I don’t remember how we spent our first Thanksgiving in New York, but I’m pretty sure our family gathered at the home of my great-aunt Mercedes (“Ched”) and great-uncle Gerhard. That first Thanksgiving surely must have involved a turkey, though I cannot be sure. I know that later holiday meals were less traditional, but no less delicious. I don’t think Ched cared much for turkey.
We’d lived in the United States before. When we lived in California when I was a toddler, I don’t know if anybody in my family thought we were there to stay. We moved to Okinawa after California, my dad putting in four final years in the US Navy before emigrating to New York in the spring of 1984.
We spent those first few months living in my grandparents’ one-room apartment in Elmhurst. All five of us in that tiny apartment where my grandparents slept in twin beds, and the elevator took forever. They had decided to move to New York, where my great-aunt had been living since the 1960’s, after living in the Philippines their whole lives. I never found out why my grandmother and grandfather decided to move to New York after establishing what I thought was a comfortable life in Quezon City. I wonder if I’ll decide to move to a foreign country in my fifties. I kinda hope I do.
We didn’t move into our own apartment (read: not quite finished basement with a half-bathroom in Brooklyn) until that winter, but on Thanksgiving we were lucky to be in a house, even if it was somebody else’s house, and not on top of each other. When it came time to eat, Mom sat at the kids’ table in the kitchen. I asked her if she minded being seated there and she told me she it was okay as she never much cared for the conversation at the grown-up table. Frankly, neither did I, as the topics and the opinions rarely, if ever, changed. The Catholic Church! Republican politics! Ungrateful children! Rude people on the subway! Things were better back in the Philippines! But we were all there, together, in New York, and we were there to stay.
Eventually, the grandparents returned when their health began to fail, and my uncle the doctor agreed to look after them. Actually, I’m not even sure he agreed, it was more like, they’re moving back and it’s just what he had to do. My grandfather ended up dying not long after their return. My grandmother’s been back to the States since his death, once to stay with my parents, and then with my aunt who lives in Skokie, but I suspect her visit wasn’t anything like moving to New York with my grandfather, living in a tiny apartment with my grandfather in a cold building in Queens, and wondering what America would bring.