It’s Thanksgiving Day, circa 1973 —a little after noon.
I’m 14 years old. Our home in Southern California’ s burgeoning San Fernando Valley is bustling with action.
By now, my mother has finished preparing the stuffing. The small saucepan with the repulsive turkey neck, liver and giblets and globs of fat is simmering on the stove.
The 20-plus pound “bird” has been defrosted, slathered with mayonnaise and is safely ensconced in the black and mottled gray roaster.
It’s a happy day. I and my seven siblings are scattered throughout our sprawling, ramshackle rambler. Football games are on. Strains of “Rosalita” by Bruce can be heard in the distance. Some of my brothers are out back shooting hoops. Everyone is getting ready to get their gobble on.
Our dad, the “Big O,” is in great spirits. He’d been a bartender in NYC way back in the 1940s, and knows his stuff. And now he is prepping for the revelry ahead.
Whiskey sours are on the T-Day happy hour agenda, and fresh lemon juice is a key ingredient. Luckily, we have three prodigious trees that collectively produce more lemons than we can ever consume.
“Lefty, can ya’ pick me some lemons?”
“Lefty “ is my dad’s nickname for me. I am the only south-pawed inhabitant of 4571 Encino Avenue, and he’s called me that for as long as I can remember.
I spring into action, hurry out back and gather a dozen or so. They feel warm in my hands from the afternoon sun.
I scurry inside with the prized citrus sensations in tow. “Here ya’ go, Dad!” I say, proudly.
He beams back, pleased with my work. I am at this moment supremely happy.
The “Big O” then proceeds to prepare the first batch of whiskey sours. I watch, transfixed. The blender turns on, the concoction whirls loudly away, and then silence. I watch as he lifts the lid, dips a spoon in and tastes. After a few more sprinkle of sugar and squeezes of lemon, he’s satisfied.
He pours the first serving into a tumbler, and takes a sip and smiles.
“Dad, can I try it? I ask. “It looks so good!”
He takes a puff off his Raleigh and ponders my request. “Lefty, it’s pretty strong.”
“I’ll just have a little bit, Dad!” I promise.
He pours a glassful and hands it over. I take a small sip — and my tasebuds do a happy dance. It’s delicious; like fresh lemonade with lots of sugar and ice and but something more. I take another sip. “Careful, Lefty!” my day says. I laugh and watch as he putters around the kitchen and keeps an eye on the score of the football game. After a bit, I start to feel all warm and bit fuzzy.
“Uhhh, Dad. I feel a little weird. I’m gonna go lie down for a little while.” I retreat to my room, head for my bed and it’s lights out.
I awake around 8 p.m. , groggy and confused. I wander out to the kitchen. A picked-over turkey carcass sits forlornly on the kitchen counter, adjacent to a pan of congealed turkey gravy. I lift the lid on a nearby pan, and stare at the lump of cold mashed potatoes.
I grab a plate, assemble my meal — and fill my glass with water, and then fill it again. I feel a bit chagrined, but quickly recover. There’s my plate to attend to, and I even spy a few surviving pieces of pumpkin pie!
It’s Thanksgiving Day 2013 — an unconventional year for me. No gathering of the three sisters and family. No traditional turkey dinner.
The out-to-dinner plans I had for today fell through. My college girl is spending time with her new boyfriend’s family, meeting them all for the first time.
Parents die. Families scatter. Children leave home. Traditions change. And life goes on.
Later today, “Lefty” will be picking some lemons, counting her blessings and savoring so very many memories of Thanksgivings gone by.
Cheer to you, “Nana” and “Big O”!