For some reason, I can’t remember any early-childhood Thanksgiving dinners, with my late grandparents, all of whom lived in Brooklyn, NY. They actually lived in two different apartment buildings that were back-to-back to each other. I always saw all of them at the same time. Yet, I simply can’t remember having a holiday dinner there.
What I do remember is always going to the home of cousins of my mother. Those homes were in New Jersey. We went there for Thanksgiving, two years out of three; every third year held at my home, on Long Island.
Stuart and Estelle, cousins to my mother, lived in Wayne, NJ, with their kids Amy and Scott; Enid and Cliff lived in Montvale, NJ, with their kids Lauren, Audra and Jamie. I’ve written about Jamie before; she’s still my favorite. I’m thinking my family visited these cousins for about ten years, from the time I was six years old until I was sixteen. Geez, that’s a long time ago.
My family lived on Long Island. You can only imagine the traffic we fought, Thanksgiving Day, to get to New Jersey. I vaguely remember how backed up, with traffic, was the Throgs Neck Bridge. My father took the exit just before the bridge and brought us back home. I think we went to a diner for Thanksgiving dinner that night.
Once we got off the Throgs Neck Bridge, it was usually an uneventful drive to the home of our relatives. My father had a lead foot on the gas, that’s where I get it from, and we always made good time.
There are certain things I remember about each of their homes. Enid and Cliff had a huge driveway, which seemed almost vertical to me. How they maneuvered that in the wintertime is still a mystery to me. I’m not kidding when I claim that it at least a 45-degree angle, well, okay, maybe 30 degrees, but still it was steep and dangerous.
Enid and Cliff had a nice den, where the men gathered to watch football. Their television was in the wall, held up by a shelf and bracket in the garage. I thought that was the coolest thing. They also had a fully finished basement where the kids went to play. I was the oldest, outnumbered by all the girls. I usually ended up in the den watching football.
Cousin Stuart was a physician. Wayne, NJ, is an affluent area. He and Estelle had a big house that confirmed the affluence of the town. I’m not kidding when I tell you that our small ranch home would have fit in their first floor, with plenty of room to spare. A huge staircase led to the second floor; we always tried to slide down the banister.
The one dish I always remember at these meals was hot fruit compote that Estelle made. It was only for Thanksgiving. This wonderful dish had pears, peaches and plums that just melted in your mouth. I’m sure there were others fruits in it, but I just can’t remember.
My mother just couldn’t make it the same way, even with the recipe. I wonder if Estelle conveniently forgot to add an ingredient. I wonder to this day.
My Uncle Dave and Aunt Ethel were parents to Enid and Stuart and they were the best. Dave was a prankster and Ethel was fun. They lived the Bronx across from Van Cortland Park, so visiting them was always fun. They also made Thanksgiving fun.
Herman and Ida, parents to my mother, drove from Brooklyn. As I was the first grandchild, Herman made me his favourite. He and I got along like two peas in a pod. Ida was the hypochondriac; I found it ironic that she outlived her sisters and husband.
I think these festive dinners ended when my grandparents moved to Florida and all the kids got older. Even though New Jersey isn’t that far away, we or I lost touch with all those cousins. Only at the funeral for my Aunt Pam, in Portland, OR, a few years ago, did I reconnect with Jamie, Enid and Lauren.
I’ll never forget my worst Thanksgiving. My mother had it her house. She had it catered by Ben’s, a local kosher style restaurant. I don’t know if I ate too much or there was something wrong with the food, but I got so sick that I spent too much time praying at the porcelain throne. I ended up with a wicked headache and had to lay down in one of the bedrooms. Soon after that, my mother and stepfather moved to Florida.
These days, it’s just my family and my in-laws. The six of us have a nice dinner, talk and have a good time. Since its Hanukkah this year, presents are also involved.
I like presents.
Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.
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