This is my ninth Thanksgiving straight that I spend away from home and country. Over these years, I have used Thanksgiving as little more than a landmark establishing the official date (the day after) when I can finally begin listening to my beloved, yet annoying, Christmas favorites. For some reason this year (regardless of picking up a new Ella Fitzgerald Christmas album), Christmas music has barely crossed my mind.
While I would say the same thing about Thanksgiving, I have found myself mysteriously visited by Thanksgivings past. For example, last week I was in a dark, retro cocktail bar in Paris, and without even thinking about ordering a real cocktail (I was going to have hot tea), I asked for a Manhattan – the only alcoholic beverage I ever saw my maternal grandparents drink.
According to my grandfather, during the Second World War his doctor a cocktail every evening when arriving home from work to help deal with the stress of work and raising a family during the troubled times. Ever since and until his death, he had his daily dose of Manhattan medicine. The look, smell, and taste of that Manhattan in Paris, took me back in time to New Jersey where I spent all of my childhood Thanksgivings. I don’t even particularly like Manhattans but all week, I have been craving them.
When I was a kid visiting New Jersey, I used to love getting up early at 6:00 am to the sound of my grandmother making freshly squeezed orange juice. Without being conscious of the connection, I have been making my own O.J. every morning for the past month. And the other night will trying to fall asleep, I confused the ticking of the watch on my nightstand with that of my grandparents’ cuckoo clock.
Then this morning when I woke up to a crisp, yet sunny, día invernal in Madrid, I traveled back to those mornings when we’d all pack and climb into the car to take the trip to New Jersey — my sister, brother and I in the back seat fighting for terrain. Thanksgiving wasn’t like Christmas because there were no presents to look forward to. It was just about the traditional meal and the usual suspects. We’d spend Thursday in New Jersey with my maternal grandparents. Usually Uncle Randy and Aunt Rita would be there and sometimes my grandparents’ friends. I never cared much about the dinner, but I always loved the chocolate and tapioca puddings, and apple and pumpkin pies; and I loved the colors of what leaves were still hanging on the trees.
The following morning, we’d all pack again into the car and drive to The Bronx to spend the day with my paternal grandparents. We’d also see my cousins and aunts and uncles. Up the elevator and into the hall, you would already smell the eggplant parmesan, backed zitti, and meatballs. Afterwards we’d have assorted desserts, cookies, and nuts. The adults would poor anisette into their coffee and we’d all play cards with my great uncles. When the evening came to an end, we’d head back to New Jersey into the darkness of those crisp late November nights. Of course, there was also the secondary effect of the Italian meals — the smelting and dealting, and the corresponding rolling up and down of the car windows. When we’d finally arrive back at my maternal grandparents in New Jersey, I’d be the first into the house. I would head straight to the kitchen for a chocolate pudding as a final exclamation point to the two days of festivities.
In any event, this morning to celebrate the memory of Thanksgivings past, I put on my New Jersey Turnpike t-shirt. My thanks this Thanksgivings go to memory, keeping it all alive when so much of it is no longer around.