By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Frankie Nations-Bryson says it simply: “It’s just a family. Darrington is just a family.”
She was 5 in 1937 when her family moved from North Carolina to the mountain town. Her father was a logger.
“We’re blessed up here in this little town, taking care of each other,” said Nations-Bryson, now 81.
In Darrington, those are more than words. They are acts of kindness.
Nations-Bryson is one of the organizers of Darrington’s funeral dinners. When someone in town dies, she and Janet Cabe rally an army of small-town cooks. After each funeral, the cooks provide meals at the Darrington Community Center. Nothing is asked of grieving families.
Since Saturday’s devastating mudslide, Nations-Bryson has been cooking nonstop, taking dishes to the community center to feed emergency crews and volunteers.
In these days of sorrow, as in other times of hardship, Darrington is a place where neighbors care. That’s their custom.
On Monday, that care could be heard in a song.
Members of the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe came to the Darrington Community Center, where briefings have been held since the slide. “They performed a very touching song for the whole community,” said Cindy White, a U.S. Forest Service public affairs specialist and lifelong Darrington resident.
“It was so beautiful,” said White, 51, who described a young man singing and a dozen or so tribal members joining in with drumming.
“Members of the tribe put a blanket out for donations, and started putting money on the blanket,” White said. The tribe had already donated $5,000 to help families affected by the slide. “From the community they collected another $1,100,” White said. Gov. Jay Inslee, there for a briefing, also contributed, she said.
White said the Sauk-Suiattle tribe “reminded us that they were there with us. We are one community.”
On Tuesday, Nations-Bryson was preparing sweet-and-sour meatballs. “Yesterday it was macaroni salad and ‘Tarheel’ beans,” she said. The home-canned green beans are grown from seeds that came from North Carolina, she said. “People just love them,” she added.
Like her logger father, John Jones, many in Darrington hailed from North Carolina. A number of families brought Southern traditions from Sylva, N.C., in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Nations-Bryson said the memorial dinners grew from a need to feed people who came to town as mourners but found no restaurant for after the funeral services. “All the churches helped, and each church had a certain dish,” she said.
Today, dinner organizers keep lists of contributors, people they call to cook. It’s not uncommon for Darrington cooks to roast turkeys on hot summer days to provide meals for grieving families. The mourners may be strangers, but are welcomed as neighbors.
Scott Morris, president of the Darrington Historical Society, said the community center itself is a “clear, concrete example — but it’s all wood — of how the community pulls together.”
It was built in 1954, with donated time, skills, materials and Darrington’s take-care-of-our-own spirit.
“The town came together, pooled their resources and built this unbelievable gym,” said Morris, a former Herald reporter who lives in Darrington. “It’s really been a gathering place since then.”
A few years ago, when the hardwood floor needed replacing, townspeople came together again with donated materials and equipment to do the job. “Everyone kicks in,” Morris said.
Since Saturday, the Darrington Community Center has doubled as an American Red Cross emergency shelter.
“There are 30 cots, but very few people are sleeping on them. They have already been taken into houses,” Morris said.
“People are bringing clothes and household goods to the community center. And volunteers are doing what Darrington knows how to do best — cooking for everybody and caring for everybody,” White said.
“They are a strong people,” she said. “And everywhere you go, you see people hugging and just checking in on each other.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.