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Adventure Funny People of Color

Cheerfully standing on his balcony, ready to pulverize freshly roasted Ugandan and Cameroonian coffee beans, Danny Valdez looked forward to Thanksgiving each year. However, this year’s turkey extravaganza would pose extraordinary challenges for our Saxchef. Playing jazz by night and making delicious food by day had granted Danny this title, making him the perfect man for the job. In exactly 48 hours, the entire family would travel to Georgia and celebrate Thanksgiving with their most adored member—Nana. Traveling, however, would not be the biggest issue.


I can’t believe I’m doing this. Danny chuckled, continuing to turn the mill, grinding his coffee, overlooking the lush greenery encircling his Kendale Lakes patio. The mild autumn sun beamed bright and beautiful. The weather was changing, from intensely humid to the gentler, more pleasant breeze of fall. Coffee was his most indispensable ally in this incredible feat about to take place. Rhonda, Danny’s wife, and coordinator decreed the following for this year’s mission, appropriately dubbed Operation Turkey-North.


“Let me get this straight: You want me to cook the entire Thanksgiving meal in Miami, package all the food, and then load it into separate cars, and drive to Savannah?”


This was ridiculous! Never in the history of Thanksgiving had such madness transpired. Rhonda had her reasons; it was her grandmother’s 100th birthday on Friday, and Nana had been in a car accident. Despite her age and terrible vision, she insisted it was the other driver. The family would travel to attend the centenarian’s anniversary celebration.


“So the turkey can go in this big container, the casseroles and mashed potatoes can go in these, and our different vegetables can go in this Tupperware. We can warm everything up in the oven, and it’ll taste better the next day, right?” speculated Rhonda.


“Don’t worry, my sister is going to be tailgating, and we can put some stuff in her car,” she continued.


“How many cars?” he diligently asked.


“Well, for now, two. But remember, we are also taking my parents and need space for their belongings,” she added to the list of occupants.


“Qué que?! (What what?!)” exclaimed Danny, as his Cuban nature came out.


Latinos, Cubans in particular, are notorious for exaggerated family gatherings. Last December 24th, the family bought an entire pig, slaughtered it, and then roasted it on a spit in the backyard. Their nochebuena, aka Christmas Eve, left frozen pork in the freezer for months. Then there was the time the family gathered and had three different turkeys on Thanksgiving. The point was this culture loved eating. They ate an overwhelming amount of food on every occasion, and this Thanksgiving would be no different. Thus a new tradition was born. They would travel with the turkey and trimmings to join their eldest family member, who had recently found love while turning 100 years old!


“So who do you think it is?” gossiped Rhonda with her sister Vanessa on the phone.


“I only know that Nana was doing her physical therapy after the accident, and he was part of the volunteers at the hospital, helping her walk every day. Eventually, they got to know each other and are now living together!” announced Vanessa joyfully, giving her sister the news.


“At her age?! I can’t believe Nana. Abuelo passed away two years ago, and here she is already with another man. At least she found somebody to speak Spanish within Georgia.” replied Rhonda.


“Nope,” replied Vanessa.


“What do you mean, no?” questioned Rhonda.


“He isn’t Latino. He doesn’t speak Spanish,” said Vanessa.


“Then where is he from?” asked Rhonda.


“He’s from… Georgia?” hesitated Vanessa, still in shock.


“Pero eso que cosa es? (But what is that all about?)” questioned Rhonda, just as perplexed as was her sister regarding her grandmother and this new boyfriend, that evidently, didn’t even speak Spanish.


Although their Nana did not speak English, she had owned a prosperous bodega or grocery store in Miami for years, alongside her husband, Humberto, who recently passed away. Since the funeral, Elena Valdez, aka Nana, moved to Georgia. She purchased a modern chic cabin home right outside Savannah, a sleepy Southern town dear to her heart. She and Humberto cherished many memorable getaways there, where Spanish moss hung overlooking historical buildings and remnants of the Civil War days.


Nana was the center of her two granddaughters, son, daughter, and most of all, her great-grandchildren, 9-year-old twin boys she couldn’t wait to smother with kisses on Thanksgiving. Rhonda and Vanessa couldn’t imagine a holiday without Nana. She had been instrumental in their passion for tradition. The lessons learned, their upbringing close together — now all formed part of their own families. Nana’s warmth, love, and caring for everyone truly impacted their lives. It was now time to be there for her.


The timer beeped, alerting Danny that his coffee was ready for plunging. His silvery, bright French press bubbled as he lowered his strainer to separate the grounds from the fresh-roasted coffee splendor. This elixir was essential today as he continued preparing for the meal of his lifetime. He would meticulously select the menu to appease everyone and survive the turbulent car ride to Savannah on Wednesday. This year would be extraordinary, preparing the turkey in quite an unorthodox manner: I’ll smoke the wings and drumsticks separately, glazing them with a sweet apple BBQ sauce, contemplated Danny, dissecting the main entrée. He would prepare the following menu to perfection within 48 hours:


-One Organic Turkey, separated and already in a brine


-Fresh cranberry & apple compote to further mask the flavor of the turkey


-Meatloaf (because as previously mentioned, this meal appealed to everyone, especially the father-in-law, who did not consume birds)


-Mashed potatoes, 15 pounds of potatoes, lay unpeeled and waiting


-Sweet potato casserole, for those members of the family looking for healthy carbs


-Turkey Bacon Collard Greens, combining our festive fall occasion with a taste of the South


-Glazed baby carrots, mainly for the children who won’t eat vegetables unless if covered in sugar


-Corn Casserole, because you know you can’t have just one casserole


-Freshly baked bread to break in memory of the pilgrims and Indians who began this mess in the first place


-Homemade apple pie, ‘cuz nothing says America like this tasty treat (along with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream)


-Homemade pumpkin loaf, just in case someone didn’t care for apples—like Rhonda


Although this might seem like a manageable amount of food to make in 48 hours—that wasn’t all prepared for the trip. Besides our turkey day feast, Rhonda had accounted for a few more days away, already designating Black Friday’s menu as Italian:


“So on Friday night, I thought you could make pizza and pasta. We can have antipasti and wine while waiting for the pizzas,” said Rhonda, dictating as usual.


She was like an architect, brilliantly thinking of placing a pool on the roof, without considering who’d get it up there.


“Ok, I’ll start on Sunday then. First, I’ll make the sauce and then prepare my dough, which we can freeze in the meantime,” replied Danny, obediently complying with her requests.


“Also, we have to plan for breakfast. I already bought milk, eggs, bacon, and orange juice for the trip. Just in case the stores in Georgia are full, or the weather keeps us from going shopping,” continued Rhonda, listing her purchases.


She had thought of everything, except how the heck all this food would make it 8-hours up the Florida coastline to Savannah.


Danny hadn’t slept, so the long car ride up to Georgia would be his bedtime. The well-seasoned Saxchef knew this family all too well and how to avoid catastrophes, which is why he undertook the immense responsibility of cooking the entire Thanksgiving dinner. Initially, he had planned to transfer his kitchen gear up to Georgia and cook the meal there. However, after careful consideration and not knowing what would be available, we decided cooking Thanksgiving dinner in Miami and transporting it to Savannah was the only way.


Danny loved watching kitchen disasters on television. Therefore, he would strive to circumvent any mishaps and serve the most acceptable meal within his budget. Watching every penny was especially crucial during this time of year. He witnessed his grandmother scrimp every penny, sacrificing to make the holidays perfect year after year. Grandmothers always represented a beacon of light for their families, offering hope in knowing they raised you with decent morals to pass on to later generations.


Regarding the Valdez family, Nana had imparted those values onto them. A sense of togetherness and a desire for unity prevailed despite changing times. Years from now, the future generations will hopefully look back and remember how hard family members worked to make Thanksgiving a success.


“I’ve got bad news.” interrupted Rhonda as Danny hastily organized all the containers for storage.


“What happened now? Don’t tell me. The plan changed—we’re now meeting Nana in Phoenix,” he remarked jokingly.


“No, but my sister is not following us to Savannah. She wants to take the kids to the zoo in Jacksonville before heading to Nana’s. We’re on our own.”


