Brenda Foltz flung open the oven door and inserted a small plastic spoon into a party-sized pan of stuffing. Volunteers bustled around her in the kitchen as three seconds evaporated.
After the quick check — apparently it passed the test — she reached in and hoisted the pan from heat to counter, alongside two pans that had previously undergone the same routine.
This wasn't any ordinary stuffing, and it wasn't an ordinary occasion.
“It's a recipe that goes way back,” Foltz said. “It's my mother's recipe — my mother's and my grandmother's. When my grandmother passed away in '98, then I started doing it.”
But she'd never made it like this, in this large of a quantity.
Her efforts were part of a special Thanksgiving dinner held annually for veterans and their families, as well as for emergency responders. The Thursday dinner was hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3907 and sponsored in part by Brookshire's grocery in Palestine.
A team of volunteers from the VFW 3907 and its Ladies Auxiliary — for which Foltz serves as treasurer — helped to cook and serve the Thanksgiving fare, which included the traditional turkey and ham, stuffing, cranberry dressing, rolls, veggies and other goodies. To top it off, volunteers sliced squares of pumpkin dessert, a cake with swirly cream cheese frosting, bread pudding, peach cobbler and more.
“This one has to be warmed,” Foltz said to a fellow volunteer, pointing to a pan of berry bread pudding.
Her husband, Chuck Foltz, was close by in the kitchen. Chuck served in the Navy and in Vietnam, and today holds the position of Commander at VFW Post 3907. He said the post puts on an array of activities for the veterans and their families to enjoy, such as the holiday dinner.
“That's what we're here for,” he said, as a man carrying a pan walked through the kitchen entryway.
“About time you showed up!” Chuck called to the man at the door. “What'd you bring me Phil?”
Phil Phillips, a member of the post, didn't miss a beat.
“I brought you some cake man!” to which Chuck replied, “Oh, you are the man!”
Most of the members of the post have known each other for years, with many serving in the same war or period of time.
Currently, a colorful calendar of events brings the group together for activities such as bingo and karaoke nights, a monthly live band, a Saturday evening DJ dance and pool tournaments on Mondays and Thursdays.
“We're all friends here,” Phillips said. “It's a family thing. They bring the kids, and the kids dance with us.”
A girl with a long blond ponytail who looked about 8 was twirling around the eating tables as he said it.
Philips also dished a secret on the local talent. He said his wife, Judy — who was helping with the meal — had a voice like Patsy Cline, which they all get to hear on a Wednesday or Friday karaoke night.
As the dinner was prepared, a line began to form, and the team of volunteers helped heap their creations onto paper plates three inches high for attendants.
One couple who partook of the meal was Charlie Myers and his wife, Marjorie.
Charlie looked patriotic with his bright red polo shirt and cool blue eyes, that crinkled a bit when he laughed.
The two were married -- both at 18 — in 1951, shortly before Charlie was shipped out out to serve in the Army with the 101st Airborne Division during the Korean War.
Marjorie remembers that time as a difficult one.
“It was very hard,” she said. “It took three weeks to send letters and get letters back. We didn't have the cell phones, you know.”
But six decades years later, their relationship is a golden one, as the pair celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary earlier this month.
Charlie said he learned a lot during his time in Korea — experiences and knowledge he wouldn't take a million dollars to give back.
“I wouldn't go over there [again] for 25 cents,” Charlie said, half a smile—right before another bite of stuffing.
Grace Gaddy may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.