Manchester Thanksgiving tradition may come to an end

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(Host) In Manchester today a Thanksgiving tradition may be happening for the last time.

For the past ten years, Don Dorr and his family have held a free Thanksgiving dinner for anyone who wants to come. Hundreds of people do.

Now, Dorr says he’s ready for a change. VPR’s Susan Keese reports:

(Music and bustling sounds)

(Keese) This is the way it sounds every year in the barn on Route 30 in Manchester where the Dorr family have their Thanksgiving dinner.

(Dorr) “This is going to be our last one though. We’re both over seventy and have done it ten years. We just can’t do it any more.”

(Keese) Dorr and his wife Pat started this tradition in 1996.

(Dorr) “Seemed like a good idea. There was people that didn’t really have a place to go and there were some older people that we knew that were kind of lonely, so we said well, why don’t we put on a Thanksgiving dinner for them.”

“We started out in a tent out here in the meadow. First year it snowed pretty hard, we had to plow the snow. We had it in the tent for two years and then we got the barn built.”

(Keese) Dorr is a kind of jack, and master of all trades. He’s spent his life in Manchester and he and his family have a lot to show for it. In addition to owning Dorr Oil, the local fuel company, there’s a family-run sawmill, an excavating company and a septic cleaning service. Dorr also has a sugar lot and grows and sells a couple thousand bails of hay a year.

The barn doubles as a home for his collection of antique tractors, which are relegated to the field where the diners can stroll and admire.

Inside, everything is on track.

(Dorr) “We have 200 pounds of potatoes, eighty pounds of turnip and two bushel of squash and cranberry sauce, the pickles. Twenty dozen corn. We buy that from Dutton in the summer. When she has the best corn she calls me.”

(Keese) Dorr freezes the corn in coal sacks.

(Dorr) “We take it out Monday before Thanksgiving. It’s all thawed for Thanksgiving and five or six people husk it down there and boil it as fast as we can.”

(Keese) The corn is cooked in a big stainless steel pot suspended from a tripod over an open fire outside the barn.

(Dorr) “We cook 25 to 28 turkeys and we do that down street at Alducci’s store in his pizza ovens. Rocky Norse is doing the carving and his daughter helps.”

(Keese) In fact the dinner has become very much a community project, though Dorr and his family do the lion’s share.

And it’s not just neighbors who come. The guest register by the entrance shows visitors from as far away as California, Virginia, Florida.

(Dorr) “Whoever’s in town, they seem to find us. A lot of people – they’re staying at motels, whatever. Or maybe they’re just driving by and we have the sign out front there, you know. They go in and have dinner.”

(Keese) Dorr says he’ll miss talking with them all, and just the fun of making people happy. He says he hopes someone else will take the project on.

Meanwhile, there’s still this Thanksgiving. He points to a painted sign near the entry.

(Dorr) “Our father who art the final source of comforts to thee we render thanks for this food. We also remember in gratitude the many men and women whose labor was necessary to prepare it. Grant that they too may enjoy the fruit of their labor and that they may join us in a fellowship of thankful hearts, amen.”

(Keese) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

Note; Our thanks to Greater Northshire Access Television for help with some of the audio for this story.

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