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Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
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Thanksgiving in Hialeah

Submitted by on November 17, 2009 – 10:44 am7 Comments

Chantel AcevedoBy Chantel Acevedo

A Snapshot of Thanksgiving in Hialeah, Florida circa 1985.

It’s only noon, but already, behind the squat, ranch homes, there rise columns of white smoke. The streets have quieted and emptied. Cars are parked on lawns, crammed into driveways, and along the street.

We arrive at my aunt’s house, arms heavy with casseroles brimming with yuca, ollas filled with rice, bundles of turrones, and all of it topped with long loaves of soft Cuban bread in white paper bags balanced precariously on top.

One of my older teenage cousins, Mario, who we call Mayito, opens the door. He’s got one of his skinny ties on, knotted loosely around his neck. I can hear Duran Duran blasting from his room, competing with my aunt’s old record player in the living room from which Sonora Matancera is playing. Good old Celia’s voice pounds through the speakers, contributing to the general noise of the place.

Mayito kisses the top of my head then takes the pots and bread from my grandmother’s arms.

“M’ijo,” she says to him, taking in his lanky frame, “mira que estas grande.”

My grandfather, who is only 5’5’’, chimes in predictably, “Aqui nadie es mas grande que yo.” Nobody is supposed to be bigger than he is. We laugh, like we always do.

In the kitchen, the women gather, chattering away about “who said what to whom and what was she wearing while she did it.” They wear aprons and bump each other out of the way with their hips. They cook platanitos in sizzling oil, and fill a big, plastic punch bowl with ambrosia. I sneak a marshmallow or two out the ambrosia.

The men are seated at the dining room table—a glass topped behemoth with wrought iron legs—playing domino. My younger cousins are seated underneath it, running their fingers along the inside of the glass, trying to catch the tiles. I join them there. One of the men (a third or fourth cousin? I don’t remember) is a known cheat, and he pays us kids a quarter for every ficha we can see landing in the other players’ hands.

The living room hosts the viejitos, who sit watching Telemundo and sipping crema de vie. The wood paneled wall behind them is a veritable museum of kid’s portraits—kids posed on wicker chairs, riding plastic horses, sitting in Easter finery in front of the chapel at St. John the Apostle in East Hialeah.

When it’s time for dinner, we sit outside on rented tables. The teenage cousins (Mayito, Fernando, who we call Ferny, Ivette, who we call Vivi, Orlando, who we call Landy) all of them, sit at the end of the table and talk in whispers. The viejitos are held by the elbow and walked to the patio, then, helped to sit. There’s a prayer of Thanksgiving, thanking God and la Virgencita for health, for togetherness, for the Abuelos who got out of Cuba this year, for the cousins still left behind. We kids are stuck in among the adult women, who feed us bits of lechón, torn to shreds for our small mouths, and insist we open, chew, swallow, threatening us when we become distracted.

After dinner, the designated cafecito maker—my aunt Aris, who we call Titi Aris—produces twenty tiny cups of frothing espresso. Even the kids get a cup, and we sip the sugary stuff, feeling it burn on the way down.

When we leave, it takes half an hour to go. Our cheeks are pressed again and again by kisses. We’re buzzing from the joy of it all—the food, the anticipation for Santi Clo’s appearance in a few weeks, the cafecitos.

Later, much later, our mothers will wonder why we can’t fall asleep.

When I remember those holidays, which gleam like a Polaroid in my memory, I am restless still, unable to sleep, wishing I knew how to bring them back. Even so, that consuming, familial love, which has taken new shapes in the years since I was a kid, is essentially unchanged. If there’s one thing I’m perennially grateful for, each day, each Thanksgiving, is for them, mi familia, skinny ties, domino-cheaters, ambrosia makers, and all.

May all you Tiki-Tikeros out there, however you celebrate it, have a picture perfect Thanksgiving.

Chantel Acevedo’s first novel, Love and Ghost Letters, won the Latino International Book Award and was a finalist for the Connecticut Book of the Year. She was the recipient of two Fulbright awards for education, and is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Auburn University, where she teaches Creative Writing, and is learning to tailgate like a native.

Editor’s note: To submit your own holiday remembrance, read this recent Tiki Tiki post.

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