December 24, 2005
It is 11 p.m. on Wednesday and Santa’s two elves are so tired they are giggling about almost everything while deciding on the Christmas dinner menu.
“Look at me, my fingernails are brown and she’s just scratching away with her feathered pen,” laughs Mona Edwards while “test peeling” a potato.
She has just referred to her sister, Sheila Shearer, as a “benevolent dictator” for not agreeing to use instant potatoes. But, Shearer is determined that the community dinner on Sunday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church will be totally traditional. And that includes piles of fresh mashed spuds to go with the turkey and all the trimmings.
So, on the first evening of winter, Edwards is challenged to “practice” with a few of the mounds of potatoes that will soon await her attention.
“Peel on, my Spuds Sister,” said Shearer while perusing the Joy of Cooking for holiday recipes.
“I fly 9,000 miles and she tells me that I can’t make a turkey rub,” groused Edwards, who arrived on Sunday from Fort Walton, Fla.
“You know that you can’t stay focused that long,” replied Shearer.
She said the expected 200-300 dinner guests on Dec. 25 will not only get a great meal, but entertainment from watching her and Edwards perform in their own version of the “Ethel and Lucy Show.” The sisters are two years and two months apart in age, and good-natured ribbing has been a long-standing means of communication.
When she heard about her sister’s plans, Edwards hopped a plane – and flew into a Northwest winter storm. In fact, her airplane landed at the Portland airport only one hour before icy runways forced its closure. She said the drive through the Gorge was also dicey as frozen rain made travel perilous.
“She is trying to get me to move out here but we’ll see,” Edwards said. “I just hope that we’re still speaking to each other when this thing is done.”
The two sisters have not seen each other for three years and Edwards said preparing the holiday feast seemed like the perfect occasion for a reunion. She decided to make the trip three weeks ago after her sibling decided to feed anyone who did not have other plans for Christmas.
“She came for the holidays and got put to work,” said Shearer.
Not only are the two women — with help from about 10 friends — preparing a meal, they are doing it in style. The red-clothed tables will each have candles and a floral centerpiece donated by Lucy’s Informal Flowers.
“We are going to make it as lovely as possible instead of just serving cafeteria style,” said Shearer.
Their merry mood on the first evening of winter has been brought on, in part, because they finally scored some food donations. Up until several hours ago, Shearer said the servings were looking pretty sparse.
“She’s good at organizing and I’m good at begging,” said Edwards, who helped enlist help from several area businesses.
When Shearer, a member of the Catholic Church, learned that no other free dinner was available, she broached the idea with Father Ron Maag. He enthusiastically endorsed her plan and even made a successful personal appeal to Rosauers for the turkeys.
Then Annz Panz stepped forward to provide pasta salad and City Market to prepare coleslaw. Shari’s Restaurant offered some of the pies and the Red Haired Boys agreed to provide bluegrass musical entertainment. The steam table to keep the food warm is being contributed by Your Rental Center.
“Getting this help really changed the energy at lot. Once we had food we weren’t so discouraged,” said Shearer.
She will spend her birthday on Saturday working in the church kitchen. And she can’t imagine a better way to celebrate another year of life.
“It just feels so wonderful to be doing this; it’s so light. I am getting so much out of it that I feel guilty,” she said.
“Her gift is my presence — and my potato peeling,” said Edwards, who has been somewhat appeased at being placed in charge of running the commercial dishwasher.
She will be in town until Dec. 30 and said Shearer, a licensed massage therapist, had better plan on doing some work on her back, and feet, after the weekend labor.
“I really think it’s wonderful that she’s doing this and I’m so excited. It’s really been fun so far – a lot of work – but fun,” said Edwards.
Shearer would like to make the meal an annual event. She sees it as a way to fill the gap for people who don’t have family with whom to celebrate the holiday.
“I kind of want to work out the bugs and kinks this year and then do it again,” she said.
With the clock hands now standing straight up to mark the midnight hour, Shearer stifles a yawn. It’s too late to continue either past or present plans for the moment.
She and Edwards hang up their aprons and turn out the kitchen light to head home for a well-deserved rest.
The very long day has come to an end.