Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s late morning here in my corner of west-central Florida on Tuesday, November 23, 2021. It is a chilly – by Florida standards, at any rate – day. Currently, the temperature is 58˚F (14˚C) under sunny skies. With humidity at 68% and the wind blowing from the north at 11 MPH (18 KM/H), it feels like 56˚F (14˚C). The forecast for today calls for sunny skies and a high of 67˚F (19˚C). Tonight, skies will be clear. The low will be 45˚F (7˚C).
As Thanksgiving 2021 approaches – it’s less than two days off now – and the days grow ever shorter, I try hard to recall the happy observances of the holiday with my blood family, i.e. Mom, Vicky, and Yours Truly before my mother’s last five years of life. (I, for obvious reasons, don’t count 2010-2014. Those are, by default, the “Nightmare Years.”)
And to be honest, I have come to the conclusion that the best Thanksgiving nights we had in Miami were those when it was just Mom and me, or Mom, guests of Mom, and me, in attendance.
First, I have to explain that celebrations of Turkey Day with my half-sister in the mix were rare before the 2010s, and this was a personal choice of my older half-sibling, especially when she worked – per her preference – on the night shift at the big hospitals where she worked the longest, i.e. American Hospital (later Kendall Regional Hospital) and Pan American Hospital, aka Metropolitan Hospital.
Vicky has never loved the United States much; when Mom and I were told by doctors in Bogota, Colombia that it might be best if we moved back to Miami – for medical reasons – after I suffered a cerebral hemorrhage not long after my ninth birthday, Vicky refused to come along and stayed at our maternal great-aunt Gabriela’s apartment. She only joined us in South Florida less than a year afterward as a result of pressure from our grandparents – her behavior was causing our family some embarrassment, so in order to avoid more drama, Vicky was forced to leave her beloved Bogota and move to Miami – a move that she has always resented me for.
Even though Vicky reluctantly became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1996, she considers herself to be more Colombian than American (I’m the other way ‘round, especially because I was born in the States.) As a result, she is less than enthusiastic about this country’s traditions and symbols, and she was never known for her love of Thanksgiving Day. Thus, when she had to choose which holiday she wanted off from her nursing job at any of the hospitals where she worked, she always picked Christmas and worked on Thanksgiving.
Accordingly, for most of the Thanksgiving dinners Mom and I shared in our last two houses between 1972 and 2009, Vicky was noticeably absent.
There were, of course, a few occasions when one of Vicky’s fellow nurses wanted to swap holidays and asked to work on Thanksgiving. I can’t – for the life of me – remember how many times Vicky had a Thanksgiving Day reprieve from work, but I do recall that either she would make plans with other people and not eat dinner with us, or she would cause drama –fueled by her consuming lots of vodka with tonic water – that marred the holiday for everyone in some fashion.
As a matter of fact, the last time I ever stepped into Vicky’s apartment in the International Gardens complex was for a Thanksgiving dinner at her place in the early 2000s – the only one she ever hosted for Mom and me. And, boy, it was a disaster.
For starters, I didn’t want to go. Vicky’s place is small (a one-bedroom apartment which she always keeps at a temperature that is only a tad warmer than Siberia in winter), and since we were not getting along even then, I wanted to stay home and watch a movie while eating pizza or something.
Second, Vicky loves to drink booze in prodigious quantities. She’ll drink anything, but her two favorite beverages are vodka and red wine. And because she doesn’t much care for DUI laws or sacrificing one night of drinking to be a designated driver, I didn’t look forward to seeing Vicky get smashed on vodka and Lord knows what else she planned to consume before, during, and after dinner.
Third – and this is where the small size of the apartment and the alcohol become relevant to this story – her only guest besides my mom and me that evening was her paternal cousin Andres Pereira.
I don’t know if Andres lives permanently in Miami now, but at the time – 2005, I think it was – he split his time between his native Bogota and South Florida. And like many of the Colombians that I know, he also loves his liquor and is a bit of a scofflaw when it comes to local laws about booze and cars.
So our dinner party consisted of us just four: Andres, Vicky, Mom, and me. Of those four, three could drive; I don’t drive. Never learned. And of the three drivers, none – not even Mom – were willing to abstain from drinking that night.
