A Reflection on Thanksgiving Past and Present

Childhood Thanksgivings were loud—and crowded.  Decades after her death, I can still hear my Aunt Lina arguing with my Father about the day’s current political whatever.  We looked nothing like Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want, but to this day, that’s how I remember us.  In reality, we were an immigrant family: young, scrappy and hungry—assimilating traditions, twisting them to fit the rubric of our own heritage.  

No matter what happened during the year, Thanksgiving was sacrosanct.  Hatchets were buried in the nearest back; cease fires were declared.  That morning, while the moms were busy cooking, the cousins were dutifully watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  The dads were somewhere.  Some working; some drinking. None were watching football.  Later, and I mean late in the day, out came the dads, the plywood planks and the sawhorses: plastic table cloths draped atop, festive motifs (made at school) serving as centerpieces.  The “table” was overstuffed with pernil asado, black beans and rice, yucca, arroz con pollo, and, ironically, pumpkin pie.  Around it my family in shades of brown and white.  On the Hi-Fi, Celia Cruz was belting out some Christmas favorites.  It was never too early for Christmas.  By the time we started eating, after Aunt Lina led us in prayer, it was generally 8:30 p.m. 

I remember opening my eyes during the prayer and thinking, “really? My mother worked her tail off in a factory for this.  Why are we thanking God?  Who is thanking her?”  

It’s been well over 30 years since I experienced a Thanksgiving like that; a Thanksgiving with a large extended family, surrounded by those with whom I share a common ancestry, but really so much more.  Whether through blood or marriage, those familial bonds, made often through strife laced with love (and not the other way around), are indelible.  They are what put the “crazy,” in Crazy Glue.  Yes, we have framily, but even those of us who roll our eyes at going home for the holidays, sometimes wish we had a home to go home to.

Home.  Ugh.  Home has been at the forefront of my thoughts for the last few weeks.  Every time I look at our four-year-old, I think of my parents; and with them, the ephemeral concept of home.  They never met him, but almost every time I talk to him I hear their voices coming out of my own mouth.  I am my Parents’ child; and, for better or worse, I long to raise him somewhat in the way I was raised.  At least the good parts.

My Mother would say prophetically, “I know that when I pass this will all fall apart.” She was referring to family cohesion.  She wasn’t always the most upbeat person, but she was often right.  Once my Parents’ generation passed, those pilgrims who emigrated to the Country in search of a better life, the family ties loosened.  Distance, apathy and inertia separate all of us.  Science (is that a bad word now?) teaches us that we are made of cosmic dust, but our ancestors must have been made of the solid fragments.  They clung together no matter what; reliant on each other for survival.  In teaching us independence, did they teach us distance as well?  The cousins–where are the cousins?

We do have family in the local area.  But, my husband’s siblings want nothing to do with us.  You would think that after 25 years they would have gotten over two men in love.  They haven’t.  It’s a shame really; probably more so for us.  They can’t miss who they do not know.  And, they have each other.  They often host large get togethers during the holidays.  How do I know?  Up until Kid was born, I would see them tagged in pictures on Facebook.  I’ve since had to block them; there’s only so much melancholy one can take.  For their sake, I hope this year, their large gatherings are tempered by the Covid-19 pandemic and take place over Zoom.

This year our Thanksgiving will be small, as always: three at the table.  There will be homemade centerpieces, Celia Cruz playing on Alexa, Capon, black beans and rice, yucca and apple pie.  So, while the “world” laments the inability to connect with their large gatherings (at least those that are not defying CDC recommendations) in person, we will have everyone we need at hand–by design, desire, isolation? No matter.  I will still hear my Aunt Lina’s voice arguing with my Father, if only in my head.  I will tell the stories to my son.  We will look nothing like Freedom from Want, but that is how our son will remember us. Of that, I’m certain.

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