“Well, at least we’ll have more space if your parents go with her.”


“Nope. They have to ride with us. They’re already on the way.”


“So now, we have to take: the entire Thanksgiving dinner, Black Friday’s dinner, breakfast for four days, liquor, which I plan to consume heavily, and luggage for four people — all in a Hyundai sonata?!” said Danny.


“That’s the new plan. Make it happen,” said Rhonda as she walked away to do her hair and continue crossing out to-do things on her list.


The in-laws arrived minutes later, each carrying two luggage pieces, holding several store-bought desserts and bags of assorted snacks. Cookies, crackers, carry-on suitcases, and much-needed wine would all go inside the compact sedan. There was only one solution to this colossal caper.


“I’m going to pack the big cooler with all the food and strap it to the roof,” announced Danny, offering his solution and executive decision.


“What do you mean, the roof? How much food would you like to arrive in Savannah?” asked Bob, the father-in-law and designated backseat driver.


“Look, I have this huge camping bag designed for carrying equipment on top of vehicles. Its straps are easy to secure to the roof from the inside. It’s our only shot.” responded Danny as he unzipped the large canvas bag, which would house not just the cooler full of food but any other bags that would fit.


“Everything but glass can go in here. The ride will get cold as we go north, and the snow will protect the food.”


“What snow?! Tu estas loco niño? (Are you crazy son?) We are going to Georgia, not North Dakota! It’s 66 and sunny.” added Bob Valdez, examining the canvas bag which would guard his dinner.


He didn’t even eat turkey but wanted to ensure the bird would make it to Nana’s without risk.


“Look, let’s get the food in this bag and get in the car. We need to be leaving at 0900,” ordered Rhonda in her militaristic, drill sergeant voice.


The four of them stuffed hot and cold food into the canvas bag, using an assortment of tapes and rope to tie all items together. The close-knit contents bulged and overcrowded the tightening duffle, packed to the brim with food for Thanksgiving. Bob opposite Danny pulled on the straps hunkering down the weighted automobile, appearing magnanimous. It was 8:55 on the dot. In 5 minutes, Rhonda would pull out of her driveway and head down Bird road to catch I-95.


The fantastic four made their final arrangements before departing. They shut the four doors to the black sedan, enclosing our backseat passengers with two suitcases and a cooler between them, while in the front seat, Danny sat on his carving board and pizza steel. To his right was a large metal pizza peel that offered an extra layer of protection in case of passenger side collisions. Rhonda, our driver, had to be completely unobstructed to drive straight to Savannah, planning only rest stops along the way. She had made sandwiches for the road and placed them on the dashboard. The sun that morning glistened through the multiple food items, books, and Rand McNally map that lined the windshield. It was 9:01; they were late. It was time for Operation Turkey-North to begin.


The tires sank low as the crew strapped themselves in for the ride of their lives. The car, overburdened and suffering, began its long-distance travel. Only time would tell whether the compact black Hyundai, riding so close to the ground, would make it to Georgia. Bob Valdez, who had been a mechanic all his life, quickly detected a faint noise in the engine.


“Ese motor tiene un fallo en el carburador! (The engine’s carburetor has a short!) No llegamos! (We won’t make it!)” shouted Bob, following hissing sounds from the motor.


“Cállate! (Shut up!)” yelled Rhonda Valdez, putting the pedal to the metal.


Nothing was going to stop her. This little engine was going to make it to Savannah or die trying.


The car picked up momentum as it entered the interstate highway to Georgia. In the backseat, Alicia and Bob, Rhonda’s parents, tried to calm their suspicious minds as the food hovered above them. Everyone’s attention turned to the swaying mound of fowl and carbs, all rickety on the undulating road. Rhonda would be in the zone, eyes glued to the highway, focused, inattentive to the mobile pantry stacked overhead, rocking side to side on the uneven pavement north.


