A Feast to Remember
They had been in this country a mere two months, and here they were, seeing first-hand how America was the land of plenty.
Those two months, they must have been so overwhelming. A family of nine – my father’s parents, siblings and their spouses and children – who had been through so much, now acclimating themselves to a life and a place far removed from what they’d known.
Two years prior to their arrival in the United States, they’d fled Cuba – we all know the story here, and my family was no different, with my uncle spending years at a forced labor camp, and my grandmother’s home being repeatedly raided. There’d been a break – two years in Costa Rica while my parents did what they had to do to get them all to Miami.
And now – it was Thanksgiving 1982, and the entire clan – cousins as much as four times removed – had gathered at my house for a grand, grand celebration. And this celebration, with so many cousins, so much to do, with the notion of “freedom” real and fresh (though lost on my 5-year-old self, to be sure), this is one we still talk about, one we all remember fondly and keep saying we’ll do again, one day…
It was a beautiful celebration. We must have been somewhere around 60 people, all of us gathered in my front yard, which was large and could accommodate us all. My grandfather’s Alzheimer’s was already advanced enough that he did not recognize anyone, yet I remember him present, silent, his eyes staring out into the nothingness, or maybe inwards towards his memories. At that time, the only word he could say was my grandmother’s name.
That Thanksgiving was the first time my newly arrived relatives had seen most of these relatives in many years, and the first time they met their relatives’ children. I wonder now at what those conversations must have been, how much reminiscing, how much sadness, how much hope. We children played and played and played – there is Beta video footage of us running around, of us putting on a mock fashion show, of the girls showing off their piano skills. There are pictures of us all posed up the stairway, trying and failing, to capture everyone present.
And there was, of course, a feast of epic porportions: turkey and pork and white rice and black beans and Cuban bread and yuca and all kinds of sweets. Like most Cubans in exile, Thanksgiving was made up of comfort dishes, with few to none of their American counterparts. It was a feast of plenty, and in hindsight, what must all that food have been like to my family, who had known such hunger?
Our Thanksgivings have been – since that one in 1982 – fairly big affairs, with various combinations of relatives coming together to celebrate. Many of those at that celebration – my grandparents included – have passed away, and a new generation of little ones now run around, playing their games and bonding with their primos.
And the food? It is now a representation of life after so many decades in exile. It is much more Americanized, with sweet potato and cranberry sauce and veggies. And yet, the white rice, black beans and yuca remain, the dishes of our native and adopted lands resting side by side on the table.
Tere writes about her life — all of it — on the popular site, A Mom, A Blog, and the Life In-Between. She lives in Miami.