It was the last days of the Cold War, but to a poor, 18 month-old baby in the city — whose doctors said would never walk or feed himself properly the first years of his life — just finding a clean change of pants felt like the real battlefield.
Times were tough in the ’90s.
Our family couldn’t afford a TV, but my brothers, sisters and I always rushed downstairs to listen to the Macy’s Day parade on the radio, refusing to budge until we heard Santa wave at the end.
Growing up impoverished, our family always had to improvise around the holidays. It was a way for us to develop stage presence and hone our comic timing.
After improv practice, all my cousins and I would run out into the fresh, powdery snow, making a snowman using a carrot, pieces of the coal from the basement and a corncob pipe we found hidden in my brother’s sock drawer.
But nothing matched the excitement of Grandpa’s visit on Thanksgiving Day.
I ran and leapt into his arms, he laughed and threw me high into the air — I felt like an astronaut high up in outer space, which, as the medics later explained, was likely the result of my soft, baby head hitting the hard, low ceiling.
The beautiful thing is, now I’m grown and Grandpa’s a frail 90-year old man who is as needy as a child, I’m the one throwing him up in the air.
When it came time to set the table that night, our grandmother insisted we leave an empty plate setting at the table.
I didn’t understand as a child, and I found my father and asked why she wanted this. He just patted my head, knelt down and explained Grandma wasn’t well anymore and to get Mom quickly.
I never saw her again after that, but the pizza that night was delicious.
Now go forth and make your own special holiday memories this Thursday. But whatever you do, if you must write about them, stop making them up.
As I close, I can still smell my dad’s cooking. I really need to get my own place.