My First Turkey Sandwich Experience

Summer of 1997, for medical reasons (in a later blog post), my family and I moved to the States, to the Big Apple to be specific. We stayed there for quite a while, 4 or 5 months, but without a doubt they have been the most joyous months I have lived in my entire lifetime. I will bring you every now and then some experiences I had there, but first, let us start with moving in!

We had some family members there from my mother’s side. They lived in Astoria, Queens. A charming little house, like so many houses annexed to each other in a block. It was bewildering to me that a house can be made exclusively using wood. The only concrete was the porch because it was part of the pavement.

My father didn’t like staying over at other people’s house, so he decided to rent a little placed owned by my mother’s family’s babysitter. Her name is Jewel and she is the most charming person I have met. The house my dad rented was around the Fort Lee area. It was a nice little place but it felt disconnected from the rest of the family in Astoria.

After some debate, and seeing that a 13 year old (me) would probably be better off living with the extended family, I went back to Astoria to live with my mom’s relatives. It was a full house as it was, however, and so I moved in with their neighbors, who were also family members (technically my mother’s cousin’s husband’s brother and family). They were a small family of four: The father, who worked as a professional dancer and yoga teacher, the mother, who worked as a chef in her own Lebanese mini-restaurant (think 7ommous and falafel and the breakfast stuff), the daughter Sarah and her little 5 year old brother.

The parents were, most of the day, at work. The little bro went to summer school as well as other odd activities, and so for four months or so, it was most often only Sarah and I living through the days. I will talk in detail about some of them in later blog posts.

Sarah was (and probably still is) an enigmatic, energetic character who grabs life and bites it at the throat. She has a strong personality – which is only typical as she had to more or less raise herself as she experienced school and other social activities (all of which I was sucked into). She was a little chubby, and, in contrast, I was skinny (not that that fact changed anyway). I was dubbed Chicken Legs and I called her many mean names, but after being slapped and hit repeatedly by a girl you get the idea that you don’t get the privilege of calling her names.

She almost always wore pink or white or lime. I almost always wore gray or blue or white. We looked like a moving circus.

One of the first funny memories that come to my mind with her was at the deli’s after a tennis round (again… more on all that stuff in later posts). We went to the deli, starving little kids, Sarah and I and a girl called Melissa (stuck up spoilt girl) and I think a girl called Patricia (who was obsessed with skates, she might as well have played tennis riding them). Each ordered their sandwich, and when it was my turn, I asked Sarah “What are you having?”

“Turkey sandwich,” she said. It was the first time I heard that “turkey” can be used in a different context than the country. I thought to myself that it is probably a Turkish sandwich. I didn’t know what a Turkish sandwich would be like.

“What’s a Turkish sandwich?” I asked, naively I might add.

She looked up at me, puzzled, confused, as if I just told her that turkeys don’t exist outside of the States.

“It is that stupid big chicken thing they put on Thanksgiving,” she said, and added, “You know, the short ostrich!”

Her friends giggled… I don’t know if it was because of my question or at the analogy between a short ostrich and a turkey.

“Um, okay…” I said. I was shivering with fear. I expected a sandwich full of feathers and some other unchewable meat.

She handed me the revolting sandwich. I looked at it from the inside, and I almost froze in fear, almost screamed in horror at what I saw.

White meat that is neither chicken nor fish, surrounded by green stuff and olives and tomatoes as if to hide the little animal wrapped in the sandwich.

It took me over 15 minutes to have the first bite.

And it wasn’t me who fed me the hideous thing either.