- Thanksgiving, 1998 -
ELIZA PHILLIPS stopped kneading the dough in front of her and wiped the sweat from her brow with her shoulder. “Manny,” she called to her husband, “can you come down? People are going to start showing up soon, and I won’t be able to get the door.”
“I’ll be down in a minute!”
She sighed and went back to kneading the dough for the rolls, which she was making from scratch. It was her first time ever hosting Thanksgiving, and it was proving to be more stressful than she had expected.
A few minutes after she had called him, her husband, Emmanuel, waltzed into the kitchen with their 3 month-old son, Jacoryn, in his arms. He came over and kissed Eliza on the cheek, then held Jacoryn’s slobbery mouth to her other cheek.
“Who loves his Momma?” Eliza asked, leaning over and kissing her son’s forehead.
“Had to change his diaper,” Emmanuel explained. “Anything I can do in here?”
“I think I’ve got it,” Eliza lied. “Unless…” she nodded towards the glass dish she had set out for the rolls. “You wanna grease that for me?”
“I do, and I will do it with one hand,” Emmanuel said, shifting Jacoryn onto his hip. Eliza laughed to herself, and he smiled at her. God, Eliza loved that smile.
When the dish was greased, Eliza began separating the dough into little balls and placing them a few inches apart in the dish. Emmanuel played with Jacoryn, who was getting cranky, until the doorbell rang. Then he rushed to the front door. Eliza heard it whoosh open, and Emmanuel said, “Hey, Momma!”
Eliza smiled to herself again, imagining Emmanuel side-hugging his mom. His father was sure to follow, sporting the smile he had passed on to his son. Eliza was pretty sure, now that Jacoryn was smiling a lot, that he had inherited the family smile, even if he hadn’t gotten the family name.
Emmanuel’s parents came into the kitchen, and Eliza washed her hands quickly.
“Hi, honey,” Minnie said, setting her famous peach cobbler down on the counter. Then she came in for a hug. “How’ve you been?” she pulled out of the hug and looked Eliza up and down. “Oh, you lookin’ so good! Not even pregnancy can destroy your nice figure.”
“Thanks, Minnie,” Eliza said, blushing. “I don’t feel the best, though.”
“Oh honey, we’ll cheer you up. Now where’s that grandson of mine?”
Eliza pointed to her Emmanuel, who was bouncing Jacoryn in his arms. Minnie hurried over and took the baby from him, holding him to her chest and kissing his head over and over. Eliza heard the TV turn on, and she knew that Emmanuel, Sr. was making himself comfortable.
The doorbell rang again, and Manny left Jacoryn with his mom to answer it.
Eliza covered the dish of rolls with a towel so they could rise and went to greet people at the door.
“Hey Eliza!” Laney said when she saw her. Eliza hugged her, avoiding her swollen belly, and took the dish of Mexican cornbread from her hands. “How are you feeling?”
“I want him out,” Laney admitted, rubbing her stomach. “He’s due in two days, so it wouldn’t hurt him to come out today, right?”
Eliza laughed. “We will do our best to make it happen.”
Marco, Laney’s husband and Manny’s long-time best friend, had already joined Manny and Emmanuel in the living room. Laney went in and sat on the couch next to him, and Eliza went over and stood between him and the TV. “You just going to plop yourself down without saying hello?”
Marco smiled and put his hands up. “My bad, Eliza. How are you?”
“Better now,” she said, walking back to the kitchen, laughing to herself. Minnie joined Eliza in the kitchen. There wasn’t a lot of cooking left to do, but Minnie offered to take over, and Eliza obliged. She was the better cook, and Eliza wanted to catch up with Laney.
They ended up at the kitchen table, where Eliza sat down with Jacoryn and a pillow to breastfeed him. “Do you guys have a name for the baby yet?”
Laney shook her head. “It’s kind of an argument right now.”
“What are the names being argued?”
“Marco really wants to name him Eduardo or Ricardo, which I don’t like at all. I mean, Eduardo is okay, but I can’t find a middle name that goes well with it.”
“Then what names do you like?”
“Well, a few, but my favorite is Isaiah. I’d be happy with Jonah, too. Or Alexander, or Samuel.”
“Marco doesn’t like any of those?”
“He thinks they’re ‘too white.’”
“Well I think they’re fine names. You could compromise with Alejandro, maybe. You could even call him Alex.”
“Marco had a childhood rival named Alejandro, so he vetoed that.”
Eliza and Laney laughed together.
“I wanted to name Jacoryn ‘Brandon.’”
“Isn’t that his middle name?”
“Yeah, it is. Manny wanted to name him Emmanuel Tyrone the third and call him Ty.”
“Aw,” Laney said.
“We never quite decided one way or another, and when he was born, we tried calling him Ty or Brandon, but they just didn’t seem to fit. So I threw out Jacoryn, which was a name I used to really, really love, and we agreed on it.”
“I think it fits him perfectly.”
Eliza smiled down at her son. “Me too. If we have another boy, because we want to have another in a couple years, we’ll probably name him Ty.”
“Oh God,” Laney said. “I can’t even think about another one yet.”
“All I’m sayin’ is that, when he’s born, you guys will find a name.”
Manny’s brother Jake, his wife, Marilyn, and his son, 2 year-old Landon, showed up right after the rolls finally went into the oven.
Landon was a little tornado of a kid and he quickly covered the living room with his toy cars, bouncing from person to person and thriving with all of the attention.
