by Jackie DeLaCruz
It was the first time I had been inside an apartment below 125th street. Of course I was nervous. Her dad was like one of the opera singers for the Met. I mean. Come on! This was big for me. This was huge. I wanted to make an impression. I didn’t have a lot of fancy clothes but I wore my best: A mauve skirt with a pink silk blouse that had a tie for a bow.
The invitation came as quite a surprise. I mean, I knew Lisa from school. We were in the same homeroom and all. She was super smart and got an “A” in all her classes. I was fascinated by her. She really didn’t look like much but I definitely wanted her life. I wanted to be close to what she was and what she had. So of course I said yes to the invitation.
I wanted to make sure that I knew exactly where they lived and what train I had to take to get there. It was an address on Central Park West…near the Museum of Natural History. I had gone by those apartment buildings a million times on the crosstown bus and I always dreamed of the people inside and what they did and who they were.
I found the building and was greeted by a doorman. I gave him my name. Lisa’s name. He called upstairs and then let me know what floor her apartment was on. He even walked me to the elevator. Pushed the right button for me. Damn. These people even had a person to push elevator buttons for them.
When I reached the 18th floor the elevator doors opened up to a hallway that looked more expensive than anything I’d ever seen. I think I just stood there in awe and had to jump out when the doors started to close. I stepped forward and looked left and then right. The doorman said it was the second door on the right. I took a deep breath and walked. I came to her door and rang the doorbell. I was expecting either Lisa or one of her parents but it was a brown lady in a maid’s uniform that answered. Again, I stood there gawking until she asked me to come in.
The first thing that hit me was an interesting odor. I had expected the smell of food After all, this was a Thanksgiving dinner I had been invited to but it wasn’t quite the usual smell for me. It didn’t quite smell like a full dinner. It smelled like something was missing. Of course I kept my big mouth shut and stepped into the living room. Lisa came running towards me and gave me a big old hug. She was near Dominican in her welcoming enthusiasm. She said she was so glad that I could make it and asked me to join the family in the dining room.
I was introduced to Lisa’s mother and father, two brothers, and her grandparents. I wasn’t paying attention to them. The room was so spectacular. The walls were covered with the most delicious looking wallpaper. It seemed to be made out of cloth. There were bunches of deep, purple grapes and lovely green leaves. Were they painted on? It all had an amazing sense of being three-dimensional. I looked to the massive dinner table and on it was the most exquisite tablecloth. It looked so rich and creamy.
After I had sat down, I unconsciously ran my fingers over the cloth. I was lost in the luxury of the linen. Lisa’s mother caught my eye and I quickly pulled my hand back. I thought she was going to yell at me. Instead she told me that the tablecloth was handmade by her great-grandmother and was used for the Thanksgiving dinner every year. Wow. I told her it was beautiful.
The whole family was sitting around the table. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be able to sit here with these people. Back at my aunt’s apartment, there would’ve been an argument or fight already breaking out. Here these people just seemed so calm. So lucky. Everything was amazing. Finally the lady in the maid’s uniform started to bring out the food. Wow. Someone to bring them their food. I almost giggled with delight. Look at me now. Eating Thanksgiving dinner with the fancy people. But my mood immediately started to shift when they brought out the turkey.
I say turkey because that’s what it generally looked like. It was so big and round and…well…beige. It looked sickly. Oh my god I thought: They hadn’t cooked the turkey all the way. How embarrassing. But I wasn’t going to complain. I was with The People. The turkey was set down before the dad. He started to carve it. Wait. What? No grace? Nope. No grace. He just started slicing away and putting the meat on plates. When my plate came to me, I just stared down at it. It was so white. Beige on the outside. Plain white on the inside.
I was used to the Dominican turkeys that either my mother or one of my aunties would make. All deeply brown and peppered with spices. When you sliced it, juices would run out. What I was staring at was bone dry. I tried to put on my best face but you know how I am about food: It’s got to be dee-lish-ious. I don’t think this was made for human consumption. But I went ahead and cut off a piece to eat. Luckily, Lisa yelled out “No wait. Don’t just eat it like that.” Whew. I knew someone would speak up eventually. Thank goodness they were going to put the turkey back in the oven to cook fully but that’s not what happened.
What happened was that Lisa’s mom passed Lisa a bowl of some kind and then Lisa passed it to me. I took the bowl-thing and stared at it. In it was this brown, murky, clumpy looking liquid. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was. Brown Jell-O? Brown lard? Lisa told me that it was the gravy. The dumb look on my face must’ve prompted her to add “You pour it over the turkey. You know. For flavor” I just nodded and poured. I took my first bite and yikes. This food had no flavor. Maybe some salt. Maybe a little bit of black pepper. I thought to myself, if these folks had my mother’s turkey, they would plotz.
The rest of the dinner went about the same. There was another colored Jell-O-type food called cranberry sauce that was passed around. That was okay I guess but there was no excuse for those soggy long sticks called asparagus. It was like eating grass. And don’t get me started on the oyster stuffing. That was both dry and phlegmy.
At the end of the night I said my thank yous. Again, Lisa gave me a hug and said she was so happy that I came to eat Thanksgiving dinner with her family. She genuinely seemed pleased. She walked me downstairs and said goodnight at the entrance of her building. Before I turned to leave, she said “That was so much fun. Thank you for coming. Maybe you can come for Easter dinner?” I smiled and said yeah maybe but inside I was like “Ewww…no”