“As the month of November wound to a close, Thanksgiving arrived with the usual bustle inside our household. With my birthday on November 28 typically falling close to Thanksgiving Day, any kind of singular celebration of my birth was little more than a passing notion amongst the extended family – barely celebrated except by my mother and sister. My first Bronx Thanksgiving, when I turned six and we had just arrived, was nearly a week after the holiday and therefore never registered as other than a mere afterthought. My seventh birthday actually coincided with Thanksgiving and thereby got completely lost in the holiday preparations. Curiously, this third Thanksgiving fell the day before my birthday. Perhaps, given past experiences of my birthday getting lost in the shuffle, I found myself surprisingly less concerned with my own day and, instead, was determined to observe the family dynamics a bit more astutely.
“From the moment I woke up on Thanksgiving morning, I watched as my mother, Aunt Evelyn, and Uncle Chuck, virtually pirouetted hither and thither to prepare the house for the arrival of family members and in preparation for the grand meal. My sister Peggy, I, and my cousins did our best to avoid being underfoot, spending most of the day outside with periodic forays into the house just to imbibe the aromas, or grab a handful of nuts from ubiquitous bowls scattered throughout, only to be shooed out instantly by the adults who simply could not be bothered given the tasks demanded by such a holiday feast. Each breach into the house only ratcheted up our anticipation for the arrival of dinnertime.
“Dense, spicy odors emanated from the kitchen, getting stronger as the morning turned toward mid-afternoon. Smells of turkey, sweet-and-sour string beans, mashed potatoes, carrots, jockeyed for position within my olfactory chambers, not to mention the intermingled smells of the mincemeat and pumpkin pies baking in the oven. There was the steady, rhythmic clunk and scrape of pots being stirred or their contents being scooped into serving dishes. My grandmother, wielding the baster like a magical culinary wand, methodically opening and closing the oven door to “check on the bird,” unleashed more and more wonderful smells into the already rapturous atmosphere.
“The good china and silverware and glasses made music together as they were properly arranged on the dining room table with the formality of creating an altarpiece. The dining room table had sprouted accommodating wings on either side and now completely filled the room. Six matching high-backed wooden chairs sat stiff and erect, three on each side, dedicated by their very sternness to reinforcing proper dining manners; at each end of the table sat near-identical chairs, different only in the fact that these possessed armrests that immediately and regally designated them as reserved for my grandfather and grandmother. Additionally, there were always one or two mismatched chairs taken from the kitchen and designated for whatever kids had reached the magic age whereby an invitation was extended to them to sit at the Great Table with the adults; this was always a welcomed reprieve from continuing another year inhabiting the kids’ table, relegated as it was like an outpost in the living room in order that the youngest children in all their holiday excitement would barely be seen and only partially heard.
“When I was ten and finally invited to sit in the dining room during the holidays, I studiously tried to mimic the formalities that seemed requisite to moving the serving dishes around the table, echoing the “thanks you’s” and the “no thank you’s” uttered with barely audible politeness. I was paralyzed by the phalanxes of silverware that stood guard on each side of my plate, holding the undecipherable secrets to what to eat when, what to eat with, and how to eat it. Yet within all my confusion I was ecstatic to be at the table, happy to look around at all the adult faces gathered there. At times like this I could pretend that I was truly wanted here and that tomorrow’s return to eating in the kitchen could be postponed indefinitely." ("The Rail," Chapter Eight, "Daddy I Hardly Knew You")