Thanksgiving is a good time. We dress up all nice and spend time with our loved ones and we shove our faces until we can’t breathe and promise to begin our diets tomorrow. It’s a chance to reflect on all the good things we have and how far we’ve come and we begin to prepare for the end-of-year festivities. For an evening, we do our best to tuck away the things that hurt and plague us for the sake of gratitude.

I miss the Thanksgivings during which 100 of us crammed into my grandmother’s apartment on Fales Street and ate and danced and laughed and watched the football games on mute while salsa blared through the speakers. Our Thanksgiving dinner was never traditional: pernil burnt nearly to a crisp, arroz con coco, empanadas, buñuelos and natilla, lasagna (god bless my aunt Olga), you name it. My mother always brought a salad or chips ‘cause she wasn’t trying to cook. There were older cousins, the teenaged cousins, and the punky brewster little cousins. Us little cousins would sneak alcohol and we would…I actually can’t remember anything else we did, we just loved our grandfather’s Carlo Rossi wine and uncle’s Budweiser. Our aunts and uncles wore their finest clothes, but there wasn’t a single soul better dressed than our grandfather. I swear I remember people hanging out the windows like in the movies, but I definitely made that up. In my mind, those days were larger-than-life. Christmas was even better.

I miss my grandmother the most. Anyone who didn’t have a place to spend their Thanksgiving could spend it there (Don Ramon comes to mind, may he rest in peace). She’d sit in her favorite seat and laugh or eat, rose-colored cheeks, taking total control of the remote when she wanted. Or sometimes she’d just sit and watch, silent in her understated elegance. She’d quietly cry when certain songs came on (“Nadie Es Eterno” comes to mind). Her bedroom was sacred and only meant to store the coats. If we were in there, we had to be on our best behavior. I loved sneaking my nose into her powder and inhaling deep. So deeply, in fact, I can still smell it. No matter who brought what, the best dish was always the Kit-Kat/Kool-Aid combo.

While I am melancholy, not all is lost. I’ll certainly enjoy tomorrow with my cousins, believe me. It’ll just be three cousins instead of fifty. We grow and people pass on and times change and holidays are celebrated differently, and I have to accept that. It’s not a void in my heart; it’s love for the things that were.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, reader. Eat and be merry. Pick up a bottle of Carlo Rossi. Don’t be too shy to hug and love those around you. Truly give thanks for all you have and all you’ve accomplished. And I hope the memories you make are just as brilliant and unforgettable as mine.