The Thanksgiving Miracle
I remember a Thanksgiving when I was about 7 or 8 years-old that almost didn’t happen. I recalled the general outline of the event and my mother helped fill in the details. I have published the story several times during previous Thanksgiving seasons, updating it each time. Mom passed away earlier this month. In honor of my mom, Genoveva Colberg, this is our story:
We lived in a New York City public housing project in El Barrio, my two brothers, sister and me. My youngest sister had not yet been born. Papi or Papy, as he spelled it, was gone, alive but not a presence. My parents had split but not yet divorced. When Papy left, his wallet did, too. We went from working poor to just plain poor.
When Papy was around we used to have house pachangas or parties all the time. Plenty of arroz con pollo, lechón, and Schaeffer and Rheingold beers, favorite brands of that long-ago era when Puerto Ricans were still pouring into New York City in large numbers. There were loads of fulanitos and fulanitas from Puerto Rico, often from the same home town, who had known each other since childhood.
In today’s pyscho-social parlance, Puerto Ricans self-segregated, so folks from Cabo Rojo, where both my parents were born, hung out with other caborojeños. They even formed clubs for their hometown folks. My dad was a member of the Club Caborojeño, a founding member, I think. When Mommy and Papy were together, Mommy’s delectable dishes kept folks coming to our three-bedroom apartment for more. But when Papy departed, the fulanos did, too.
Mommy was pretty much sola with four kids who were like steps on a ladder, one just slightly taller and older than the other. At the time, she was a high school dropout who had worked only sporadically after we were born.
But she read. Newspapers were a staple in my home. And she was resourceful, trekking 10 to 15 blocks to save pennies on food. From Finast on 116th Street to Key Food on 110th Street to E&B Supermarket on 105th Street. There were other markets, most famously La Marqueta, because El Barrio was not the food desert it would later become.
Thanksgiving was coming, but there was no trip to the supermercado. There was no money. No había chavos. No turkey. I remember Mommy standing quietly by a window, eyes wet with tears. Her slender silhouette had grown slimmer. She had “allergies,” Mommy explained.
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 bird. Mommy was ecstatic.
She immediately went to work on the pavo, removing the giblets, washing it down, punching it left and right, soaking it in a brine. I no longer remember the side dishes, but surely there was rice and beans. Because there’s always rice and beans in a boricua house. For sure.
When we sat down to our family dinner on Thanksgiving Day, we gave bountiful thanks to the miracle turkey from El Bronx.
˜˜María Padilla, Editor