On a Monday evening once or twice a month, at a time in the evening when many New Yorkers would be opening smartphone apps to order dinner delivery, a car full of my in-laws pulls up at our apartment building in Ridgewood, Queens.
Jorge’s two brothers and sister, his parents and their two poodle-mix puppies buzz in to the marble-floored lobby and clamber up the short flight of stairs to our second floor apartment. Jorge is the designated chef for these occasions, since I work in an office in Midtown Manhattan during the day. By the time I have returned home, there’s just enough time for me to slap on some blue jeans and a T-shirt and wipe away my eye makeup before everyone gets here.
Every time the family settles into our home, I steel myself for the awkwardness of not speaking Spanish in a roomful of people who do. I always manage to greet Jorge’s parents with a couple of short sentences which I’m sure translate to the equivalent of “Hallooo, eet eez gut to haf you een arr home.” Ugh, I need more Spanish practice.
We have a random, rectangular table leaf extension that we forcibly wedge in to our existing round table. It sort of fits. The old table screeches as if in pain when we pull it apart. I’m considering ending its suffering soon with a spritz of WD40. When everyone is seated, I pass around cloth napkins and utensils and glasses of water, while Jorge brings in the plates from the kitchen, already filled with food. He has often made a meatless dish of his own creation, never glancing at a recipe. Jorge and I don’t keep soda in the house, but his family loves it, so they usually come prepared with a two-liter of cola or ginger ale.
As much as I would like to observe a no-screens rule at the dinner table, that is a near impossibility with Jorge’s younger siblings being addicted to their phones. Sometimes we can lure them away from the devices with a game of dominoes after the meal. We have two sets of dominoes, the regular size (for 4 players) and the double size for bigger groups, which we break out as much or more than the regular set. Everyone plunks down a quarter and the game is on. Laundry money is high stakes around here. Jorge’s mom gets competitive and so do I, as we all create a “secret” individual pseudo-strategy which is always foiled by the luck of the draw. To try to throw us off, Jorge’s dad starts announcing at the beginning of each new round, “Ya gane!” (I’ve already won!) Jorge’s mom gets impatient when someone takes too long before throwing down the next tile. I launch into repeating “Pasas?” (Do you pass?) like a parrot if anyone hesitates for a moment (usually my husband).
Around 8:30 or 9:00 pm, we call the last round of dominoes and then everyone gathers their bags. They all have an early wake-up the following morning, and so do I now, too. The family only live about 15 minutes away, but it can take a while for Jorge’s mom to find a parking spot near home; in Queens, a lot more people seem to have cars than in Brooklyn or Manhattan. As everyone files out we all give hugs and say, “Nos vemos” and “Cuidate.” (We’ll see each other soon, take care.) And in a couple weeks, if we’re lucky, it will all happen again.