by Charles Allen
From the Editor: Charles Allen is a long-time leader of the NFB of Kentucky and the National Association of Blind Merchants. He wrote this description of Thanksgiving, 2000, at the end of that year. Surely the same preparations will be taking place in mess halls at Ft. Knox and across the country and around the world, whether blind vendors are running them or not. Traditionally this is the time of year when we count our blessings, and this year we have more reason than ever before to be grateful for our country and the liberties we have. One of the blessings Federationists are counting is that blind vendors can serve those who need the comfort of good food and friendly faces when they are far from home and family. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours:
Blind vendors are entering into another area of employ- ment—the military mess halls. This kind of governmental cafeteria is open for three meals a day, seven days a week. It may even serve a midnight meal.
Thanksgiving Day dinner is the most important peacetime military meal of the year. This uniquely American experience is usually spent with family and friends. For the young men and women stationed at our military bases it represents an important day spent away from home, perhaps the first such holiday.
On March 1, 1999, I entered into a joint venture with Mitchco International (Clarence Mitchell, Chairman and CEO) to form River City Management Services, which is located at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I have since developed great respect for the many dining facility employees I have come to know who view their work as their patriotic duty. One of the duties I have added to my job description is eating dinner with the troops on Thanksgiving Day.
This was the second Thanksgiving Day I have spent with the troops at Fort Knox. The emphasis is upon “plenty”—plenty of turkey and dressing, plenty of pumpkin pies, and plenty of hungry troops.
The employees of River City Management Services make every effort to make this a festive event for the troops. The dining facility managers place orders months in advance for beef, turkey, ham, and shrimp. Dressing, mashed potatoes with gravy, yams, and corn pudding are the next essential items. No celebration would be complete without pies—pumpkin, pecan (some with chocolate chips), and sweet potato—along with cakes of many flavors and descriptions. Some cakes are decorated with the likenesses of officers and tanks or with Biblical quotations. Add on fresh fruit—oranges, apples and bananas. The tables and the troops groan with all of the food.
The troops eat in brightly decorated mess halls. One dining facility manager covers all of the tables with cloths and candles. Many decorate tables with cornucopias filled with nuts and wrapped candy. Another manager installs a fake fireplace complete with burning gas logs; he places rocking chairs and a rug in front of it. Ice sculptures shaped into baskets hold fruit or shrimp. Another mess hall manager replaces all of the dining hall’s metal and plastic tables and chairs with picnic tables borrowed from a local park; she covers the floor with leaves.
Split logs at the entrances are placed to look like the walls of log cabins. Horses, rabbits, live turkeys, and peacocks are behind temporary fences. Bales of hay and huge pumpkins add more decoration to the dining hall entrances.
Variations of these scenes can be found at each of the fifteen mess halls that we have open on Thanksgiving Day. Officers, their wives, and children share their day with the troops. (Whenever a ranking officer enters the dining hall, the troops stand at attention; I find my own spine is straighter and my shoulders go back.) Many of the dining facility managers and their families make this a real day of celebration and are dressed as Pilgrims or Native Americans.
The dining facility managers are very competitive with their decorations; the winner gets a trophy and bragging rights for a year. When I was going into one of the dining halls, I met the judges leaving. They assured me that they were not from Florida, but when they laughed, my wife Betty pointed out that one had dimples. The award had still not been announced by the time we left for home late that afternoon. (I later learned the award was given to the dining facility decorated with picnic tables and leaves.)
There are always lines of troops at Fort Knox. As we leave the base on Thanksgiving Day, the lines are at the telephone booths. The troops look well fed.