March 17, 2010

Best of holiday Traditions

BILL NEMITZ

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Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Leon "Joe" Hadiaris with his daughter Jenny at the Saco Dairy Queen where they were cutting potatoes in preperation for providing dinner for hundreds who would otherwise go without this Christmas. This is the 11th year that the Hadiaris family has provided Christmas dinner for the community.

click image to enlarge

Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Leon "Joe" Hadiaris and his daughter Jenny Hadiaris cut potatoes at the Saco Dairy Queen in preperation for providing dinner for hundreds who would otherwise go without this Christmas. This is the 11th year that the Hadiaris family has provided Christmas dinner for the community at Traditions Italian Ristorante in Saco.

\"That\'s exactly why we\'re here,\" Sue told him. \"Sit down.\"

He did. And when he was finished, the stranger sitting next to him gave him a ride back to campus.

Then there\'s the elderly woman who called last week and asked if it\'s true that the Hadiarises deliver.

\"Well, we do try to encourage people to come as much as possible,\" Sue told her. \"Can you make it down to the restaurant?\"

\"It would be hard,\" the woman replied apologetically. \"I\'m 89 and I\'m an invalid. And my sister is 92.\"

\"We deliver,\" replied Sue.

Truth be told, it takes far more than Joe, Sue and their two now-grown kids (Jenny works for an investment bank in New York City; J.D. is a local lawyer) to pull this off.

For starters, every last morsel of food is donated. Performance Food Group (the restaurant\'s distributor), provides the entrees, Country Kitchen-Lepage Bakeries drops off the rolls, and all of the pies are baked by the employees at Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution.

And the work force, well, let\'s just call that a family reunion: J.D.\'s new bride, Ari, has joined the ranks; Mike and Kathy (Sue\'s sister) Coster come from Falmouth with their kids, Jack and Maggie; Dan and Patty (also Sue\'s sister) Parker come from Cumberland with daughters Libby and Anna.

Also reporting for duty each year are the Hadiarises\' neighbors, Dr. Les Tripp and his wife, Mary Alice – when Uncle Dan cut himself on the ham slicer a few years back, Doc Tripp sutured him up right on the spot, slipped a sterile rubber glove over the wound and sent Dan back to work in the kitchen.

\"It\'s like a well-oiled machine,\" said Jenny, who oversees the home-delivery operation. \"We\'ve got J.D. mashing potatoes, Patty serves the stuffing, Dad\'s cooking the chickens, Mike is the dishwasher \"

In other words, the Hadiarises actually aren\'t giving up their family Christmas at all. They just happen to invite a couple hundred other guests who otherwise might not be so lucky.

And, after 10 years and counting, they can\'t imagine spending this day any other way.

\"You walk out the door at the end of the day and you\'re greasy and dirty and sweaty,\" said Sue. \"You feel exhausted, but you feel sooo good.\"

As she spoke, an elderly woman walked into the restaurant.

\"Could I put my name down for Christmas?\" she asked tentatively.

\"Absolutely you can,\" Sue said, jumping up. \"You\'ve been here before!\"

\"Yes,\" the woman said with a smile. \"I was here last year.\"

\"Wonderful!\" said Sue. \"And how many would you like a reservation for?\"

\"Just one,\" said the woman, who said her name was Teresa. \"For right when you start.\"

\"That\'s 1 o\'clock, Teresa,\" Sue said warmly, penciling her name into the reservation book. \"We\'ll look for you then.\"

As Teresa left, Sue looked over at her husband. \"I\'m just so proud of him,\" she said. \"I never would have thought of this.\"

Joe, whose days are normally consumed teaching alternative education at Thornton Academy and owning and operating the local Dairy Queen (it\'s his day-before staging area for the Christmas dinner), waves away such platitudes.

The \"real heroes,\" he said, are the volunteers who report day in and day out at the soup kitchens, the food pantries, the shelters and other places where the need never ends.

The way Joe looks at it, this is just his family\'s way of giving them a much-deserved day off – and in the process appreciating that the most valuable Christmas gifts don\'t always come with colorful bows and fancy wrapping paper.

\"This just costs us a little bit of our time,\" Joe said. \"Everybody can give that.\"

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@mainetoday.com

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