BRATTLEBORO -- About eight years Deirdre Baker read a story in the paper about the annual Charlie Slate Christmas Breakfast.
Fran Quellette, the man who had taken over the holiday tradition from Slate, was ready to give it up after running it himself for 10 years, and he was quoted in the paper as saying that if no one stepped up, the breakfast would not be held in 2006.
Baker had never been to a Charlie Slate Christmas Breakfast before so she went in 2005, talked with Quellette that day, and decided that she would spearhead the effort the next year to ensure that Slate's vision of a free community holiday breakfast would live on.
She gave herself five years.
That was seven years ago, and on Christmas morning she led the effort one final time, with words of encouragement and tears shed, with Slate's daughters, who have agreed to take over the tradition in 2013.
"It's been fun, but it's been a lot," she said while sitting down to a plate of eggs. "I couldn't let the tradition die."
Baker's last few years have been emotional, and physically challenging, as she battled a cancer which eventually claimed one of her eyes.
Now she is handing the tradition over to Slate's family, including his daughter Judy Flynn, who herself is now fighting cancer and going through treatments.
Next year the three daughters, a son who plans to come back from his home in North Carolina, and a crew of grandchildren and great-grandchildren say they will help lead the volunteer crew serve a free Christmas breakfast to more than 700 people.
"We're going to be here next year because of the big ‘C'," said Flynn's sister Charlene Anderson. "The big ‘C' is Christmas."
Slate started serving a free Christmas breakfast in 1981, when his wife worked at Linden Lodge and Slate found that there was no where to go to get a hot breakfast.
Flynn was there with her father that first year.
Slate bought all of the food himself that year.
He cooked the meals and Flynn and one other person served up about 50 plates at the Elks Club in Brattleboro.
Flynn has been there almost every year since, sometimes helping, sometimes just enjoying the meal, and she says the Slate family is ready to do the organizing work to make sure the free Christmas breakfasts are served in 2013, and beyond.
"We can't let this stop. There is so much going on in the world, now," Flynn said. "We need to do this."
Baker said that a few years ago Flynn told her that when Baker was ready to move on she should let the Slate family know.
Last year, when Baker was in the middle of her cancer treatments, she willed herself to make it through the day, even though she was sick and struggled to make it through the day.
A recent screening found no more cancer in her body and she is feeling stronger everyday.
Now, she says, she is ready to sleep in next Christmas, spend the morning with her son, and then casually make her way down to the American Legion so she can be served a hot meal with everyone else.
From the first year that Baker took over she has been putting her own marks on the annual tradition.
She moved the event over to the American Legion, which has a full sized professional kitchen, and she expanded the delivery program, which brings hot meals to seniors and disabled residents all over Brattleboro.
This year her drivers delivered 130 meals around Brattleboro and Dummerston.
And in her final year she introduced home fries for the first time to the complete breakfast plate of eggs, pancakes and sausage.
Baker says she will work closely with Slate's family over the coming year and turn over her folder of volunteer names, donors and notes.
"Dad had to give it up when he had health problems," Anderson said. "We always had in the back of our minds that we would do this. Now it is our time."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.