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It's still Thanksgiving, just without the craziness

Ruth Burke remembers the toil of past Thanksgivings with not much fondness. She recalls the countless hours spent polishing the family silver, followed by a day spent trapped inside a hot kitchen and surrounded by relatives.

Thankfully, she said, those days are long gone.

For the past five years, she and her husband, Jim, have opted for a simpler celebration by heading to the annual Sertoma Youth Ranch Thanksgiving Bluegrass Festival.

There, they can still enjoy a turkey dinner with all of the trimmings but without all of the hassles.

"Eating on paper plates with plastic forks is so much easier than going through all the hoopla at home," Burke, 63, said Sunday afternoon as she finished packing the couple's 32-foot recreational vehicle for the drive back to Windermere. "And after dinner, you've got lots of great music to listen to."

The festival, which concluded Sunday, has a long-standing tradition of welcoming those who want to escape the holiday doldrums. On Thanksgiving Day, festival promoters furnish several cooked turkeys and invite patrons to bring a covered dish for a sit-down meal.

Festival promoter Steve Dittman likened the event to a family reunion.

"We've been doing it for about 20 years, and the nice thing is that you'll see the same faces every year," Dittman said. "And recently, I noticed that we're now getting some of the kids of the people who have been coming for a while. They'll be the next generation."

Sarah Parker said she remembers celebrating many a Thanksgiving at the festival.

Now 21, she packed up and headed to the festival immediately after finishing Thanksgiving dinner at her grandmother's home in Parrish, she said.

"I can't miss it," Parker said. "It's been a part of me for most of my life."

Parker and her grandmother Julie spent much of Sunday relaxing at their campsite next to a spring-fed brook. While they fixed lunch, Sarah's bulldog, Clyde, rested beneath the shade of a tall oak tree.

Though neither of the Parkers plays an instrument, their neighbors do - and that, in Julie Parker's opinion, always makes for a wonderfully entertaining outing.

"We had a huge group of pickers on Saturday, and they played pretty much nonstop all night," she said. "That's the kind of thing that keeps me coming back every year."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

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