The Miracle Turkey
By Maria Padilla
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s not too commercial. It’s about family and food, good company and good times. But I remember one Thanksgiving when I was 7-years-old that almost didn’t happen:
We lived in a New York City project, my two brothers, sister and I, and Mami, por supuesto. Papi was gone. My parents had split but not yet divorced. When Papi left, his wallet did too. We went from working poor to just plain poor.
When Papi was around we used to have these house pachangas all the time. Plenty of rice and beans, lechón, and Schaeffer and Rheingold beers. Lots of fulanitos and fulanitas from back home in Puerto Rico who had known each other since they were kids. Mami’s delicious dishes kept folks coming back for more. Why, my dad has his very own club caborojeño going. But when Papi left, the fulanos did too.
Mami was pretty much sola with four kids who were like steps on a ladder, one just slightly bigger and taller than the other. She was a smart high school dropout who had worked only sporadically after we were born. Thanksgiving was coming, but there was no turkey. I remember Mami standing quietly by a window, eyes wet with tears. She had “allergies,” Mami explained. Her slender silhouette had grown slimmer.
Would there be Thanksgiving? Would we eat pavo? How would she explain it to us kids? Dios mío, ayúdame, she pleaded in silence. She told no one of our predicament, held it all inside. It was now the day before Thanksgiving, and still no turkey.
The bright, crisp fall day grew dark. Suddenly, a phone call. Carmen, an old friend from El Bronx, had an extra turkey from a church giveaway. Did she want it? A 40-minute subway ride later, Carmen’s brother-in-law arrived with a 15-pound frozen turkey. Mami immediately went to work on the bird, soaking it in a brine. That was the year we gave thanks to the famous miracle turkey from El Bronx.
Maria Padilla, pictured above as a toddler, is the creator and founder of Orlando Latino and a former long-time newspaper reporter and editor.