly comprehend how important this event was in the parish's life. The second time was last summer, after we were married, to celebrate my grandmother-in-law Liz's birthday.
Standing outside of the hall, I was able to appreciate the significance of Thanksgiving in Vattman. Behind me was a kiosk on the side of the country store where my father-in-law and uncles-in-law were selling beverages. In front of me, I saw Tiffany, our two-month-old daughter Katie, my mother-in-law and aunts-in-law, selling commemorative items. To my right, children participated in a turkey shoot. And to my left, the line continued.
One woman, Pam Markham, recently bought some property about five miles away.
"We're not Catholic, but we're going to come to church here, anyway," she said. Her family had not heard about the Thanksgiving Day Picnic until this year. "We just said this is what we're doing, this is our new tradition. I think it's fabulous. We love the weather and we love being able to meet people and everyone's been real friendly."
John Lennan, a member of St. Pius Parish in Corpus Christi, came to his first Vattman Thanksgiving in the 1990s when he was covering the event as a journalist.
"We've been coming here as a family for several years," Lennan said. "We keep coming back and have been making it a family tradition."
Towards the end of the day, after all the visitors had gone through the line, it was our family's turn to sit and eat. We had to wait for 12 seats together, to accommodate Tiffany's extended family. Liz, or Grammy as we call her, had been in the kitchen all day preparing the vegetables. She sat next to us and was glad to be able to finally eat.
We were not the only family helping with the Vattman Thanksgiving. As Ronnie had pointed out, a good number of the volunteers were out-of-towners with family ties.
Katherine and Al Schorbert from San Antonio and Leah and Andy Waller from College Station are the two most-recently married couples in Our Lady of Consolation.
"I don't think I've ever missed a Vattman Thanksgiving," Katherine told me.
"This is all we've ever known and this is where our family is and we want to be with our family for Thanksgiving," Leah said. "It's not just our immediate family, it's everyone we grew up with that we consider family."
And that's what it was about. It was a parish fundraiser, to be sure, but it's also a community gathering. After supper, we were outside, and there were four generations of women: Liz, her daughter Valerie, her granddaughter and my wife, Tiffany, and great-granddaughter and our daughter, Katie. This may be a different experience of Thanksgiving than I may be used to, but for Katie's first Thanksgiving, it was family-and faith-centered.
In his homily, the night before, Bishop Mulvey encouraged the young people to continue "this beautiful tradition as a way of evangelizing to those who come."
(Tony Gutierrez is the Associate Editor of the North Texas Catholic in the Diocese of Fort Worth.)