Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. On Friday, with Thanksgiving break in the air, Nederland Middle Senior High School students became restless shortly after 10 a.m. The scent of turkey wafted from the kitchen and serving tables and oozed up the stairs into the classrooms. The Harvest Feast was underway.
In the library, a group of middle school students welcomed senior citizens from the community and, in one-on-one conversations, they learned what Thanksgiving was like back in the day when these elderly residents were young newcomers to the area.
Things were not the same of course, but the kids learned that family, friends and food were then, just as they are now, at the top of the list of what everyone was thankful for.
Guests were greeted at the door by students who helped them get their name tags and find a place to sit. Orange and rust tablecloths and center pieces made a comforting contrast against the dreary, wet, dark and cloudy day outside. NMSHS was a perfect place to be.
When the interviews were finished, the senior residents and the middle school students lined up to fill their plates with food cooked by the students’ parents. There was everything anyone could ask for in a Thanksgiving dinner.
Doug and Pat Gibney reminisced with former teacher Bill Thibedeau, remembering when they worked at the school in the 80s. Lots of memories packed into the Panther halls and rooms.
The dessert room was amazing. Every counter was filled with pies, cookies, jello parfaits, chocolate eclairs and moist, dark chewy brownies.
As guests chatted, students offered them appetizers, smiled big and friendly and enjoyed the role of serving our venerable old-timers.
A middle level student, Taylor Johnson, talked with Betty Munson, who was happy to answer Taylor’s questions. Happy to know that Taylor is her neighbor.
“This is a wonderful event,” said Betty as she enjoyed her dessert.
Pat and Doug Gibney came to Nederland in 1974 from New York, stopping when their hippie van broke down. They decided to make Ned their home and found a place to rent in Coal Creek Canyon. The Grim sisters, Ethel and Edith owned the house. They enjoyed their first Thanksgiving in the mountains, with their five-year-old daughter Dee and their one-year old son Jason. The van had trouble with faulty wiring and the fuses kept blowing out.
The day after Thanksgiving, they decided to go to Boulder to get a test light to figure out the problem.
“When we got home, the house had burned down with all of our belongings.” says Pat. “We were devastated. Our parents were happy. They thought maybe we’d come back to New York, but we didn’t.”
The family found a place to stay, one room in the Cedar Ridge Motel in Coal Creek Canyon, until they could find another place to stay. They ultimately ended up at the Woodlands in Old Town Nederland until they found the home they live in now, at the Arapahoe Ranch.
This year they will spend Thanksgiving with their family: their two children, their four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and all the connected spouses and extended families.
Doug says, “We’ve been married 50 years and she hasn’t thrown me out on the curb yet.” Nederland doesn’t have many curbs, but last summer, curbs were constructed along the sidewalk in front of the Calvary Chapel, where Doug is a pastor.
“We are so blessed to be here,” says Pat. “We told the girl interviewing us that the big difference from then and now is that we always felt safe. We are thankful for our little town.”
Patricia Koziel of Black Hawk sat with her granddaughter Abigail who lives in Rollinsville. “She was so sweet. She asked me about my childhood and then said she knew that it wasn’t so good, but I always had good things to say. The two of them were joined by grandson, Aeden.
Patricia says she plans to have 29 people for Thanksgiving dinner, people from Black Hawk, Nederland and Rollinsville, to carry on a long tradition.
Middle school student Lauren Dirr interviewed Lauren Timkin, and when she asked her social studies teacher what she would change about the world, she was told that she hoped people would learn how to use energy and make it cleaner.
“It was fun to interview a teacher, to learn what she thinks about and why,” said Lauren, who is going to her grandparents for Thanksgiving in Boulder. She says she is thankful for her family and for books.
NMSHS principal Carrie Yantzer and a few teachers ate their turkey dinner standing up, balancing paper plates in their hands. What is Carrie thankful for?
“When I park my car every morning at the school, I am thankful I am here.” She then asked the students who were sitting at the table what they were thankful for and they were happy to tell her.
Last year, Carrie served food at the Homeless Shelter in Denver and says she will probably do the same thing this year.
Freshman Allison Hardt-Zeman had a very specific recipient of her gratitude. “I am thankful for my mom, who is the best woman ever. She is so hard working and I aspire to be like her.”
Language arts teacher Aaron Jones said, “I am thankful for all the cool kids in Nederland, especially my own kids; that I get to work with them every day. They keep me young, and I am thankful for that too.”
Peter and Monique Stader, owners of the New Moon Bakery, say they are going to Rollinsville to have dinner with her parents. They agree that the best part of the dinner is the creamed onions.
“You have to get the smallest pearl onions and boil the milk with cloves and nutmeg. The onions are a pain in the butt to peel, however, “ says Peter.
Peter grew up in Germany and has no specific Thanksgiving memories, because Germans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. He does, however, remember that during the fall harvest, people would go to the top of a hill overlooking the village and send flaming discs over the houses and streets, to keep the evil spirits away. He says Germany is wet, so nothing ever caught on fire.
“If we did that here, we would get arrested,” he says. “I am thankful to live in America and right here in Nederland. The hospitality is mind-boggling. Thank you for the life here that I would not have had in Germany.”
When the class bell sounded, the middle school students left to continue their academic schedules and the high school students filed into the cafeteria, ready to chow down on a new batch of turkey and all the fixings.
Members of the Nederland Fire Protection District and the Nederland Police Department joined the party. The NPD and Nederland Municipal Court Clerk Carol enjoyed the meal with her co-workers Officer Erich and acting chief Larry.
She said she is so grateful for the laughter she shares with officers in the office. Although things get tense now and then, “We find a little bit of sunshine every day. There is always something to be happy about. This is my second year at the dinner and I am thankful that it gives me the chance to interact with the kids; that they can see that we are normal people, that we eat, and that we are approachable. And the food is always fantastic.”
The students and teachers will have some time off from school to enjoy their families and let their minds relax for a few days before they begin the hectic weeks before winter break.
Let the holidays begin.
We are all blessed to have the Nederland community and NMSHS as a welcoming haven for our families and friends, as well as lots of food.
(Originally published in the November 23, 2017 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)