When I was a kid, I loved Thanksgiving. It was an opportunity to eat all day—pastries and fresh fruit in the morning, olives and cheese and sliced veggies with dips throughout the day, and then dinner and desert at sundown. It was always held at my Great Grandma Mary’s house in Dobbs Ferry, New York, a trip which meant going to Grand Central Station to catch a train upstate.
While my mom was at the ticket counter in Grand Central, my sister and I would look at the astrological signs up on the green and gold sky. My sister’s Capricorn and my own Aquarius appear next to each other, so that’s usually where we gawked. Then on the train, we would find one of the four-seaters which made a little cubicle for us, and the ticket man would pass by and clickclickclick, clickclickclick our tickets, placing them in the flap by our heads.
When we arrived, Grandma Eddy would pick us up and drive us through that small town where my grandparents met. Then she’d unload to the rest of the family for hugs, kisses, and bad puns.
Great Grandma Mary always pointed out if you looked funny or if you needed a haircut, so Thanksgiving was the best time to see her because I always got a haircut and a new dress right before the holidays. (Thanks mom and dad.) I wanted to impress her because she was so charming and so funny, and I could tell it was hard to gain her approval by the way she would criticize my mom’s funky 90’s outfits.
She had beautiful crystal animals and gems that sparkled in her windows, a huge yard and a hidden garden, which reminded me of my favorite movie at the time, The Secret Garden, which later turned out to be one of my favorite books. There was a mother goose statuette Great Grandma Mary dressed for the different seasons, and for Thanksgiving it wore a turkey outfit.
Grandma Mary didn’t trifle with the food those days. She was much more likely to be sitting in the indoor patio with a martini, entertaining guests with witticisms and stories. She did, however, always make this lime jell-o mold, which was served at dinner along with everything else. It was not only the weirdest looking thing on the table, but the tastiest. It had chopped nuts and dried berries in it and it was somehow creamy and sour at the same time. I would later find her recipe handwritten on a card that revealed the secret to this incredible dish, which I now make every year for Thanksgiving.
My whole family was gathered there, my mom’s brother, Uncle Kris, who was so tall and with whom I always felt so shy, his beautiful wife Karen, my maternal grandparents, and my many cousins and family friends who lived along the boulevard.
I think back to this place whenever I get swept up by unwarranted family drama, which now dresses every holiday escapade. Both my Great Grandma Mary and my Grandma Eddy have passed away, and my uncle barely talks to my mom, sister, or me. The house in Dobbs Ferry has been demolished, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are always up in the air. No one seems to be able to fill the space Mary made for us.
I wish I could see Mary and my grandmother and my mother and my sister together now. We would clink martinis while the guys watch football, share compliments on what radiant women we are all becoming.
Virginia Valenzuela is The Inquisitive Eater's Poet of the Month for November 2017.
Virginia Valenzuela is a poet, essayist, and yogi from New York City. She is a second-year MFA candidate for Poetry and Creative Nonfiction at The New School. She is an Education Associate with Teachers and Writers, a Research Assistant at The New School, the Prose Editor for LIT, and the Curator/MC for a monthly reading series at KGB Bar. You can find more of her work on her blog, Vinny the Snail and on the Best American Poetry Blog.
Featured image via Flickr