In 2005, the Sparling family decided that a suitable location for our Thanksgiving festivities would be the Monkey Bar in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a dimly lit private club on the edge of Main Street. They transformed the place, where a combined playlist of Motown, 70s and 80s hits and an occasional piano ballad recorded by my late maternal grandfather played softly. The table was surrounded by not only with my mother’s brothers and sisters but a few lonely hearts that my relatives adopted into our family. It was less of a stereotypical forced family holiday gathering, and more of a rambunctious party.
I remember, against my better judgement, trespassing to a section of the restaurant that my mother told us not to go to and finding a swing hanging there. All too enticing. My brother, Patty, who was 5, fearlessly trekked over to the swing and hopped on. He basked in the glory of having the entire gathering marvel in his “cuteness.” They smiled at him in his little Gapkids button up shirt as he giggled, swinging to and fro. I stood there watching, too scared to get on, fearing my mother’s loving wrath (which never actually came).
As if finding a forbidden swing wasn’t enough fun, one of my many musically inclined uncles picked up a guitar and started playing a song that only a more youthful version of myself could comprehend and remember. As I reminisce, I think it was one of the first times I experienced live music. I now envy how he played so effortlessly and yet so passionately, finger picking rapidly a melody that he had likely made up seconds before his worn, calloused fingers hit the strings.
The meal, though the haziest of the memory, was a blend of both vegetarian and traditional, due to meatless nature of my family. I distinctly remember carrying a pan of luke-warm roast potatoes into the eatery (the potluck was cooked in home kitchens, ferried to the Monkey Bar) and seeing it later, a part of the spread my family devoured. My sister (who was nearly 14) sat next to me at the long table, formed from many bar tables that were earlier scooted together. She her face had an expression of someone who was peering at a wound of some sort, as a plate of colorless tofurky was passed clockwise our way. Though I did not want partake in the vegetarian meal, and I snarled at my mother who took a small piece off her plate and placed it onto mine, deciding that it was my turn to try it.
Though the Monkey Bar is now closed, and was likely far less glamorous than my young mind once thought it was, it will remain as one of my most precious family memories, serving as a reminder of how much I truly adore my adaptable, boisterous and audacious family