[Originally published in 2011.)
When I was a child, the kitchen was my family’s world. Broadway theaters, midtown office towers, and Lincoln Center operas were only blocks away, but my parents’ island home ruled our days: from the radio dial tuned to the Spanish-language news station to the herbs my mother grew on the windowsill that were key to Puerto Rican cooking. There was the mortar and pestle, made in my mother’s native barrio that she used to crush and mix those herbs. There was the large black pot that had arrived with her in New York and the arroz Carolina it served every day. And there was my bank.
The plastic bank was wholly American, a free gift with the purchase of a Happy Meal on a rare trip to McDonald’s. The bank sat on a corner of the kitchen counter where I could reach it every day. Like most things in the kitchen, it was part of a daily ritual. Every morning, upon arriving from the night shift at the taxi garage, my father doled out the evening’s tip money: grocery cash for my mother, pocket money for his cigarettes and playing the numbers, and a dollar in my bank. He never put coins through the slot, always a crisp bill saved especially for the daily deposit.
There wasn’t anything I did to earn the extravagance of an allowance. I didn’t have specific chores or duties, but I always had money for Sweet Tarts from la bodega or a vanilla cone with rainbow sprinkles from Mister Softee. And I had the daily anticipation of finding a gift and starting every day like it was Three Kings’ day – even though we were so far from home.