I only have memories left of childhood Thanksgivings. Earlier family dinners celebrated in our Washington Heights apartment until “eminent domain” - George Washington Bridge needed a second level which ran right through our living room - drove us to move to an alien borough - the Bronx. No matter, the holiday air was filled with conflicting essences - spicy, sweet and overwhelmingly pungent once the trussed and bound turkey, glaringly white and naked was deposited into the oven - the aroma of its slow browning flesh filled the dining area, and eventually made its way into our bedroom, both enticing and to my vividly fearful imagination reminiscent of the “ovens” which imprinted their horrific acts on my family to a past that went back even further; but to this sensitive young girl, snippets of grief and shame seemed to flood the room with long gone strands of whispered conversations never forgotten.
My maiden Aunt - Tante Mushie - ( so named by my sister and I because she would mush up all her food) was invited regularly. I liked her and when she wasn't suffering cyclical depressions, she was intelligent and curious about culture, recommending movies and books to us. My mother Else felt comfortable with her and anointed Mushie the “heir apparent to the Wifedom if she should predecease my father so the “children” would be taken care of. My mother liked tight control over everything - particularly the future - so that was all set.
My beloved grandmother, Omi - the strongest maternal presence in my life, lived with us and on major Holidays, she usually sat at one end of the table opposite my quiet, gentle father who sensed early on that it was best to keep his mouth shut when sparks flew among the 4 women in the household. Omi was once the Queen of her domain, but after her life was upended by the Holocaust, she fled Germany and came to live with my parents in a small apartment on 180th Street, her dominant role was diminished, though her own sense of rightful authority never wavered. Omi was an embracing woman, a comforting presence in my life though she made life miserable for my mother demanding to be included in all events in my parents’ lives and constantly “beleidigt " (offended) so guilt became a permeable presence and has filtered down to me to this day.
The meals were both delicious and raucous. I, who was admittedly the brat in the family, claimed that the sweet potatoes with white marshmallows like maggots floating on the top of an orange mix should be discontinued as it did not seem to have many “takers.” I jumped on the drumsticks and since I love to eat bones I was content. The wonderful salads and puddings were a rare treat and my very favorite hot apple pie made with cream cheese was served as one of the desserts along with a cherry pie which was literally swimmingly good. I declared each year that we should pass out cups to drink the pie as it was so liquid and a fork was useless. My humorless mother did not crack a smile.
I really miss those bygone dinners and most of all those who sat at the table. Recall brings tears to my eyes; with age, the awareness of the past forever gone is something I am coming to accept. Tonight my sister and her husband are taking the family out to a restaurant for a Thanksgiving buffet. I never cook and do not have an oven - a microwave does the trick in my home - so do not host dinners, but it will be fun (if I behave) but can NEVER replace the drama and deliciously uneasy tenderness of those early years.