Orchestrating holidays with our busy Long Island lives and diverse eating preferences is no easy task. I fondly recall my childhood Thanksgivings. My parents, children of Italian immigrants, celebrated the holiday with one theme: food and more food; and no one dared mention a food preference (it would have been futile anyway). Every November, my teachers would recite the story of the first Thanksgiving. It wasn’t easy for this third-grader to spend Thanksgiving week absorbed in the world of pilgrims and then sit down to my family feast. Where is the corn, the squash and the apple pies? At my house, we ate turkey along with pasta, stuffing with salami, artichokes and of course, anise with oil and seasoning to aid in (much needed) digestion. There were always chestnuts and they were seldom edible. They ranged from being too hard, burnt or had simply exploded.
I would hear other families recite holiday traditions. I remember only two dialogues that endured each year. My mother would complain and be outraged by the price of artichokes and my father would hold up a chestnut and say, “when my father was a young man in Italy, he would make the barrels that stored chestnuts.” (No one dared say ‘yes we know, dad, you tell us every year’).
Some holidays were spent at Grandpa’s house, same meal only more wine. However, at his house, my aunts and uncles played cards. My cousins and I liked the card games; it kept the adults occupied while we ran unrestrained through Grandpa’s Parkslope neighborhood.
But back to Thanksgiving 2016. Fortunately, we don’t have to haggle over the date, that is determined by the calendar. Time? Not so easy. One daughter requests an early hour so that her family can be off to the in-laws to eat again. My other daughter lives in Ridge, her husband is on the NYPD counter sniper team. He spends the first part of his day on a roof along the Macy’s parade route looking for bad guys. We agree on a time, which requires military precision—no slouching on my part, or the turkey’s. I begin my preparation at 0600 hours.
Food? This is not the holiday of my youth. One couple will not eat turkey, pork, sweet potatoes or nuts. Others have specific tolerances and preferences. I try to accommodate everyone with multiple choices. My brother’s contribution to the dinner conversation is a detailed account of the traffic between the Staten Island Expressway and exit 28N on the Southern State Parkway.
On Thursday, we all come together and our lives are filled with laughter, familiar aromas and the children. It has taken me a lifetime to realize that the blending of our ideas and values is our story—a tapestry rich in tradition and family bonds.