Eliza held her baby monitor, listening for Jacoryn’s cry to join everyone’s voices, but he managed to sleep for a while, giving Eliza more time to talk to everyone and play with her nephew.
“Where’s the rest of your family? Minnie asked Marco and Laney.
“Mine is in New Mexico, where my older brother and his family live, but we figured that we didn’t want to risk Laney giving birth on the plane. My parents are coming here for Christmas, though.” Marco said.
“My parents are with my aunt,” Laney added, “and my brother, Joe, is with his girlfriend’s family in Illinois.”
“Hold on,” Minnie said, laughing and slapping her thighs. “Are you tellin’ me that you got the beautiful name Elana and your brother’s name is Joe?”
Laney laughed. “His name is Jorge, he just hates how non-Hispanic people say it.”
Minnie went on to ask after Marco’s parents some more, since she had known them for years during Marco and Manny’s childhoods. Eliza felt that empty feeling she kept getting creeping in, and she stopped listening to the conversation. She missed her father so much, and she would have loved to have had a chance to know her mother…
The oven timer was going off in the kitchen. Eliza sprung up, hoping no one had noticed the faraway look in her eyes, and went to take the rolls out of the oven.
“Does this mean it’s time to eat?” Manny asked.
“I can’t hear the game,” Emmanuel complained.
“I’m starving,” Marco said.
Eliza put the rolls on a hot pad on the counter and went back to the living room. “I think we can eat.”
“Food!” Landon yelled, jumping on the couch. Jake grabbed him and tickled him.
My dad used to do that, Eliza thought, watching them. I loved it when he did that.
“Liza?” Manny was saying. “Should I get Jacoryn?”
“He can’t eat this stuff anyway. Let the kid sleep,” Marilyn said.
“I’ll get him if he cries, then,” Manny said. “You okay, Liza?”
“I’m--” Eliza said, holding back the tears. “I’m just quite hungry. I think I need some water.”
“Let me get some for you.” Manny went to the sink dutifully and brought her back a glass of water. Eliza sipped it as everyone got up and came to the dining room.
“Are we praying?” Minnie asked.
“You can lead the prayer, Momma,” Manny said.
“Oh no, let your father do it.”
“I lead it every year,” Emmanuel said.
“Fine,” Minnie said.
They all joined hands, Eliza holding Manny’s big, warm hand on one side and Marilyn’s petite, cold hand on the other side. As Minnie prayed, Eliza squeezed Manny’s hand, not wanting to ever let go. She hoped that Jacoryn would never have to grow up without one of them like Eliza had had to grow up without her Momma, and now her dad was gone, too.
“Amen,” everyone was saying.
“The cook should eat first,” Marco said.
“Yeah, let’s let Eliza and Minnie go first,” Emmanuel said.
“It’s okay,” Eliza said. “You’re all our guests.”
“If none of you start getting food, I will,” Jake threatened.
Eliza ended up going first, followed by Jake. The others got their drinks first and put them at their spot on the table before getting food. Eliza ran to the bathroom while everyone else was going through the line. She couldn’t get thoughts of her father out of her head, and she sat on the toilet, her head in her hands, for a few minutes longer than she needed to.
“Where’s Eliza?” she heard Marilyn asked through the wall. Eliza finished up quickly, looking at herself in the mirror while she washed her hands. She left the bathroom and joined everyone at the table just in time for Jacoryn’s cries to come through the monitor.
“I’ll get him,” Manny said, jumping up before Eliza could say anything.
“Such a good daddy,” Marco said, smiling.
Landon dug into his macaroni and cheese while everyone else waited for Manny to get back. When he came down the hall holding their son, Eliza couldn’t hold it in anymore. She started crying.
“Eliza, what’s wrong?” Laney asked, touching her arm.
“You okay?” Manny asked, passing Jacoryn to Marilyn and putting his arms around her.
“I keep thinking about my dad,” Eliza sobbed. “I just wish he was here.”
“Me too, baby. I’m sorry.”
“I miss him so much.”
Laney rubbed her back, and Manny’s arms stayed protectively around her shoulders. “I’m sure he’s lookin’ down at us right now and he’s real proud.”
Eliza nodded and rubbed her eyes, trying to shut off the water works. She took a deep breath and looked up. Everyone except Jake, who was busy with Landon, was staring at her. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize,” Marilyn said. “Here, you need some water?” She grabbed the glass in front of Eliza and started to hand it to her.
“Uh,” Manny said. “I wouldn’t do that.”
Marilyn glared at him.
“What’d you do now?” Laney asked Marco.
“Hey, it was Jake’s idea,” Marco said.
Eliza took the glass from Marilyn, her eyes still wet. “This ain’t water.”
“Well, it was,” Jake said sheepishly. “We got that powder that turns it to Jell-O or whatever.”
Eliza laughed a little.
“Oh, don’t encourage them,” Laney said, also smiling.
“You and your goddamn pranks,” Marilyn said, looking at her tea. “You owe us all new drinks.”
“Yes ma’am,” Jake said, smiling. He, Manny, and Marco got up and collected everyone’s glasses.
“I don’t know where we went wrong with those two,” Emmanuel said. Minnie threw her hands in the air. “They were born wild, I’m tellin’ you.”
Marilyn handed Jacoryn back to Eliza. She kissed her son’s head and hugged him close. Even if he was wild like his daddy, grumpy like his grandpa, or a worrier like his momma, Eliza was never, ever going to leave his side.