My earliest Thanksgiving memories are from the time I was a toddler, when we lived in the Ft Green Housing Projects. I remember my mother getting my brother and I in the middle of the night, getting us dressed and fed (with some kind of nasty hot cereal for fortification against the weather) and walking over to the Myrtle Ave El to attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I knew that we would eventually end up at my Aunt Etta’s over the Queensbridge Housing Projects and hook up with my father for dinner. Thinking back on it, I have no doubt that this was all done out of sheer poverty. At that time my family had no TV, or car, hell we were living in the projects (Ft Greene) for chriss sake….and we were going to travel in the cold via public transportation, to an even worse project (Queensbridge) than the one we lived in (Ft Greene) for Thanksgiving dinner.
However as a small child at that time, I had no concept of the economic or societal implications of any of this. All I knew is that I was going to have a ton of fun on Thanksgiving. First of all, we were to see the parade, in person. I was thrilled to be in the crowd. I was thrilled to ride on the subway. I was thrilled to hear the marching bands, I was thrilled to see those enormous balloons of the cartoon characters. We stayed for the entire parade and when it ended, we got back on the subway train and headed over to the Queensbridge Housing Projects over to Aunt Etta’s .
Perhaps a few of you have seen me mention that the TV host Tiffany Cross formerly of MSNBC is the spitting image of my Aunt Etta (who at that time was probably in her early 40’s.) So that gives you an idea of wheat she looked like. However, what I didn’t mention was that Aunt Etta was probably the best cook in the family (I’m talking homemade biscuits from scratch here yall……lol.) Serious old school “we don’t waste any food in this house” menu (If we had carrots, then the greens from the carrot tops would also be part of the meal, if we had turnips, then the turnip greens were also on the menu.) Aunt Etta also had a TV set, which meant that we were going to watch the Detroit Lions…..lol. But it also meant that we were going to eat almost as soon as we got there at about 1:00 – 2:00pm.
She lived up on the fifth floor. Now is the part that if you aren’t from NYC, you may or may not understand. Sometimes when your hosts who lived in Queensbridge knew that they had a guest coming, they would arrange with one of their neighbors to send someone down to either the lobby of the building or to the street to provide an escort up to the apartment. This was done to ensure that no harm would come to those guests. Of course, when this escort service wasn’t available, a visitor might literally be taking their lives into their hands just to walk from the train station to the apartment of whomever they were visiting.
We never had a problem. We almost always walked to Aunt Etta’s building, without an escort. I think that was most likely due to my father’s reputation. I’m quite certain that none of those folks would want to have to deal with “A ½ crazy young Black cop, from Brooklyn who was already mad because he had to work on Thanksgiving but was coming over to Queensbridge later that day.” But there was one other obstacle to confront and major decision to be made upon entry to the building. You see, since my aunt lived up on the 5th floor, making a choice between taking the elevator or the stairs is not a trivial one. I’m all but certain, that my mother as a young woman most likely with both hands full, plus two young toddlers in tow (my brother and I) would not want to walk up 5 flights of stairs. But in reality, that elevator in my aunt’s building was “out of service” 50% of the time, but even if it was working you would be running the risk of getting stuck in there. And if you have never been stuck in a NYC Housing Projects elevator, you don’t want to be. They are tiny, with extremely poor air quality (They are usually right next to the incinerators) and if they get stuck the only way out is via a small escape hatch in the ceiling of the elevator, that you need a screwdriver to open.
Nevertheless we would figure it all out and arrive at my Aunt’s apartment safe & sound. We would have a glorious dinner, my father would arrive around 6pm and we would have a second dinner (with him of course….lol.) We usually stayed till about 9pm and then end up back on the subway (& the Myrtle Ave El coming from the other direction of course) back home to Fort Greene.
(& that’s what is inside my head on Thanksgiving)