Several hours into this outlandish stunt, our riders and driver calmed down following a rocky departure. Soon they would arrive at Nana’s and set up for Thanksgiving. She would be there with her new lover as they looked forward to enjoying some quality time together. These optimistic visions danced in everyone’s head as Danny noticed the zipper on the bag overhead coming loose. He slowly lowered his passenger side window, trying to go unnoticed, reaching up to secure the metal zipper, flapping uncontrollably in the high-speed wind.


“What are you doing?” asked Rhonda hastily.


She regretted this insane decision as she nervously drove, dreading having to return in a few days—carrying leftovers.


“It’s ok. Crisis averted, the zipper was coming undone, but I got it,” Danny assured her.


“What?!” as Rhonda looked over to see what he was doing, she skid to the right, her anxiety getting the best of her, and temporarily lost control of the car. Rhonda slammed on the brakes, avoiding a nearby metal barrier separating the shoulder of the interstate highway. At that exact moment, inertia caused our pantry to shift forward. The bag unzipped on impact, loosening the metallic dome containing the turkey, and launched the projectile poultry dish straight into the shoulder in front of them.


“Ay Dios mio! (Oh my God!)” shouted Alicia from the backseat. She could not believe what had just taken place.


As Danny cleaned off the battered aluminum enclosing his culinary masterpiece made hours ago, he couldn’t help but wonder, what’s next?


They reconstructed their mobile pantry and continued their way north. Fortunately, the remainder of the trip would prove uneventful.


The Valdez family finally made it to their destination under starlit skies. It had been an indescribable trip that would be on the list of countless family conversations for years to come. Located right outside the city and in the picturesque countryside was this cabin home belonging to their beloved grandmother. Now exiting the battered Hyundai and stretching his legs while yawning, the Saxchef began retrieving the various components from the enormous bag, bringing them inside. The long night ahead offered him a chance to recharge for the all-day event to follow.


Bright and early the next morning, he placed all the different dishes in the oven to reheat, calculating precise times and temperatures to ensure the food was perfect. They set the table for their noon commencement. Watching the Macy’s parade, criticizing the floats in Spanish, was always a tradition in this household. Nana had been asleep and thus unable to greet everyone upon arrival. Now all the loud commotion, the kids running around playing, and the adults all lounging around discussing the long trip — Nana and her companion had woken up.


“Buenos dias familia! Quiero introducirle mi novio, Earl. (Good morning family, I would like to introduce my boyfriend, Earl.)” proudly proclaimed the 100-year-old granny, gripping her cane in one hand and her lover in the other.


Tall and dark with white curly hair, and well into his 80s, Earl Thompson greeted everyone cheerfully. Everyone his Elena had described, he could finally put a face to them. Having lost his wife of 52 years to cancer, this holiday gathering among family would be a much-needed change.


“It’s so nice to meet y’all, and I apologize in advance,” said Earl as he addressed the entire Valdez clan.


“What for, Earl?” asked Rhonda while procuring a glass of her sister’s famous mimosa.


“Oh, Nana didn’t tell you, I don’t eat meat. I’m a vegan. But don’t worry. I’m used to cooking and made a vegan Turkey. Y’all will love this fine Thanksgiving, complete with mashed taters and gravy. A blend of the old, with a twist of the new. Just like our new family here. What do y’all think?” smiled Earl as he described his modern country Thanksgiving.


Silence struck the household as even the children looked up in anticipation of what would follow. No one had ever told them what vegan meant, but they knew it was something terrible.


Danny Valdez took the spotlight. He wished to conclude this arduous endeavor with a toast. Raising his glass, he delivered some spontaneous prose:


“It’s been a pleasure to meet and to greet

welcoming you as part of my treat

as we open up our hearts as well as our doors


from our family to yours!”

November 24, 2020 15:54

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1 comment

Tom .
12:58 Dec 02, 2020

This was so much fun to read. It had wonderful colour and flavour just as I suspect you intended. I don't celebrate thanksgiving but I am imagining a very large Irish family Christmas (my tradition) with a little less butter and a bit more spice. I was waiting for the ending. I had visions of a twenty year old boyfriend but your twist was far better. The only criticism I had was some flow could be improved in the story. I know you are musician so think about it as a piece of music. The longer slower bits sometimes need a small flurry or a b...


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