VATTMAN — No plans for Thanksgiving Day?
Why not join about 1,800 of your new best friends in the town of Vattman in South Texas for an all-you-can-eat, family-style meal and a full day of fun.
Our Lady of Consolation parish may only have around 40 members in the area, but they know how to plan a hearty, home-cooked meal. The church and parish members have hosted a Thanksgiving feast for more than 100 years, and everyone is invited.
"There isn't any way we could do this by ourselves," event organizer Ronnie Unterbrink said. "Kids and grandkids are put to work." The 72-year-old has been working the event since he was at least 6 years old, he shared.
It takes about 140 to 150 people to put on the event. Most are former members of the parish who have married and moved away. It's a nice family and parish reunion, Unterbrink said.
The small town of Vattman — originally called Vattmannville, then Vattmann — was only a few years old when the parishioners of Our Lady of Consolation held their first picnic in 1913 at tables set under the trees, followed by a dance.
In a 1975 article, Alice Yaklin was asked what she remembered of the original Thanksgiving picnics. She didn't recall the food. She was in her late teens, and in her words, "all I cared about was the dance floor."
The original wooden church was destroyed in the 1916 hurricane. The parishioners rebuilt the church, brick by brick. Literally. The families handmade the bricks using sand from Loyola Beach on Baffin Bay.
"We went to the bay and we would bring a load of sand back, mix it and bake bricks, then let them harden," Clarence May told the Caller-Times in 1975. He remembered the 1916 hurricane well: it made landfall on his 13th birthday. The handmade bricks make up the interior walls of the church, with purchased bricks for the exterior. The parish plans to host a celebration of the church's 100th anniversary in February.
The Thanksgiving dinner has been held every year since, with the exception of 1943 when it was canceled due to World War II rationing. They began charging for the dinner in the late 1940s — $1.50 for the family-style meal.
The event is now the church's largest fundraiser.
In addition to the family-style Thanksgiving meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green beans and cranberry sauce, the parish also hosts kids games, a trap and target shoot, raffles, a silent auction, bingo and an evening country-western dance with live music by band Tumble Dry Low.
There's even a country store where parish members sell handmade crafts you won't find anywhere else. Unterbrink said the contributors start making new wares for the next year's store the day after Thanksgiving.
"Anyone who wants to come out and get a good meal, have a good time, we have a full day of events planned."
And don't worry about the organizers and extended family who put it all together feeling overworked on the holiday. They are happy to help and meet new friends.
"It's all a pleasure to do," Unterbrink said. "Everyone enjoys it."