Family You Choose

Quirky families have lots of memories and stories about Thanksgiving dinners. Chosen families are often just as quirky as the ones we’re born into, but that’s what makes Arnold’s annual Misfit Thanksgiving dinner “part of the fun."

Nov 18, 2015 at 2:15 pm
click to enlarge Everyone’s invited to Arnold’s annual Misfit Thanksgiving.
Everyone’s invited to Arnold’s annual Misfit Thanksgiving.

Quirky families — and whose family isn’t quirky? — have lots of memories and stories about Thanksgiving dinners. Chosen families are often just as quirky as the ones we’re born into, but that’s what makes Arnold’s annual Misfit Thanksgiving dinner “part of the fun,” according to Ronda Breeden, owner of Arnold’s and instigator of their unique turkey-day tradition.

“When I was growing up, we always had big Thanksgivings with tons of people and food. Not just family, but friends and neighbors,” Breeden says. “My family is getting smaller, and I didn’t want to let that feeling get away, so in 2011 I started opening the doors to everyone.”

The first year was “awesome,” she says, with many customers and friends that either had no place to go or chose to come to Arnold’s instead. She remembers wrapping up the evening with a spirited game of Scrabble, just as she might have done growing up.

Last year, there were more than 50 guests from all walks of life. Breeden remembers three young college students who walked up during a long layover at the Greyhound station, as well as two British movie directors and their wives.

This year, the Misfit Dinner will be held on Thursday, Nov. 26 at 5 p.m.; it’s free (yes, free!) and everyone brings a dish to share. Breeden and the staff at Arnold’s prepare roasted turkey, a ham, gravy, stuffing and her favorite traditional family dish, scalloped oysters.

Joe Bias, Arnold’s kitchen manager, mentioned that his boss’ oysters are his favorite dish. Bias helps cook the turkey and the ham, and he brings all five of his kids to the dinner. “It’s become a tradition for us, and it’s a lot of fun,” he says.

Bias’ teenaged boys get plenty to eat, and his 6-year-old daughter enjoys the desserts. When Breeden’s son, Chris, brought his Xbox, the whole Bias family got in on a Rap challenge and had a great time.

Breeden’s friend, Gail Ginter, has been attending from the start. “It’s just a big potluck, basically, and a low-key way to spend the day,” she says.

Ginter owns Words & Wisdom and The Train Place shops in Metamora, Ind., and spends Thanksgiving morning decorating them for Christmas. Then she gets her corn-pudding casserole out of the oven and she and her husband George head over to Arnold’s.

“It’s always an unusual mix of people and an amazing variety of food,” she says.

Breeden reports that the most senior guest is 93-year-old Donald Knapp, but the crowd changes every year. The food tables run along the entire length of the courtyard, with potluck dishes ranging from creamed onions and hashbrown-potato casserole to pumpkin cheesecake — Breeden says they rarely get duplicates. Musicians are encouraged to bring their instruments; other guests bring cards and games. They’ll turn the television on if there’s something everyone wants to watch.

“Just like a family dinner,” Breeden notes. “For some people, it’s not Thanksgiving without football on TV. But for others, they are interested in the food and the conversations.”

“We say grace,” she continues. “It’s a spiritual thing, not religious. We thank goodness we have a wonderful meal to eat and so many nice people to eat it with.”

Breeden says there have been plenty of moments during these dinners that remind her what the event is all about.

“This is the fifth year, and there have been many awesome memories,” Breeden says. “Every year, someone will give me a reason why this meal is awesome to them. For me, every year I wonder if I will do it again, and the answer is always yes.”

“The room isn’t filled with lonely people who have no place to go,” she continues. “The room is filled with people who want to celebrate and be thankful. There are single people, married people and families with children. It isn’t a day for making money; it is a day of celebration. I hope no one thinks differently. I am so thankful for what I have in my life and I cannot wait to see what memories are made this year.”

Arnold’s annual MISFIT THANKSGIVING takes place Thursday, Nov. 26. More details: