Christmas in Iverhill: The Dinners

NOTE: To read Chuck Miller’s book “The Robins of Iverhill: A Minor League Fairy Tale,” as well as the short stories in the “Christmas in Iverhill” series, visit this link.

Monday, December 24, 1973.

As Eugene Raveler loaded another metal dinner tray in the back seat of his car, he grumbled to himself about working on a cold day like this.  Christmas Eve, and he should be still sleeping in his apartment near Wilson Field.  Or maybe trying to get a job with a winter league team in the Caribbean.  Or anything, anywhere – anywhere but in icy upstate New York, especially after last night’s freezing rain storm.

He wanted to be anywhere else – anywhere but in the forested Adirondack logging town of Iverhill.

He looked in the back seat of his Oldsmobile.  Five dinner trays, each containing an easily reheated selection of turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, stuffing, a bread roll and a wedge of pumpkin pie.  Four of the trays rested on the floor of his car; the fifth – plus the other trays that Clete Olson was supposed to carry – would rest on the back seat.

“Clete!” Raveler shouted back to the church.  “Come on, we gotta get going!”

From the Church of Most Precious Blood doorway to the parking lot, Clete Olson struggled to carry five more sealed dinner trays.  “Give me a hand will you, Gene, these are heavy!”

Raveler walked over to take the trays from Olson’s struggling carry.  “I got them,” he growled.  “Go back in and get the beverages and the directions where we have to drop these.”

As Olson re-entered the church, Raveler grumbled about the forced charity work – delivering turkey dinners to the homebound and poverty-stricken families in Iverhill and the surrounding communities and hamlets in Otswego County.  The local economy was already crippled with the shutdown of two of the three wood and fiber processing plans, essentially leaving Magedoma Lumber as the only major employer in the area.  Even as Raveler loaded the final trays into his car, he thought about whether this gesture of charity, cloaked as a ploy to convince people to buy season tickets for a 1974 Iverhill Robins season that may never even take place, thereby guaranteeing that he and relief pitcher Clete Olson could afford to compete in the spring – whether this gesture was as futile as shoveling a driveway in a snowstorm.

Olson returned from the church.  “We have to take these meals to Iverhill, and then these meals have to go to the valley – here’s the directions, Gene.”

Raveler looked at the directions and grimaced.  He then looked at the tires on his Oldsmobile.  He hoped they were strong enough to handle the slippery roads and ruts and dips that permeated the Adirondack country roads in wintertime.

“Get in,” he said to Olson.  The relief pitcher entered the passenger’s side front seat, while Raveler sat behind the steering wheel.  “Let’s get the ones delivered uptown first, and then we can go from there.”

Raveler started the car.  As the motor roared to life, the outfielder checked the gas gauge.  Half a tank.  He should be able to get through this trip without refueling.

The first two deliveries – to a senior citizens center near Wilson Field – were pleasant and uneventful.  Olson would ring the doorbell, once the resident arrived at the door, Olson and Raveler would wish the person a Merry Christmas, and one of the players would bring the dinner into the residence, leave a brochure for the Robins’ 1974 baseball season, and leave.  The first two deliveries went without a hitch or a hiccup.

The next stop was at a small house on White Birch Road, the home of Mr. Curtis Regnier.

Olson knocked on the door.

“Mr. Regnier?”

The door opened, revealing a frail elderly man at the entrance.  “Who are you?”

“Hi Mr. Regnier, I’m pitcher Clete Olson and this is outfielder Eugene Raveler, we’re from the Iverhill Robins.  We’re in town today to bring you – ”

“I don’t want any free tickets,” the man interrupted.

“No, no sir – we’re not bringing free tickets.”

“Well, you’re expecting me to buy some now?  I’m on a fixed budget.”

Raveler, starting to feel the chill of a snowy breeze on his back, piped in.  “Sir, this isn’t about Robins tickets.  We’re volunteering on behalf of Iverhill Interfaith Charities and the Church of Most Precious Blood, and we’re bringing you a Christmas dinner.”

“Christmas dinner?  Oh that’s different, I was expecting them, bring them in,” Mr. Regnier said, motioning to Olson to enter his house.

“Well, Mr. Regnier, I hope you enjoy your Christmas dinner from Iverhill Interfaith Charities, and from the Iverhill Robins.  Merry Christmas.”

“Wait a minute – where are the other two dinners?”

Olson and Raveler looked at the frail man.  “Other two dinners?” Raveler asked.

“Yes – I filled out my request card with Most Precious Blood and asked for three dinners.  I’ve got a wife and her sister upstairs, and this little dinner won’t feed all of us.”

“Well, there must be some mistake,” Raveler remarked, walking back to the car to check the delivery lists.

“Your wife and sister-in-law are here?” asked the pitcher.

Raveler returned from the car, carrying two more turkey dinner packages in his arms.  “Mr. Regnier, we are sorry.  There was a mix-up; you were supposed to get three dinners.”

“I told you so,” he said, stacking the two metal packages on top of the one dinner the ballplayers had already delivered.  The door closed behind him, leaving the baseball players standing on the stoop without so much as a thank you or a Merry Christmas.

“Clete – when they said ‘ten deliveries,’ how many dinners did you request from the charity?”

Olson, sensing that the answer he would give might cause repercussions, mumbled, “Ten.”

“Okay – does this mean you assumed there would be one dinner per delivery?”

He nodded his head in agreement.

“You didn’t check to see how many people were at each house?”

“No, Gene – I thought it was supposed to be one dinner per delivery.”

Gene grimaced.  “All right.  We’ve got two more deliveries here, and – ” he double-checked the delivery list – “luckily, these deliveries are just one dinner per stop.  Then we have to go back to Most Precious Blood, or there will be people in the valley without Christmas dinner and we’ll be the ones taking the blame for it.”

The next two deliveries were at the Pines of Iverhill trailer park.  Olson brought the dinners to the trailer park inhabitants; Raveler stayed in the car.  Olson knew why he had to deliver these meals to this area without Raveler’s help.  Earlier in the year, when the Robins baseball team fought for a playoff berth, Raveler befriended a young boy, Terry Wallis, who lived at the Pines of Iverhill trailer park with his parents.  Wallis was an abused child, to the point where Raveler actually found the boy in the hospital – and later confronted Wallis’ father in a bar, where the two fought.  Actually, as Raveler would later remark, it wasn’t that much of a fight, Raveler’s fist kept getting hit with Wallis’ head.

But Olson understood.  Raveler didn’t want to have some terrible memories resurface in the middle of the holiday season.  Besides, Olson made sure that the two dinners went to two different houses at Pines of Iverhill; and none of the recipients had the surname of Wallis.

Olson got back in the car.

“We have five houses to take care of, and only three dinners,” Raveler remarked.  “We need to go back to Most Precious Blood and get more dinners.”

By then, the snow was falling faster, and the bald tires on Raveler’s Oldsmobile caused the car to lose grip on the slippery, snowy roads.  With the skill of a sailor in a stormy sea squall, Raveler kept the car on the road, only twice slightly fishtailing into a ditch.

When they returned to the rectory, Raveler parked the Oldsmobile and went in to see Father Aloysius, the senior priest at the Church of Most Precious Blood.

“Hi Father Al, I need to get two more turkey dinners – maybe three,” Raveler explained.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Gene, but all the dinners are gone.”


“Yes – all the dinners have been delivered.  We barely had enough to send around.”

“Okay, we’ve got a problem – there’s ten deliveries, but we only picked up ten dinners.  Seems somebody didn’t think to check and see how many family members wanted dinner.”

“I wish I could help you,” said Father Al, “but we really didn’t have a good year either.  A lot of the companies that donated food last year didn’t give as much this year – in fact, we didn’t even receive a contribution from Wilson Bread or Magedoma Lumber.”

Raveler grimaced, knowing that Wilson Bread – the owner of the Iverhill Robins baseball team – was sending him and Olson out on a season ticket drive, while reducing their contribution to the church.

“I’m sorry, Gene, right now all we’re doing is cleaning up the kitchen.”

Raveler cleared his throat.  “I’m sorry, Father Al.  We’ll make other arrangements for the dinners.  Have a good Christmas.”

But as Raveler started to head to the car, he got an idea – and returned to the church kitchen.

“Father Al … can I borrow your telephone for a second?”

And as Olson sat in the car, guarding the three dinners that were still primed for delivery, Gene Raveler made a telephone call.

“Hello, is this DiGi’s Diner?  Can I speak with Anita Charlton?  Anita?  Hey, it’s Gene Raveler from the Robins.  Yes.  The Iverhill Robins.  The baseball team.  Yes, that team.  We play over at Wilson Field.  Right.  Listen, I need to place an order for two – no, make it three – turkey dinners to go.  Yes.  Turkey dinners.  Dark or white meat – a little of each.  Yes, I want gravy on the mashed potatoes.  Yes, stuffing too.  Corn or green beans – make it green beans on one and corn on the second, and both on the third.  And three slices of your best pumpkin pie.  How soon can I get that?  An hour?  How much?  I think I have that – yeah.  How’s your kid doing?  Okay, well wish him a Merry Christmas for me.  I’ll be over to pick up the dinners in an hour.  Thanks, Anita.  I owe you one.  Bye.”

As he hung up the phone, Gene looked at Father Al.  “Looks like I was able to pull off a miracle, Father Al.”

“God bless you, Gene.  But be careful out there with the roads.  Do you have chains on your tires?”

“I’m okay, Father Al,” Gene said, leaving the kitchen.  “I’m driving an Oldsmobile.  There should be no problem.”

Raveler returned to the car, with Olson waiting inside.

“Where are the turkey dinners?” Olson asked.

“We’re picking them up on the way.  We need to drop off these dinners in the valley, then we’ll swing by DiGi’s and get three more dinners.  By the way, you owe me $20.”


“Because,” Raveler replied, starting the car, “you have to pay for the dinners we’re buying.”

The Oldsmobile roared to life.  Raveler checked the gas gauge.  A quarter of a tank.  They could make it down to the Otswego Valley and back.  The car lurched forward, and Raveler drove down Route 9N to the access road to the Otswego Valley.

Olson turned on the car radio.

“What are you doing?” Raveler asked, his eyes fixed on the highway but his senses still acute to Olson’s actions.

“Just seeing what’s on WIVR.”

“Probably just Christmas music.  The station isn’t worth listening to until Shauna Moire comes on after 7.”

“Yeah,” Olson replied, “she does have a nice voice.”

“She’s got a good body, too,” Raveler remarked.

“You’ve seen her?”

“Well… I’ve seen more of her than most people have.”

“You and her were an item?”

“Not really,” Raveler said.  “We did a radio commercial together for Wilson Bread.  We had a couple of dates afterward, but it didn’t work out.  She was always afraid somebody would see her and think she was like her character on the radio in real life.”

“And is she?”

“Actually – she is.  She’s got a great body and a fantastic face.  But she’s a very private person in real life – and she doesn’t want people to think that because she looks like a million dollars, she can be bought and sold like a human commodity.”

Olson stared back at the window.  “And how did you find this out?”

“I tried to make a pass at her and she told me I was just like every other man she ever knew.”

For the next ten miles into the Otswego Valley, not one word was said between the two baseball teammates.

Then Olson broke the silence.

“Why do you keep playing?”

Raveler ignored the remark.

“I mean – you’ve got good baseball skills and all, but you’re also the oldest man on our team, and – well – I thought if players didn’t make the major leagues by 30, they were supposed to retire or become a hitting or pitching coach or a scout or something.”

Raveler continued to drive, testing the brakes to make sure there was still traction between the car and the icy road.

“I’m sorry – look, I didn’t mean anything by it.  It’s just – I don’t know, I just thought we could talk about something.”

Another five minutes of silence.  Olson looked out the window, watching the telephone wires and imagining the black lines leaping from phone pole to phone pole.

“I did make the major leagues by 30.”

Olson looked at Raveler, but the outfielder was still staring at the road ahead.  “You did?” the pitcher asked.

“I did – I actually made it to the major leagues.  I had some stints with Boston, in fact I was with the Sox the year before you joined the Robins.  I had gone from Iverhill to their AAA affiliate in Louisville.  I had a career season – batting .330, leading the International League in runs, hits and RBI – and every day, after every game, I went to the coach, to the traveling secretary, to anybody and I would ask them, ‘Did you hear anything from Boston?’  But they always told me no.  The Sox didn’t need another outfielder that year.”

Raveler raised his foot from the accelerator, gradually slowing the car down on the snowy roads.

“So around the end of August, coach tells me to come into his office.  I thought he was going to finalize playoff rosters or something, but he tells me, ‘I have some good news and some bad news.  The bad news is the Sox are taking some of our best players up for the last month of the season, which means we’re going to have a tough time in the playoffs.  Oh, and by the way – the good news is you’re one of the players going up.  Congratulations.’”

“You must have been excited,” Olson said.

“I was,” Raveler replied, his voice lowered with hinted depression.  “The Red Sox were not a playoff team that year – they were just looking over their minor league players before some other team got them in a trade.  From the first of September to the last game of the season, I sat on that bench – they didn’t put me in a game, they didn’t let me take the field.  Every other player that came up with me from Louisville played at least five games; I just sat.”

“But I thought you said you played – ”

“I did play,” Raveler growled.

Olson returned his gaze to the telephone poles.

“It was the last game of the season.  We were playing the Tigers in Detroit.  It’s the top of the ninth, and the coach tells me to go in and pinch-hit.  I was so excited, I almost grabbed the wrong bat.  But I went to the on-deck circle and warmed up.  And with every swing I took in that on-deck circle, I thought about how long it had taken to get to the major leagues.  I wanted to remember every moment, every nuance – I wanted to hear the announcer call my name, I wanted to stare at that pitcher’s eyes, I wanted to take a mighty swing and put that ball over the center field wall on my first pitch.”

“So what happened?”

“Well, I was about to step into the batter’s box, when the Detroit coach signals for a right-handed pitcher.  So that guy’s out and a reliever is put in.  I wasn’t afraid – I feasted on right-handed pitchers in Louisville.  But then our coach signals to me to get out of the batter’s box and let a left-handed hitter go in – it was a double-substitution.  I was sent up there to get the Tigers to change pitchers.  It didn’t even count as an official at-bat.  And it didn’t matter anyway – the guy swung at three fastballs and missed every one of them, we lost the game, season over, that’s it.”

“But you made the team – what happened next season?”

The ballplayers passed a road sign, with the words OTSWEGO VALLEY 3 MILES partially obscured by blowing snow.

“Well, that year I was determined to make the Red Sox no matter what it took.  So I trained.  I worked out.  I even signed up for the Mexican League, if it meant getting a chance at the majors.  Fat lot of good that did.  I ended up back here.  Playing for another year.  We win the league championship in Iverhill.  Nobody from the major leagues call me.  And I’m still in Iverhill.”

“Hey,” Olson remarked.  “This is the first house.”

Raveler pulled into the rutted driveway.

Olson got out of the car, then reached into the back seat for a turkey dinner.  Raveler watched as Olson walked to the porch and knocked on the door.  An elderly woman came to the door.  Raveler listened as Olson asked to bring the dinner inside.  Raveler smiled.  Olson may be a bit of a blockhead, but he has great manners with older people, Raveler mused.   Probably that great family background he has.  They taught him well.

The next two deliveries in the Otswego Valley were uneventful.  One of the deliveries went to a wheelchair-bound Army veteran, who served his country in Vietnam and returned home to anonymity.  He was happy to receive his turkey dinner.  The other delivery went to the resident of a small shack near the Otswego River.  Raveler wasn’t happy about delivering this one.  The shack looked as if it had never experienced electricity.  The man taking the turkey dinner from Raveler noted that he always lived off the land and cooked his own foods over a hot fire, and this turkey dinner would receive the same treatment.  A thank you and a Merry Christmas, and Raveler was back in the car.

He turned the key.

The car responded with a grinding, whirring rev-rev-rev-rev, but no power.

Oh no.  Raveler looked at the gas gauge.  The arrow was close to E.  But it wasn’t close enough where Raveler knew the Oldsmobile was out of gas.

“Start you god damn piece of crap car, START ALREADY!” Raveler snarled as he twisted the ignition and stepped on the gas.

The car went rev-rev-rev-rev pfft.

Another try.

The engine finally, in its last grind, roared to life.  A cloud of smoke belched out of the Oldsmobile’s tailpipe, its acrid blackness mixing with the frosty snowfall.

“Okay, Clete,” Raveler sighed.  “We have to get to DiGi’s before they close.”

The trip back up the hill from the Otswego Valley was treacherous and slippery, and Gene’s hands tightly grasped the steering wheel as the car fishtailed and swished up the icy, curvy road.

Eventually, after 30 minutes of slow, inching travel, the Oldsmobile reached the summit.  Raveler breathed a sigh of relief.  Not only were they back in Iverhill itself, but they were near the local Texaco station – which was right across the street from DiGi’s Diner.

Raveler took the last $5 out of his wallet and filled the Oldsmobile with as much gas as he could afford.  Then he and Olson walked over to DiGi’s Diner.

“Anita, are you here?” Gene asked as they entered the diner.

“Bout time you showed up,” Anita replied, “I stayed past my shift waiting for you, and my son’s home all by himself, waiting for me.”

“Sorry,” Raveler mumbled.  “Clete, pay the woman for the dinners.”

Olson pulled money out of his wallet.  “Why am I buying three dinners?  I thought we were short two dinners.”

“One of them is for me.  I’d like to have one holiday dinner that doesn’t have the initials ‘TV’ attached.”

Olson reluctantly gave the waitress the $20 for the three dinners, plus a tip.

With the dinners secured in the Oldsmobile’s back seat, Raveler and Olson drove to the final two locations.  The first delivery of the DiGi’s turkey dinners was at a small house along Walnut Road, a house that looked both deserted and dilapidated.

Olson knocked on the door. All it took was one knock – and suddenly Olson heard the angry barking of a large dog.

“Don’t worry about Missy,” the elderly voice said, opening the door.  Olson could see that the home resident, a man in his sixties, was trying to open the door with one hand and hold back what looked like an angry German Shepherd with his other hand.  “He’s harmless,” the man cajoled.  “Won’t hurt a fly.”

“Um,” Olson stammered.  “I’m – I’m here from the Iverhill Interfaith Charities, and the Church of Most Precious Blood, and this is your Christmas dinner.  Happy holidays.”

“This came from the church?” the man asked.

Olson nodded.

“Then why is it in a bag that says ‘DiGi’s Diner’ on it?”

“Um – well – funny thing about that,” Olson replied.  “We actually ran out of turkey dinners – my fault, actually – so we stopped on the way and got a dinner special just for you, in the spirit of the holidays.”

Missy the German Shepherd stopped snarling, and began sniffing the bag of cooked holiday cheer.

“Bring the food inside,” the man said.  “I don’t have a free hand right now, or else Missy will eat my dinner right there.”

Olson brought the meal inside and placed it on the kitchen table.

“You’re really with the Church?” the man asked again.

“Yes sir, I am,” Olson replied.

“Then why are you wearing an Iverhill Robins baseball jacket?”

“Well, sir, I’m also a relief pitcher for the Robins.  We won the championship this year.”

“Good for you,” the man half-heartedly replied, peering over the still-warm dinner.  “There’s no cranberry sauce here.  I like cranberry sauce with my turkey dinner.”

“Well, sir, I’m sure the rest of the meal will be just as delicious – ”

“What’s this?” the man asked, reaching into the dinner bag.  “Why is there a pamphlet in my dinner bag?”

“Oh, that’s for if you want to order Robins season tickets for next year.  We have several options available, and if you order now, we can get you a discount of – ”

“You should leave now,” the man sternly warned.

“But I – ”

“I appreciate the dinner, son, but I don’t appreciate it being tied to something else.  You should leave now.  I don’t think I want to hold onto Missy’s collar any more.”

“But,” Olson said, as he walked toward the door, “You said he wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

“You’re not a fly,” as the dog snarled hungrily.

Realizing what that meant, Olson quickly left the house and got back into Raveler’s Oldsmobile.

“How did that turn out?”  Raveler asked.

“Pretty good.  I don’t think he’ll be buying season tickets, though.”

“He told you that?”

“No,” Olson said as the car roared back to life.  “But I think his dog made it very clear.”

Two dinners left and one delivery to go.  The last place to receive a turkey dinner was a small house, on a short side street off of North Main Avenue.

On the way to the delivery, Clete broke the icy silence in the car.  “Why did you get an extra turkey dinner, Gene?”

“I need it for myself,” he said.

“You didn’t get two dinners.  Aren’t you and your girlfriend going to spend the holidays together?”

“She left.  She went back to Florida.  Said she couldn’t stand the cold in New York.”

