It’s November already and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. This will be our third turkey day without my dad at the head of the table. It still doesn’t feel the same.
I can recall Thanksgiving dinners when we lived in the section of Miami known as Little Havana. Our house was just two blocks off the busy and bustling famous Calle Ocho (S.W. 8 street also known as the Tamiami Trail).
Thanksgiving was a family get-together and my family is HUGE. There was the table for the adults that sat roughly 20 people. And there were three more tables for the kids. If folks had too much to drink, they stayed overnight. It was a pretty big two-story house, so there was plenty of room for everyone.
The women spent the day in the kitchen. Cooking, prepping and gossiping. The men set up a table in the back yard and played dominoes, talked about work and drank beer. The kids ran around the entire neighborhood playing, Hop-Scotch, Red Rover, Cowboys and Indians, Hide-n-Seek.
We had turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes, but we also had yucca fries, plantains, white rice and black beans and flan for dessert.
With so many people, we typically cooked more than one turkey. Mom would cook one in the oven. Dad would cook another on the grill or smoker. Same for the ham.
As dinner time approached, the kids would be corralled and each told to take their turn in getting showered and dressed. Our older cousins would help get the younger kids done, then take their turns. The women were next and then the men took their turns. We would all be dressed to the nines. Everyone helped in setting up the tables. Dad and my uncle would carve the turkeys and hams.
We had a massive covered driveway with high Spanish arches. We would set up all the tables there. Dad would bring out the stereo speakers and Spanish music would play throughout the day. During dinner the music was muted so we could say a prayer, enjoy our dinner and have conversations.
The sliced turkey and ham and all the side dishes were always presented on fancy plates. But we used plastic plates and utensils to eat to avoid having to wash hundreds of dishes afterwards.
After the meal, the women gathered all the leftovers and started preparing “to-go” containers. Mom would make sure my brother and I had plenty of leftovers for the next few days as well. The men put away the tables and cleaned up the driveway.
My cousins and I were set free to play once again.
With everything put away, my dad would turn up the stereo again and the driveway became a dance hall, well into the late evening hours. Mom and dad would dance the salsa, and the merengue. I liked dancing with dad so, every so often, I would scamper away from playing with the cousins and be with dad on the dance floor.
When the party ended, some of the family made their home, while others found their sleeping spots around the house and drifted off to sleep.
The next day, we would have a huge breakfast of hash browns with scrambled eggs. The rest of the family would hit the road back home and mom and dad pretty much chilled the rest of the day watching TV, recuperating from the previous day’s events.
My brother and I knew how to re-heat (pre-microwave era) our food in the oven and stovetop, so we would just fix our own lunch and dinner the day after Thanksgiving and pretty much the rest of that long weekend.
This year, mom, my brother and his wife and I will have a small Thanksgiving dinner, much like the past two years have been. Quite mild in comparison to the celebrations we had many years ago, but it’s still nice to be able to get-together and reminisce on those grand old days.