And if that wasn’t enough, since Vicky and Andres picked Mom and me up in Vicky’s Toyota sedan already drinking, that Thanksgiving started on a sour note even before we got to Vicky’s apartment.
As I said earlier, Andres lived in Bogota at least for part of the year, and even though there are DUI laws in Colombia, I know some folks that blatantly ignore them because its culturally fine to drink alcohol and drive so long as you don’t get caught. Andres is obviously one of these persons because the first sign of how the evening was going to go was the sight of an open can of Coors beer in the beverage holder between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat upfront.
Mom saw the can of beer first as she was getting into the back seat of Vicky’s silver-gray Toyota. She froze in her tracks, not sure whether she wanted to go to dinner or stay home. She weighed the pros and cons of getting out of the car and going back into the townhouse – and settled for going. This was the first time Vicky had invited us over for Thanksgiving.
Still, Mom was not a big believer in staying quiet when she saw wrongdoing, so as soon as we were both settled in the back of Vicky’s car, she decided to say something.
“You know, Vicky, that it’s illegal to even have an open container of beer or wine when you’re driving a car, right?”
Vicky pretended not to hear, but her cousin turned around with a carefree smile and said, “Oh, Tia, you have to be joking. It’s only a beer, for the love of God.”
“This is not Bogota, Andres,” Mom said. “Do you want your cousin to get a ticket for drinking and driving? Huh?”
Andres scoffed and muttered something about stupid gringo laws, but he made no further effort to drink while we were on the road and even hid the can so no one could see it easily from the outside. No more was said about the beer during the drive to Vicky’s place, but the mood for this Thanksgiving was already turning ugly.
The situation did not improve when we got to Vicky’s second-floor apartment at the International Gardens complex. As soon as we sat on my half-sister’s living room sofa, Vicky poured three large vodka and tonics for Andres, Mom, and herself. (I asked for a Coke.) In the time it took Mom and me to consume our beverages, Vicky and Andres had downed at least two vodkas and were showing hints that they were getting intoxicated. (Vicky stumbled a bit…Andres became more effusive and had a “Hey, let’s get more into a party mood here!” vibe.)
Mom drank her vodka with tonic, but not with any enthusiasm. I sipped at my Coke, wondering how long it would be until dinner was served so we could go home. It looked to me as though we still had at least a couple of hours until that happened, and I kept on looking at the clock on Vicky’s kitchen wall, hoping that time would pass quickly and that no further incident would rear its ugly head.
Alas. It was not to be. Time slowed to a crawl – from my perspective, anyway – and an incident did occur.
One of Vicky’s weird obsessions at the time was her desire to repair a long-standing breach between her paternal Aunt Emma and our mother. The two former sisters-in-law had remained friends for many years after Mom’s marriage with Vicky’s father, Manuel Pineros, was annulled in Colombia in the Fifties. Emma moved to Miami in the 1960s and studied nursing. Eventually, she got a job at what was then called Pan American Hospital and became its head of the nursing staff. And for many years – until, I don’t know, 1979? – she was a frequent and welcome presence in our last two Miami houses.
Until, for no apparent reason, Emma stopped talking to Mom and ended their decades-long friendship.
That night, Vicky convinced herself that if she could somehow get my mother and her aunt to speak to each other, everything would be right with the world. Heck, Emma might even be willing to join us for dinner that night.
As I said, Vicky was downing tall tumblers of vodka and tonic water as if there was no tomorrow. She was getting that unfocused look that heavily inebriated people get when they overindulge, and Vicky even stumbled – visibly – once or twice while trying to convince my mother to call Emma and ask her to come over for dinner.
Mom – after enduring a long impassioned (and rambling) plea from my now-drunk half-sister that bordered on a harangue worthy of Fidel Castro’s – finally acquiesced and called Emma from Vicky’s kitchen phone.
And…immediately got hung up on by her ex-sister-in-law, who wanted nothing to do with Mom or my half-sister’s hopes to reconcile the two.
Now, my mother had a patience that bordered on the saintly but calling someone on the phone only to get hung up on for her pains was too much.
