Darrington's funeral dinners feed family, strangers, and now slide victims

DARRINGTON, Wash. -- You'll always find the chimney hot - and the company warm - at Janet Cabe's house on Sauk Avenue in Darrington.

It's been that way for 64 years; and, on Friday, Cabe was cooking something up at 480 degrees -- of love.

"It means a whole lot to me to know that we're helping - the community is helping to kind of heal these people," Cabe said. "(In) my opinion, there will never be anybody, any place, any better than Darrington to support people. I'm all for that."

Cabe has been cooking for friends, for strangers, and for loved ones from Stanwood to Hoquiam since she moved to the town of 1,300 with her husband in 1950. She is often joined by an army of other residents - sometimes at home, sometimes at the community center.

All of it is free of charge.

Most of it is on a family's darkest day.

"We started the funeral dinners when we lived in a little one-room cabin, not as big as this room," Cabe said, sitting in her home Friday alongside her niece and son. "If something comes up we try to help the people and do something about it if we can."

Cabe's task will become even darker in the days to come. 17 people have been killed in the Oso landslide, and another 90 remain missing, officials say.

"Knowing those people are down there and not finding them has kinda took a toll on me," Cabe said. "They come rushing in to help, whatever can be done. That's the way it's been and that's the way it's been since this happened."

Cabe is already planning for next Saturday, when the town will bid farewell to former librarian Linda McPherson, who was killed in the slide. The service, scheduled for April 5 at the Darrington Community Center, is expected to draw about 500 people, said McPherson's former coworkers.

"(The women who cook) give to this community. That's part of our community. We're not takers. We're givers," said Diane Boyd, who is on the board at the community center, which is sometimes used to make the funeral dinners. "They're going to be there bright and early in the morning. They're going to be the last one to leave at night. They're just going to give."

"The phone tree lights up and things start rolling up to people in need," added Dan Rankin, Darrington's mayor. "And it doesn't matter who you are or where you're from."

Cabe said she understood the importance of what she does after her husband, David, died 14 years ago.

"When he died there was such an outpouring of people," Cabe said. "I couldn't have made them a cup of coffee. It was absolutely unbelievable."

"We have served as high as 1,300 and we have never run out of food," she added. "I'm sure that people is gonna pour their hearts out (at the upcoming services) to get the food there. I probably won't have to cook a thing. "