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Reed Road progressive dinner Good humor trumps grazing yellow jackets

August 20, 2005

The folks on Reed Road near Hood River give new meaning to Hemingway’s phrase, “A Moveable Feast.”

A 3-mile-long dinner happens once a year on the scenic road where neighbors celebrate their year-round caring for each other by sharing a meal that takes them into four homes up and down the road.

In the first course of the annual progressive dinner, plates are full of chips and salsa, bread and vegetables at John and Jana Jacobsens’ scenic riverside home. Neighbors share rides down the long driveway to the Jacobsens’ elegant home next to the Hood River.

Bare feet are encouraged and, shoes off, you are greeted at the door by Patricia Schmuck, the progressive dinners’ prime mover. Conversation fills the cathedral ceiling; people are clearly glad to see each other.

What do you talk about at a progressive dinner?

You marvel at the rock work of a neighbor’s new fireplace.

You talk about the pears on the way and the cherries that might have been.

“It’s a fine time with your neighbors,” said Ilene Anderson, who with her husband, Bob, has attended every progressive dinner since they started in 1996.

“It’s amazing to have something like this on a rural road. We sure didn’t expect it when we moved here,” said Sherry Dell, who with her husband, Dan, moved to Reed Road in early August.

People have seen each other on this Saturday night for the first time in months, or they have met for the first time. Or they have seen each other every week, somewhere along the winding dead-end road that is flanked by orchards and a rushing irrigation ditch, and by hilly woods and the river.

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“Time to move to the next course,” someone says at about 7, but many are slow to interrupt their conversations.

What else do you talk about at a progressive diner?

Woodworking, tree houses, antiques, and yellow jackets.

The shaded patio at the home of Nancy Johansen Paul and Greg Paul is just the right size and temperature for salads of fruit, greens, and pasta, accompanied by strawberry lemonade, or the ale that Curt and Denise Anderson rescued from a not-too-thirsty wedding party earlier in the day.

Old friends talk again, and more recent Reed Road arrivals get to know each other as well.

More talk is about the antiques and historic photos in the Pauls’ home.

Latecomers have brought the party to its full size: 34 adults, one teenager, and five children four and younger. There are families, retirees, and a single man; this is the best-attended dinner yet, Pat Schmuck says.

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What more can you talk about at a progressive dinner?

You reminisce over rambling through the woods as a child, and getting into the poison ivy.

Conversations change and each stop feels like a new dinner party because now you are elbow-to-elbow with someone new or admiring the roses with someone you saw earlier but didn’t get a chance to speak with.

You speak of rattlesnakes, flowers, and blackberries, and steep driveways, but not so much the cooking.

At each stop, you compliment the chef, or chefs, for more than one family has brought salads or appetizers or desserts. The food is all excellent, but the event is about more than what is on the plate.

“It’s the fellowship, not the food. It’s just a neighborhood kind of thing,” said Pat Schmuck, who with her husband, Richard, provided the main dish — a Mexican spread of chili rellenos and all the trimmings.

Neighbors, young and old, retired sheriff to spiritual retreat owner, line up together and dine on the patio.

Good humor trumps grazing yellow jackets. People are glad to be where they are.

“We usually come to the Schmucks for the main dish. We all love the view,” said Nancy Johansen Paul. The home has picture-frame views of Mount Hood and the east hills over Pine Grove.

“It’s amazing to move into a rural road and have it be a neighborhood,” said Kristin Walrod, who moved to Reed Road a year ago with her husband, Nick. They are now developing a flower farm. The couple said they enjoy the “varying landscapes” on Reed Road: forest, open pasture, orchards, and riverfront.

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At a progressive dinner, you catch up with old friends and neighbors.

“I don’t miss anything because I really haven’t left,” said Bob Wimmers, who first moved to Reed Road as a child in the 1940s. Bob and Evilo moved to Lyle earlier this year.

Bob said, “When I grew up you knew your neighbors. It never changed. After awhile, things did change. This (dinner) is a way for us to get together once a year and know who our neighbors are.”

Pat Schmuck didn’t know her neighbors in 1996 when they moved to the next-to-the-last house on the road, a renovated pioneer place they bought 35 years ago and have extensively renovated.

So she started calling and e-mailing her neighbors and assembled the first event. Each year she assigns neighbors to bring certain types of dishes, and the actual locations rotate on a volunteer basis.

“I’m an organizer. I just do things,” she said. “It’s incredible we didn’t know each other. What I enjoy about this is we meet most of the people on the road,” she said of their daily walks the length of the road. Thanks to that, and the progressive dinner, faces are familiar.

“When we see each other on the road we stop and talk. It’s very nice to know everybody on the road,” Pat said. “It’s a neighborhood even though it’s spread out.”

The progressive dinner brings people together. It happens one night each August but the effects last all year.

Said Ilene Anderson, “I like knowing my neighbors. They’re all really nice people.”

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