“Vicky,” Mom said in a quiet but firm voice, “don’t ever do that to me again. I don’t know why your aunt is mad at me or why she decided to end the friendship, but it’s clear that she doesn’t want to speak to me. Just let it go because I’m not going to call Emma again”
If you’ve read any of my family history posts about my troubled relationship with Vicky, you know that most of our altercations, arguments, or “episodes” took place when she was sober or nearly so. Thus, if Sober Vicky is stubborn, easily riled, and obnoxious, multiply these traits by ten and you can imagine how Drunk Vicky behaves.
Glassy-eyed, red-faced, and beyond all reason, Vicky did not let the matter drop. She picked up the phone, dialed Emma’s number, and pleaded, nay, demanded, that she talk to Mom and end the decades-long rift – a rift my mom had not wanted or initiated.
I have bad hearing, but my mom had the acuity of a bat – or so it seemed to me. She later told me that she could hear Emma saying, “Vicky, shut up. You’re drunk again, aren’t you?” over the Princess phone’s receiver. After a brief exchange of words punctuated by Vicky’s tears of frustrated anger and grief, Emma hung up on my half-sister.
Mom stood up and grabbed her purse. Looking at me, she said, “Alex, call a taxi. We’re leaving.”
“What?!” Vicky half-slurred, half-shouted. “You can’t go! I haven’t even served dinner!”
“You should have thought about that before you came up with this crazy idea to call your aunt knowing full well that she doesn’t want anything to do with either me or your brother.” She looked at me and saw that I was still seated on the sofa, not daring to try to get past Vicky, who stood between me and the phone in the kitchen. “Alex, please. Call a taxi. I had a few drinks already, so even if we had come in my car, I can’t drive. I have cash in my wallet. Go. Call a cab. Yellow Cab. Diamond Cab. It doesn’t matter. Let’s just go home.”
Vicky glared at me as she blocked my path to the phone in the kitchen. I didn’t want to risk a physical confrontation, so I turned around and made my way to her bedroom, where she had another phone on her nightstand. I dialed the number to Yellow Cab and told the dispatcher to send a taxi to Vicky’s apartment building.
All the while, Vicky was raging. “You can’t do this! It’s my Thanksgiving! You can’t leave!”
Andres, for his part, was trying to play “peacemaker,” trying on one hand to calm his infuriated cousin while, on the other hand, pleading to my mom and me to stay and have dinner with Vicky and him.
“Ay, Tia Mona. Please stay,” Andres said over and over. “Don’t go home yet. Dinner will be ready in about an hour.”
My mom was a softhearted and loving person and was not known to be unfair or unreasonable. But she did not like being manipulated or insulted, much less coerced to do something she did not want to do. She had tried, in good faith and despite her doubts, to talk to Emma and been rebuffed. Now all she wanted to do was get away from Vicky’s apartment and go back home.
“I’m very sorry, Andres,” Mom said. “Vicky is behaving like a brat, and she’s much too old for that kind of behavior. We’re going home.”
I stepped out of Vicky’s bedroom and looked warily at my half-sister, who was leaning unsteadily in front of the foyer in a half-hearted effort to block our way.
“You can’t go!” she cried. “You can’t!”
To his credit, Andres pulled Vicky aside and allowed us to walk past them, open the door, walk out of the apartment, and head toward the elevator. Wordlessly – we were too stunned to speak – Mom and I waited at the entrance to the apartment building until our cab arrived and drove us home.
I don’t remember what Mom and I ate for Thanksgiving dinner on that weird night. We probably improvised a quick meal, though it’s also possible that I ordered a pizza from Pizza Hut. But I still recall that weird and unnerving two-hour period in my half-sister’s apartment – a place that I never set foot in again.
 For a brief account of the medical event that uprooted me from Bogota and ended what I call my “Colombian childhood” – my childhood in Miami was so different from that one that I refer to my early years as “My Two Childhoods” – please read Growing Up With Cerebral Palsy: Part Two of a Series and Growing Up With Cerebral Palsy – Part Three of a Series.
 You’ve heard of Andres Pereira before; he is the late Juan Manuel Pereira’s youngest brother, and he is the one who helped Vicky make off with my grandmother’s set of fine dinnerware in the summer of 2015.