There is a very special community within our larger one. It is composed of those wild, crazy, amorphous groups of folks who meet at 6 a.m. at Hart Park on Thanksgiving morning. We meet for a few hours of pure unmitigated gratitude. We give thanks that we are there. Gratitude expressed with hugs and handshakes and smiles and kind words. And of course too many slices of pie.

This whole chaotic and friendly scene started with a small group of runners who were youngish about 40 years ago. They were either kicked out of or escaped the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving morning kitchens at home. Each of them brought a pie to share with the others. The next year a few more crazies joined the group. Twenty or so years later the affair was moved to Hart Park to accommodate the larger crowd of maybe 50 to 60 runners. John brought the big urn for coffee. Sid supplied firewood for the bonfire. Frieda and Kareen arranged the pies on the table and my mom, if she was visiting us from Ohio, would cut them while explaining that it does not get really that cold in California.

The runners would go wherever they wanted — around the lake, up to the hang glider, pistol range or walk or pick up pecans or feed the ducks. Those who did 10 miles had to worry that there would be any pie or coffee left by the time they returned.

As things evolved and more people became aware and involved, children and grandchildren became part of the ritual. There were more pies and more goodies. The Fulce and Churchman families would load up the back of the pick up afterwards and take dozens of leftover pies to homeless shelters.

This is one of the happiest times of the year. The “other stuff” of daily living gets put on hold for a couple of hours. One can just bask in the warmth of a good fire and the joy of meeting old friends and getting to know new ones. If I’m lucky, I get a piece of Marsha’s rum cake or a slice of Stella’s mince pie. However stay away from the coffee at the other end of the table if you are driving home. If I’m even luckier, I will see the Baker and Lerma girls. I will get to talk with Dorsh and Bob and some of the originals. I will see people I wish I could see more often. And maybe just maybe make that happen later.

If you decide to join us this year, there is just one rule: there are no rules. Walk, run, sit, eat, do all or none. The entrance fee if you decide to bring one is a goodie, preferably homemade. If you don’t want to bring something, fine, just be there.

While the “no rule” rule applies, it is highly recommended that you smile a lot, shake lots of hands, hug friends and eat way too much. Remind us all of how grateful we are to have each other and to just be there with such good friends.

For us old timers part of the contentment of the occasion comes from having shared this time with friends who are with us in spirit, some of the originals — John, Dave, Eddie, Paul and Frank. I’m sure you can add more to your list of good people who have made your world better.

Gratitude is the only appropriate response.

Jim Cowles is a retired Bakersfield High School teacher and running coach.