Vattman, a tiny community on Farm Road 628, five miles east of US 77 and a dozen miles south of Kingsville, is so small it doesnt appear on the Texas Department of Transportations official travel map. But the towns population, which can be counted on two hands and feet, swells by a hundredfold on Thanksgiving Day.
Little wonder, with a feast that includes turkey and dressing, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots, cranberry sauce, bread, coffee, tea, pickles, pies and cakesand seconds for the askingall served by youngsters mostly of college age.
Its a kind of magnet, says Golda Hubert, a native of nearby Robstown. Vattman kids grow up and move away, but they return every year to help, because part of their identity is tied up with the celebration. Its something theyve known all their lives.
The event started as a harvest celebration around 1913 or 1914no one is left who knows for surea decade or so after the town was established. A 1917 photograph depicts a Vattman picnic; today, its an established tradition. Just ask resident Dorothy Huff: Its the only Thanksgiving dinner Ive ever known. Ive never had Thanksgiving at home.
Parishioners start planning the dinner just a few days after the dishes are dry from the last one. Things get frenetic with about a week to go. Everyone in the community pitches in, and everyone is expected to start at an early age.
Vattman native Marvin Schonefeld remembers: When I was in the fifth grade, we had to pluck 40-pound turkeys. That about killed me. Today, we go to the grocery store and get them, frozen, he says with a laugh.
This years dinner will require 65 turkeys, almost 55 gallons of green beans, more than five cases of cranberries, and no one knows how many pickles, carrots, celery, potatoes, radishes, rolls, or gallons of coffee and tea.
The parishioners have prepared it for so many years they know the sequence by rote. On Monday, we start making fresh cranberry sauce. On Tuesday, we marinate the green beans, recites Jenny Schonefeld, Marvins wife and a member of the churchs Womens Club.
That such a complex operation can become routine still amazes Father Michael Ashe, Our Lady of Consolations priest. Everyone knows what hes doing, he exclaims in a soft Irish accent. Everyone has an assigned duty.
Behind the scenes, the event operates like a dependable machine. While some of the volunteers carve the turkeys in one room, others use large appliances to mix the potatoes. In another room, several women slice the pies and cakes. In the parish hall, others make sure people find seats and that their plates are never empty. Outside, more volunteers direct traffic to parking spaces.
This Thanksgiving, the traditional event will attract between 1,500 and 2,000 people, who also can enjoy a silent auction, trap-and-target shooting, a ring toss, a fish pond, and a special craft sale at the Country Store, which funds a successful scholarship program. Pilgrims to Vattman will come from as close as the next farm and as far away as Washington, D.C.
Leftovers? Not a chance. After dinner, any remaining food goes on sale.
The event stuffs both the hungry and the church cofferslast years dinner netted more than $29,000, which goes toward support of the church, as well as two missions.
The dinner also creates something less tangible but equally importanta strong sense of community. Whether you agree with your neighbor or not, says Pat Hubert, Goldas husband, on that day, for the Good Lord, you come together as one unit. It has solidified and kept this community together for all these years.
A few of the families who have helped organize the dinner for so many years admit that they worry about its future, since Vattmans population has steadily declined. But others, such as Juan Alvarado, whose father laid the first bricks for Our Lady of Consolation, are optimistic. This, says Juan, spreading his hands to encompass the parish hall, the church, and most of Vattman, this will continue, because we are grateful for the unity and the bond that has been instilled in us.
In Vattman, Thanksgiving is full of such thanks.
To reach Our Lady of Consolation Church in Vattman, drive 12 miles south on US 77 from Kingsville to Farm Road 628. Turn east (left), and drive for 6 miles. The church is on the left. Tickets: $10 adults, $5 ages 12 and younger. Advance notice appreciated for groups of 20 or more. Call 361/297-5255.