Thanksgiving Day was much pondered in my home growing up. It was one of the truly few “American” things we did. Just about every other aspect of our life was quintessencially Spanish. What we ate, how we dressed and how we “addressed” others was always part of some ritual or other, or at a minimum appeared to have some otherworldy meaning. But Thanksgiving, now that was American.
Until I heard the audiotape…
My abuelo José was my father´s father. He was my American grandfather. He lived in NY and we would see him every Sunday until he moved to Hialeah and passed away. He worked in Macy´s most of his life. You don´t get much more American than that. Ofcourse ¨Grandpa¨ was born and raised in Puerto Rico. (We referred to him as ¨el abuelo José¨ but we CALLED him Grandpa.) He was larger than life, and towered over my father. He never failed to have a gift for us each week – ranging from coloring books to electric organs – and always had something cooking. He loved to cook and his specialties were Roast Beef (American) and Arroz con Gandules (American? Yes, American). My mother, who was born and raised in Spain, learned a lot from him, but one of his biggest gifts to her was to teach her how to cook a Thanksgiving meal. And so, Thanksgiving was the holiday we not only received from the early settlers. In my household, it was also the American holiday we received from my Grandpa.
One day, while in college, I took advantage of my parents’ absence and decided to look through my father’s old memorabilia. There I found a cassette tape. It looked old, circa 1970-something. I recalled that as children my sister and I would grab our red plastic Panasonic tape recorder and randomly tape conversations around us and so I was curious to hear what was on the cassette. As I listed to the voices I heard my father’s and two very high pitched voices, impossibly high pitched voices, which I surmised belonged to my sister and I. And then I heard a third voice. It was a male voice, and somewhat nasal. What struck me is that this other man in the room spoke with a very strong accent. It was a Puerto Rican accent and it was MY GRANDPA! “But Grandpa was American,” I thought to myself. “How can this be?” And when the confusion subsided I realized that as a child I did not recognize an accent for what it was. In my grade school mind Grandpa spoke perfect English and he epitomized America for me.
Today, a lot older and somewhat the wiser, I realize my Grandpa, my Abuelo José was a real American – geographically, mentally and emotionally. This Thanksgiving, I will remember my 6 foot tall, blond haired, blue eyed American Grandpa and I will thank him for passing down his recipe for making turkey and stuffing, full of manzanilla olives and alcaparras.