Throughout life one gets accustomed to certain traditions bestowed upon them by family. In a way, this can be a great thing. It gives you the opportunity to create fond memories with loved ones that you will remember the rest of your life. On the other hand, it’s a horrible thing to grow too comfortable with certain traditions because everything can change in a heartbeat.
Making pasteles for thanksgiving is one of my fondest memories of the holiday growing up as a kid. I never really much enjoyed the taste of the bananas when I was younger (I loved the meat on bread), but I did love making them.
I remember waking up early in the morning, to the smells of the turkey already in the oven. The sound of Broadway plays at the beginning of the parade pouring out from the television as I ran to the kitchen to find my grandmother cutting the strings and paper. She would smile, handing me the scissors, making me take over as she started to prepare the rest of it. We would peel the bananas, which would turn our fingers black. We would grate them, causing us to have several band aids on our fingers by the end of the day. While I grated she would start on cutting the meat into tiny pieces.
I would stand on a chair, or eventually just hover by the sink as I watched my grandmother carefully work her cooking magic. I was always mesmerized by her concentration of making them perfect. I stared at her technique and looked to see how she applied each ingredient. She taught me how to assemble and tie them, how to boil and unwrap them, and definitely showed me how to enjoy them. I used to love looking at her face as people ate them. You could always see this intense happiness, knowing that her family loved her and enjoyed her cooking.
The year she died, she was in a nursing home on thanksgiving. She couldn’t cook for us, but I was determined to see that look on her face again. I took to the kitchen early that morning with my mother and we made the pasteles. I brought them to her, and the same happiness showed on her face. She was proud I was capable of doing it on my own. But I also saw a little bit of sorrow mixed in; sadness that she wasn’t able to cook that year, and maybe a little grief that I didn’t need her anymore.
She passed away three days later. It hit me that … I would never get to keep up with our traditions anymore. How much I would miss being able to. Christmas wasn’t the same either, with the death so fresh. I had lost all spirit for the season. The holidays have never been the same since that year.
Being with my mother though, and keeping up with our traditions, that helped a little. I still had something to build memories on. Being with my mother on the holidays is just as important as it was to be with my grandmother. It was always the three of us, now two.
This year, however, things are different. I am here in Florida and my mother is in NYC. I didn’t have the time or money to make it for thanksgiving. I bought all the ingredients to make pasteles. I bought a lot of my holiday favorites to have out here. Hoping I could keep to some sense of tradition. It just wasn’t the same. I’m not saying I had a horrible time with my aunt and cousins today, it was great! It was just different. I spent most of my day reminiscing and wishing I didn’t have to think back on old times. Wishing I could just have them here and now. Things change. That is life. At least I have one thing to look forward to. If I am ever blessed with a family, I can pass on these traditions to my children and tell them stories about the incredible women in my life.