“It’s not that cold.  I’m from Pennsylvania and it’s not that cold right now.”

Gene stared through the frosted windshield, as the car rolled up to a stop light.  “She wasn’t talking about the temperature.”

Olson immediately understood.

“What about that girlfriend of yours, Amy the nurse from Otswego County Medical Center?” Gene asked.  “Are you going over to her place for the holidays?”

“I wish,” Olson muttered.  “She has a double shift, and then she has to go to Dellsburg to visit her family.”

“And you’re not going?”

Olson looked down at Raveler’s car glove compartment.  “I don’t do well with family.”

“Sorry,” Gene mumbled.

“I just don’t.  That’s the reason I’m still in Iverhill this winter; I just don’t want to go back home.  There’s nothing for me there.  I have to carve out my future, without my father’s influence or pressure.  Maybe it’s with Amy, maybe it isn’t.  Maybe it’s with the Robins, maybe it’s with another baseball team.  But I can’t do it unless I take that step forward.  I can’t be that scared person any more.”

Just then, Raveler drove the car up to the final delivery spot.  “Stay in the car,” he told Clete Olson.  “I’ll take this dinner in.”

He reached into the back seat and grabbed one of the final two turkey dinners, along with one of the remaining Iverhill Robins season ticket brochures and the dinner delivery identification card.

A walk up to the house, and a knock on the door.

A young man, approximately in his mid-20’s, answered the door.  “Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for a Francis Staucet,” Raveler said, reading off the delivery identification card.

“That’s me.  How can I help you?”

“We’re here from the Church of Most Precious Blood and Iverhill Interfaith Charities, and here’s the turkey dinner you ordered for Christmas.”

“I didn’t order a turkey dinner for Christmas.”

“I have a card here says you did,” Gene replied, showing the card.

“Oh, that makes sense.  I see what happened.  I’m Francis Staucet, Jr.  This must be for my father.”

“Okay, I’ll bring it in for your father, then.”

Staucet then replied, “That’s not necessary.”

“You don’t have to pay for it.  It’s a charitable dinner to those who need it.”

“No, I appreciate your gesture.  But – well – between the time he ordered that dinner and today, well – ”

Gene grimaced.  Please don’t say the guy passed away.  Please don’t say the guy passed away.

“Well, we came up here to Iverhill – my wife and son and I – to be with him this holiday season.  He didn’t know.  We wanted to surprise him, to spend time with him and show him that we still love him and always will.  Thank you for the turkey dinner, but my wife just finished making a special dinner for all of us.  Don’t let that dinner of yours go to waste.  Give it to someone who will really appreciate it.”

Gene and Staucet talked for a few more moments.  They shook hands, and Staucet returned to his family.  Then Gene went back to the car, his hands still holding the DiGi’s turkey dinner bag.

“What happened?” Olson asked.

“Nothing,” said Raveler.  “They already received a delivery from Most Precious Blood.  He must have been on two identification cards, and we got here late.”

“Oh,” Clete replied.

Raveler started the Oldsmobile up.

“We’re not far from my apartment,” Olson half-heartedly mumbled.  “Just drop me off and I’ll be fine.”

Raveler stared at the windshield.  The engine was running, but he hadn’t taken the car out of neutral.

“What’s wrong?” Olson asked.

Raveler turned the car off.

“Clete, look – we’ve got two turkey dinners here, good ones from DiGi’s.  I’m going to go back to my apartment and heat this dinner up – probably see if there’s anything worth watching on television.  And I guess that’s Christmas for me.  You take the other dinner.  Enjoy the holiday season, maybe give your girlfriend a call and let her know you still care.”

“Thanks Gene – but you don’t have to do this.  There must be someone else that didn’t get a turkey dinner.”

“There is someone else.  You and me.  We took care of everyone else.  That’s important.  And now this is our reward.  But I want you to promise me something.”


“If you’re ever in this situation 20 years from now, where you’re driving in the middle of the snow in some godforsaken minor league city to deliver turkey dinners or anything else –  just remember today, and whoever you’re driving with – because there will be someone in that passenger’s seat while you’re driving – pass along that everything’s going to be all right, no matter how cold it is and how dreary it is.”

“Everything’s going to be all right, Gene?”

“Yeah,” Raveler smiled.  “I think it’s going to be all right.”