New Jersey Food Journal

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Thanksgiving Feast

Vending Machine illustrated by Jenny Goldberg
By Jenny Goldberg

We wait in line to sign in. The guard resembling a Neo-Nazi stares at us from over his desk. His bald head and menacing brown eyes make me feel small and insignificant. His crass voice breaks the silence. “Take out your license” he barks, and we obey. His pudgy white hand provides us with a piece of paper.  We fill out the sheet, my mother and my two sisters. This has become a standard ritual for us as we transform ourselves from people into simple broke -down demographics and data. My ease for laughter and lightheartedness disappear. With an OK from the guard, we leave the main entrance and go into the common area. The room is overwhelmingly hot, not only due to the number of people in the room, but to the excessive heat that blasts from the old and dusty vents. Dad says that this is the only room with proper heating in the entire facility.

My sisters and I collect chairs from throughout the room. We begin this conquest by asking people politely if we can borrow this and that chair. They nod, we thank them, no one smiles. I dread this most. I am intruding on personal time with loved ones. After we find a nice enough location to situate, I walk to the vending area, an alcove off the common area. A huge sign looms. “NO INMATES ALLOWED IN VENDING AREA.” Every time I read these words, every inch, blood vessel and bone in my body turns numb. I hate this place, and I hate how they treat my dad. Hate is a word not frequently used in my vocabulary. But on visiting days, hate is not just a word. It is part of me.

 I have packed enough quarters to weigh down my pockets. I approach the vending machine and slip quarters into the slot. Limited options are displayed behind the clouded finger smudged screen, but I don’t care. I want a colorful pretzel bag in the hands of my dad. I want him to know that things are going to be OK even if it is for only a few minutes. Pretzels are his favorite snack. At home during happier days, I would watch Dad grab handfuls of pretzels from our family fun-sized bag, and dip them, individually, into Heinz spicy yellow mustard. I reminisce on the countless pretzels Dad and I have shared at hockey games and state fairs. But reality stings me like a slap in the face as I realize we are not at the Meadowlands County Fair. We are someplace much different. A place surrounded by black hovering cameras, distasteful paint colors and gloomy strangers.

I needed to shine light on the past in order for my dad to remember a time when life was good. A time where laughter echoed throughout the cool summer air and happiness filled our lungs.

I enter D6 into the machine and watch the black spiral push the bag of Snyder’s pretzels from its designated place and fall gracefully into the bin below. I make my way over to my family and hand my dad the goods. With the pretzel bag in hand I watch his aged, downtrodden expression lighten, and for a split second I think I see the sides of his mouth curl upward. At this moment I know he is being teleported to happier places and times, and I watch him indulge his Thanksgiving feast.

The next two Thanksgivings are a blur. My family is physically back together, but mentally apart. We try to move on, but a gaping hole prevents us. I don’t know what to think of the past and I can’t shake the memories of visiting Dad in prison, so I hold on to them.

Jenny Goldberg is a sophomore at Rutgers University. She is a full time student, pursuing a major in journalism and media studies and minor in cinema studies.