800 Square Feet of Family

My grandparents, Aida and Joe, lived on West 96th Street in Manhattan.

As far as NYC apartments go, theirs was sprawling – 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, a living/dining room combo and a galley kitchen. All told, it was about 800 square feet. For two people living in NYC, it was a veritable manor…until Thanksgiving came each year.

“Grammie and Pop”, had 5 sons and daughter-in-laws and 10 grandkids. When we all assembled at “the apartment” each Thanksgiving, it was a lot. 22 people in 800 square feet for an entire day may seem insane to some, but to me it provided memories I’d not trade for the world. (Now if you ask anyone involved in the cooking of dinner for 22 people in a 3’ x 6’ galley kitchen, they may feel differently.) My 9 cousins/siblings and I, however, had the times of our lives.

The hustle and bustle around that galley kitchen was enough to scare anyone off, so we kids mostly stayed in the back bedrooms – playing games, practicing the plays that we’d put on for the adults after dinner, and dressing up everyone (even poor Scott and Christopher) as fairy princesses, complete with Grammie’s make-up and Dippety Do hair gel. We’d continuously run down the hall to show the folks in the living room our costumes and tricks.

Dinner was a sit-down feast for 22 people complete with the obligatory kids’ table.

It wasn’t a case where we wanted out of that table – we loved being together that day – and I’m sure that the adults were happy to be at the big table just inches away. After dinner, Aunt Judy would assemble all 10 kids to go on a neighborhood walk. Just a few blocks from Central Park, we’d often head up there to let off steam.

I can only imagine what the kitchen was like trying to clean up that mess – I’m just glad that I was on the walk as Judy was so much more fun. And while we hadn’t eaten off of fine china for dinner, we definitely weren’t using paper.

When we returned to the apartment, the 5 brothers would always be entrenched in their annual scrabble game. To say that these brothers were competitive would be a huge understatement. The challenges and arguments that would ensue were fairly comedic. No question – when that sand ran out of the timer after a minute – your turn was up!

Before the day ended and people started gathering their items to go home, the family photo had to be taken every year.

Usually my Dad and Uncle Walter each had their cameras to take the photo in case one didn’t work – this was back in the day of film cartridges so there was no checking the results before leaving. Trying to get 22 people lined up in a 10’ wide room is no easy feat. We had only one place to line up because the camera had to be placed far enough away to capture the group’s. Not only did we have to line up and pose, but we had to leave room for the two “photographers” to set their camera’s timers and leap back into the line-up.

We cousins no longer see each other often and I cannot comment on when we 10 were last all together, but 5 of us were at a wedding this past Saturday and it was like no time had passed. How thankful I was for all of those years that our parents got us together in the apartment as those are memories that never seem to fade.