Late Novembers in New York City are usually the same. The skies are overcast and gloomy. Dank breezes blow off the Hudson, challenging the remaining leaves to cling to the branches of near-empty trees.
Each Thanksgiving when I was a child, our family made a pilgrimage to La Salle Street in upper Manhattan, where my Aunt Sarah and Uncle Dave kept an apartment. My parents and grandparents, and my brothers and sister (when she was in town), joined hordes of cousins for the annual feast. There was a comforting regularity to those Thanksgivings, which for Jewish families like ours was the main gathering for that time of year. As we filed down the hallway towards the apartment, we inhaled a chaotic mix of aromas from neighbors' dwellings.
The apartment would be stuffed with relatives of all ages, leaving little room to breathe. My twin brother and I, along with our cousins, would maneuver beneath the adults who barely noticed our running around. My older brother would play scrabble with other teenagers and young adults. People must have talked about Nixon and the war, but I wouldn't have paid attention back then.
Aunt Sarah would roast a mammoth turkey, which the gathering dutifully feted and admired. Slices of steaming meat would be drowned in tan gravy, aided by a platoon of stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, chopped liver, and onion rolls. I don't remember if the turkey was good—I guess that would make it forgettable—but the meal comforted us, year after year.
One Thanksgiving, when I was about nine, my gaze fell upon a pair of salt and pepper shakers sitting on a nearby table. They were tiny, utilitarian, and ceramic. For whatever reason, I fell in love with them, and placed them in my pocket for company as I turned my attention to an assortment of pies. It wasn't out of character for me to fall in love with a pair of salt and pepper shakers. I loved all kinds of sets: a collection of baseball comic books, the Hardy Boys mystery series, a family of potted citrus trees. Matching salt and pepper shakers fit the bill.
That Thanksgiving, like all Thanksgivings, ended with warm stomachs and warmer embraces, which shielded us against the chill as we returned to the car and the ride back to Queens. That night as I emptied my pockets, I discovered to my dismay that I'd accidentally kidnapped the salt and pepper shakers. I was swept up in waves of guilt: though I loved the salt and pepper shakers, I loved Aunt Sarah and Uncle Dave much more.
It isn't easy for any of us, let alone a child, to admit to wrongdoing, but I soon called my aunt and came clean. She assured me she could survive for a while without the salt and pepper shakers. I could take care of them, at least temporarily, but would have to return them next year when we came back for another Thanksgiving.
In gratitude for the days we spend with the ones we love. Happy Thanksgiving everyone,