I’ve returned from my family reunion in North Carolina with great memories and a higher alcohol tolerance. I hadn’t seen most of my extended family for almost a decade, before I was even a teenager, so it was basically like meeting them all over again. Luckily, any bit of awkwardness disappeared very quickly, and it was like we had only seen each other yesterday. The “Reunion de Cabezones” was a big party. (“Cabezones” because the family is notoriously stubborn and hard-headed.) In typical Cuban fashion, we ate a lot, drank a lot, and talked REALLY LOUD. It was fun because us “kids” were now older. We had animated discussions about everything under the sun, made fun of my Floridian cousin’s Southern accent, played beer pong, and initiated another cousin’s non-Cuban friend into the family with the consumption of…wait for it…a pig eye.
Before you gasp, there really is no such initiation. It is indeed Cuban tradition to roast a pig for large gatherings and celebrations. A whole pig, so yes, it still has legs, tail, ears, skin, and head. When it was put on the table, most of us drooled over prospect of crunching into the delicious crispy skin (sorry vegetarians, but it’s soooo good), but some, like my cousin’s friend, were a little jarred by the appearance (it was her first pig roast.) Another one of my cousins, an evil genius, declared that it was Cuban tradition to eat one of the eyes at your first pig roast. The friend looked skeptical, but everybody nodded and agreed, “Oh yeah…we’ve all done it before…it’s tradition…”
My cousin got a plastic spoon and scooped out one of the eyes, which due to roasting was just a shriveled black chunk in the eye socket. (Afterwards, he told us that he was getting really grossed out while trying to get it out, but knew it’d be worth it.) He handed it to her on the spoon, gave her a can of beer, and to our surprise she tossed it in her mouth and washed it down like an Advil. We all burst out into a mixture of laughs and groans of disgust, and finally told her it was all a lie. She was dumbstruck for a moment and color raced to her cheeks until she finally found the words to remonstrate our cruelty. Luckily, she wasn’t terribly angr. She was impressed and amazed that we all knew to go along with it. Only the bonds of family could pull off such spontaneous trickery. We dared another one of my cousins to eat the other eye and she did it, because she will basically do anything if you dare her to. Her verdict? It just tasted like really chewy, bouncy pork.
“So there’s the pig eye. What’s this about a fire alarm?” you might ask.
Well, the downside of the reunion was that my grandfather had to be rushed to the hospital the second day. He had a really hard time breathing when he woke up; turns out he had a mild heart attack and his kidneys weren’t functioning properly. (He’s doing better now.) He still wanted us to go on with the reunion, but we visited him in the hospital periodically. While my grandmother was visiting, she came across one of those clear glass doors that you have to open with a button on the wall–you know the kind because you use them even though you’re not handicapped (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!) There was a man on the other side motioning to her to open the door, at least that’s what she thought. She looked at a red lever on the wall and pulled it. Then the fire alarm rang.
Yes, my grandmother pulled a fire alarm. In a hospital.
My mother saw her bouncing down the hallway with a cheeky little smile on her face, her hands folded neatly under chest, and instantly she knew that she had SOMETHING to do with it. Somehow she didn’t get caught. Mom said she saw the man behind the door explaining what happened to a group of security guards. So, as you can imagine, my family told her not to touch ANYTHING else in the hospital. A few moments later, she tried opening another door by pressing the rubber door stopper on the wall. Ay.
It was definitely a reunion to remember, and I certainly hope I don’t go another ten years without seeing everyone again.
UPDATE: My grandmother did indeed get caught. When she went back to visit my grandfather, a police officer took her to a room and showed her that they had her on camera pulling the fire alarm. (God, I would totally YouTube that shit if I could get a hold of it!) He explained to her that she committed a serious crime. She apologized in her broken English profusely, proclaiming repeatedly, “I no from here.” Thankfully they let her off with a warning and made her promise that she’d never do it again.