All the images of pioneer Thanksgivings that I remember have a lot of orange in them – leaves on the ground, pumpkins, squash, bread, golden-brown roasted turkeys, and roaring fires. That’s how I am conditioned to believe Thanksgiving should appear and that’s how it is in Brooklyn. Sometimes there’s snow on the ground already. Like this year.
No one I ever met in New York went to the Macy’s parade. That was for children and tourists. Ironically, like I had done all my life, I watched it on TV. The huge tree at Rockefeller Center would light up on Thanksgiving as well, but I never saw that event either. In fact, not once did I ever venture into Manhattan on Thanksgiving Day.
The people I knew who lived in Manhattan ate out for most of their meals or had meals delivered. For Thanksgiving, they went to family or friends in Long Island or elsewhere as most restaurants were closed. One friend had a tradition of ordering Chinese food delivered. In Brooklyn, however, where a lot people lived in single family houses, cooking was in order.
You had to get your shopping done early in my neighborhood because the grocery stores were tiny like you might expect in some small country town in Texas, maybe 2000 or 3000 square feet. The aisles were wide enough for only one cart – people backed their carts up all the time – so most people used the hand-held baskets. At holiday time, these stores carried a limited number of turkeys in a freezer (about twice the size of a top-loading home freezer) and ran out of birds by Tuesday.
There was one supermarket in downtown Brooklyn that might rival a Texas HEB or Safeway in size, but the lines were horrendous. There was also a huge Trader Joe’s in downtown Brooklyn where the checkout lines reached the back of the store during busy times. [The lines at Trader Joe’s at Union Square in Manhattan reached around three walls of the store pretty much all the time – what fun.]
The holidays didn’t perk up the staff very much in my neighborhood stores. I could still get checked out without eye contact, let alone a word of greeting. Ironically, the checkout clerks had “tip jars.” I gave one of them a tip once – “if you smile, people will be more inclined to put money in that container.” She didn’t smile at me. She took it as an insult apparently, not seeming remotely to understand the concept of customer service nor wanting to.
I had put most of my stuff in storage in Austin when I left for Brooklyn, but I had brought my china, crystal, flatware, and linen tablecloths. I cooked a full turkey dinner and my son joined me. We sat in the bay window of the kitchen, warmed by the oven and a radiator, hearing the train go by every once in a while, talking about what the neighborhood might have been like when the Navy Yard was still open and before the manufacturing was sent to the Far East.
If we were in Austin, we'd probably had gone to a movie after dinner, but my son warned me that audiences in New York were not quiet - something I learned by personal experience later on. Brooklynites acted like movie theaters were an extension of their own living rooms and kept up ongoing conversations about the movie.
So, after a little rest from stuffing ourselves, we took a walk in Prospect Park and fed the swans in the lake.