PARKDALE — As the weather gets colder, the Grange ovens just get warmer.
The dinners keep coming in the toasty dining hall on Clear Creek Road — 108 for a recent Thanksgiving Dinner — as the Grange members welcome all comers to dinner. The hall abuts orchards on the south and the historic Mt. Hood Railroad terminus on the north. Each weekend, passengers step off the train and take the boardwalk one block to the Grange Hall. Some ride up from Hood River in the open-air car, the cold weather as sure an appetite-inducer as the pink ambrosia on ice inside the hall.
On Thanksgiving weekend many riders enjoyed “turkey bowling,” sliding frozen birds and knocking down “pins” made from plastic bottles filled with colored water. A six-foot-two “turkey” greeted the visitors.
This weekend and next, Santa Claus will take his turn. Dinners, costing $7 for adults and $4 for kids (under 3 free), go from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today and Sunday and on Dec. 13-15.
Once the train arrives, the diners gather on the Grange Hall steps, and after a short wait on the cold porch they edge into the cozy foyer and then through the narrow doors into the hall. Glasses and camera lenses fog up in the warm interior.
At the peak noon hour, few seats are left but ample salads, sidedishes and dark turkey meat await.
And plenty of pies.
Twenty varieties of pies, from apple and marionberry and pear to peach-blueberry and “bumbleberry pie” — made of blueberries, blackberries, and about a dozen other berries.
“It’s the pies that get to people,” Grange member Pearl Meeks said.
Eleanor Parrott and other long-time Grange members enjoy the fact that people come from far and wide to eat in their hall.
“I have a lot of fun with people when they come in, just talking,” Parrott said.
Ken and Debbie McCauley came from Lockhaven, Pa., riding the train to Parkdale. “I can’t believe we’re at 1,900 feet,” Ken said.
Many of the visitors have never set foot inside a Grange hall. The experience is new, yet comforting.
“You meet people from all over the world,” Randy Elliott said. “It’s a great experience. You can’t believe how friendly people are here.”
Elliott watched as diners dallied over apple crisp and pumpkin pie.
“Some fellow from Germany was here and he couldn’t believe how nice the crust was on our pies,” Elliott said. And then they taste the berries. Most people have no experience with the kind of berries like we have here in this valley,“ he said.
Most of the 90 members of the Grange help with the dinners, from cooking to clean-up to contributing a pie. “Baked in unlicensed, but clean, kitchens,” reads a prominent sign.
The pie choices are endless, the mashed potato and stuffing portions are heaping, and coffee cups stay full at the Grange.
But one thing is missing from Grange dinners these days: a woman named Irene Godfrey, a beloved Parkdale figure who died earlier this year. On Thanksgiving weekend, Parrott took on the traditional doorway greeting so customary to Godfrey, her mother.
“A lot of people come to the door asking for Irene. They’ve been returning year after year, and looked forward to seeing her,” Parrott said.
Young folks help the uncles and aunts and grandparents of the Grange to carry on the tradition.
“It’s just fun to help,” said Shelley Miller, 10, of Odell, cleaning tables. Her older sister, Jessica, helped in the kitchen. Their grandmother is Grange member Doris Meyers of Parkdale.
And the fellow behind the turkey outfit (and Santa, too) is John Reynolds, 16, of Hood River, who has played the roles for five years. Said Reynolds, “I’ve grown into the costume.”