By: Gabriela Yareliz
No two Thanksgivings were the same for me, growing up. Maybe it was all the moving around. I don’t know. We had some great ones in Florida, maybe three years in a row we had Thanksgiving at some church friends’ house. They would invite more or less the same group. We ate well, had fun outside playing all kinds of games, including Red Rover. It was nice. There is something to be said about a get-together you can count on. That said, there are two Thanksgivings that stand out to me. They were out-of-the-ordinary but magical.
The first was a cold and frosty November in Michigan. My great grandmother had just passed. My great aunt used to take care of her, and I remember my grandmother flew in from Puerto Rico for her mother’s last days in early November. She stuck around, and I just remember that old Michigan house was steamy. The kitchen and dining room were busy– everyone making their best dish. I remember the snow falling, and me glancing out the window through the condensation and water dripping on the interior of the windows. That year, I learned what a pumpkin roll was. My grandmother would make these incredible rolls (you can make them in different flavors), and it had a cream inside of the roll that wasn’t too sweet. It was perfection. My favorite rice with vienna sausages was in the gray aluminum pot, and turkey galore (this was before I was plant-based). My favorite dish, at this tender age of eight, was stuffing and turkey. My twin brothers were babies. I would keep a watchful eye on them and try to help in the dining room. I felt very grown up that winter. When my mom was helping the family coordinate all the funeral details, I had done my best to be a good babysitter to my twin brothers who were little dweebs. My dad was away training for the Air Force. It was a hard season. I had never seen my mother that distraught. My great grandmother raised her, so she essentially lost her mother. And while there was a heaviness in the air that winter after such a big loss of the matriarch of the family, there was also a unity that was palpable. It was a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving in snowy Michigan that I will never forget.
The second unforgettable Thanksgiving was one where we were already in Florida (after my parents separated). We traveled to Charleston, SC, one of my former hometowns, to visit our Charleston pastor and his family, who were dear family friends. When you move around as much as I do, one often doesn’t get the opportunity to go back to an old familiar home. Going back to Charleston and hanging out with old friends after a wild and demoralizing year prior, it was what the soul needed. I remember we got junk food and rented Mean Girls and Elf (I fell asleep when Elf was on at like midnight– but I do remember Mean Girls). (Don’t worry, I finally watched Elf for the first time (wide awake) at the age of 28– ha!) We played games, saw lights, sang at the church, slept on the floor in front of the TV like a giant sleepover… it was memorable. I have this distinct memory of getting ready for church. The Jessica Simpson Christmas album was playing in the background. I was stuffing my little baguette purse with all the unnecessary necessaries. I felt grown up. A different kind of grown up. I had just survived my hardest year. I looked at myself in the mirror with my purse on my shoulder and beamed at myself. I was learning to carry myself differently. It was a spontaneous and incredible weekend with friends who were family in a time when we really needed it.
I’ve come to discover that some of our best holidays are the ones where things are unplanned, and it’s simply about being united with those who make you feel supported and blessed. Sometimes, it’s family, and sometimes, it’s friends. No matter how or with whom you are celebrating, I hope you have your own moment in the mirror. Be proud of all you have come through and all you have bounced back from. It’s those intense years of resilience that give us the most for which to be grateful. Happy Thanksgiving, friends. Sending you love and joy. xx