Herald breakfast serves up yule tradition

12/25/2011 12:00 AM

12/26/2011 9:47 AM

Hark, it's Herald's age-old fling.

At 4 a.m. Saturday, when not even a mouse was stirring, a group of men were bustling in the dark in the rural community of Herald, south of Sacramento.

These guys, known collectively as the Porch Club, gather early on Christmas Eve every year to set up a free breakfast for the entire community.

Most other days of the year, they're in the same location – the historic Herald Store – hanging out on the porch and socializing.

"Mostly it's the older guys," said Larry Craig.

In other words, the Herald aged sling.

They sling hash, scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, pancakes, donuts – a full breakfast. For free.

There's coffee, water, juice and, ahem, maybe something else for the men.

"There's a Mason jar of white lightning if you want to grow your beard real good," Craig tells one man.

Craig – the unofficial, unelected and unpresuming mayor of the Porch Club – meets, greets and presides over the breakfast from a stool at the back of his pickup truck, from which he dispenses warm gravy and biscuits.

He was confident that his Jimmy Dean sausage gravy wouldn't run out this year.

"As long as you got appetite, we got food," he said.

According to the census, the Herald ZIP code includes 2,255 people.

The breakfast serves about 500, but they don't necessarily live in the 95638.

"Herald is an attitude, not an address," Craig said.

That attitude – at least among the Porch Club – is one of giving.

After raising money through sales of burgers, license plate frames and a cowboy calendar, the men of the Porch Club dispense aid to those in need.

It's not just a question of poverty.

They helped out local teacher Casey Vandenburg and his bride, Kelly, when they got married in the summer.

"The first Saturday in August," said Casey, eating Christmas Eve breakfast at 6 a.m. in mid-20s temperatures.

"What day?" Kelly asked, testing his anniversary memory.

(Psst, Casey. Aug. 6. Clip this for your wallet.)

They wanted to be wed at the end of the Herald Day parade.

"We were looking of a ride other than a tractor," Kelly said. "Once Larry (Craig) hears that stuff, he takes over."

The Porch Club hired a white carriage for the couple to ride in.

They've also recently chipped in to send a local student on a trip to Spain.

To hear residents talk, the Porch Club is just a microcosm of a community where people help one another or barter loosely.

"The community's just like that," said Ruben Peña, a six-year resident, who said he's known as the guy who can find needed materials for others.

"You should talk to the Porch Club," is what people told Trina Whitaker, who was trying to raise field trip money with a coupon book for the Arcohe Parent Teacher Club.

As someone new in the community, she was attending her first Christmas Eve breakfast. "I didn't even know it existed," she said.

New and old stood around fires in burn bins as dawn broke and the roosters crowed – talking, laughing, eating.

Once the sun was out, they admired a couple of small reindeer that come out each Christmas.

This year, there was a faux reindeer, too.

A young miniature Hereford crossbreed with antlers strapped to its head was led around by 12-year-old Amanda Acuff.

The bovine's name: Brisket. "It's a pet," Acuff clarified.

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