Wednesday, August 26, 2009
For some reason my brain keeps diverting my thoughts back to the ‘70’s, as you can tell from some of the topics of my recent columns. The memories felt significant and I discovered, from the large amount of emails and phone calls I received, that my stories struck a chord that evoked your own wonderful memories.
In the midst of these wonderings I received a phone call from an old friend telling me that one of our dearest friends growing up, Suzanne, had died. The news rested solidly upon my chest breaking my words, causing them to fall in shattered pieces from my incoherent lips. Impossible--I had just seen her two weeks ago; I invited her to my house so we could catch up on 30 years.
I went to the house where she grew up, where her mother still lives, where I had spent so many days so long ago just hanging out, wondering if my mental excursions weren’t somehow preparing me for the sad and tragic moment of losing someone with whom I had shared everything at a time when we were all at our most vulnerable.
After sitting with her mom breathing in the familiar scents that invoked a time long, long, ago and listening until I could listen no more, I stepped outside into the dark theater of the night all alone except for the intermittent flashes of lightning—furious electric javelins piercing the veil of the black starless summer sky; a veil that keeps hidden a heaven I need now more than ever to believe is really there.
“Where are you?” I wanted to scream, but didn’t because the pain of a silent response was more than I could bear.
When did we stop being those girls who filled every day’s minutes with conversation? When did we stop calling each other ten times a day? When did I stop knowing you? The friendships we forge when we’re young are the most solid, selfless connections we’ll ever make. And still, they slip away.
My most vivid memories of Sue are from 30 years ago. 1979--the summer before high school when our entire lives stretched before us like a never-ending desert highway that you might see pictured on the cover of an Eagles Album.
Thirty years ago there was nothing but a future… the days ahead far outnumbered the days that we had discarded. Our dreams held real possibility and received great encouragement from our friends.
Thirty years ago the summer seemed an endless series of uninterrupted moments--no wi fi, no i.m.-ing, no cell phones.
Thirty years ago there was conversation—real-words-spoken-face-to-face not Facebook-to-Facebook.
Thirty years ago connections are what we made with people and not with computers.
Thirty years ago there were helmet-less rides on ten-speed bikes throughout the small side roads of our Bergen County towns as we made our way to wiffle ball games, stick ball games, our friends’ houses.
Thirty years ago we never needed directions—we instinctively knew where we were going and had the confidence to get there.
Thirty years ago our paper routes and babysitting jobs provided us with all the cash we ever needed.
Thirty years ago we didn’t still need babysitters-- we were the babysitters.
Thirty years ago children who wanted our attention, our time, our energy were our mother’s problem, not ours.
Thirty years ago we spent our afternoons sitting on the cliffs atop the Palisades dangling our brown-bottomed barefeet over the Hudson River trying to escape the blistering heat of the August sun.
Thirty years ago we had no mortgages, rent, or crushing bills that need to be paid by jobs that we convince ourselves we’re satisfied by.
Thirty years ago the boys we loved all had hair—lots and lots of it.
Thirty years ago it was impossible to imagine there would come a time when we wouldn’t spend every summer day in the presence of our friends.
Thirty years ago there was a young, beautiful blond-haired girl named Sue, filled with dreams, whose laughter I never imagined I would live long enough to never hear again.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Welcome to the height of the season at all of the farmers’ markets! Peaches, blueberries, cherries, cantaloupe, watermelon, corn, squash, cucumbers, beans, carrots, mushrooms, celery, leeks, onions, scallions, lettuce, spinach, peppers, beets, and carrots. And don’t forget the home baked breads, cookies, and pies, as well as the handmade wine, freshly made pickles, and mozzarella cheese. Now is the time to eat what nature has provided us fresh from the farm!
I planned to visit every farmers’ market in Bergen County and eat only fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads, and desserts purchased at the markets for seven days. Honestly, the lettuce on a Big Mac qualifies as a vegetable for me, but I set my goal and I was determined to reach it. Well, I’ve never felt better and I’m down four pounds! Visit them all.
Fort Lee: (8am-2pm) Located at the Community Center off Anderson Ave. There’s one farm stand that sells fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as plants; there’s fresh breads, fresh mozzarella, pickles and more.
Emerson: (9am-2pm) Located at the train station on Kinderkermack Rd. The Orchards of Conklin from Rockland County has a stand offering their delicious freshly made pies and donuts, as well as their fresh fruits. There are two farm stands with a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. One stand offers white and yellow carrots which are sweeter than the orange ones. The other stand sells freshly picked mushrooms that are the freshest mushrooms I’ve ever tasted. There’s pickles, and freshly made mozzarellas and breads.
Ridgewood: (9am-3pm) Located at the Ridgewood Train Station. There’s a fresh honey stand for honey lovers, homemade jams, fresh breads and pies, pickles, and of course, a huge selection of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as a large selection of fresh herbs.
Tenafly: (9am-2pm) Located in the parking lot at the corner of Tenafly Road and Washington Street. Large selection of organic fruits, vegetables and they have an organic bread stand. In addition to the organic stands, there are two large vegetable stands, a plant/flower stand, freshly made goat’s milk cheeses, a featured artist, and a kids’ art table.
Hasbrouck Heights: (12pm-6pm) Located on the corner of Boulevard and Washington Place. There are two farm stands offering fruits and vegetables, an organic bakery, pickles, mozzarella, breads, fresh ravioli, and a stand that sells organic handmade soap.
Hackensack: (11am-6pm) Located across from Sears in Johnson Park. There’s two farm stands with fresh fruits and vegetables, one Amish stand with homemade pies, cookies, jams; a mozzarella stand with fresh breads, and a pickle stand.
Rivervale: (12pm-6pm) Located on Mark Lane off Piermont Ave. My FAVORITE farmers’ market. It’s huge! Here’s what they have: two fresh fruit and vegetable stands, one of which is Stokes Farm from Old Tappan; a handmade wine stand—with tastings! (If you like wine—try theirs!) A stand that offers handmade sodas and coffees; a stand with fresh handmade pasta sauces and pizzas; fresh Italian ice stand; pickles stand; an Amish stand with all the amazing homemade pies, pastries, jams; and a fresh mozzarella and bread stand.
Teaneck: (12pm-6pm) Located in the municipal parking lot off Cedar Lane (across from Bischoff’s). There’s two farm stands, but one of them is Amish and you have never seen such enormous vegetables or a stand so perfectly arranged with endless offerings. There’s also an Amish baked goods stand with all the homemade pies, cookies, jams. There’s also a mozzarella and bread stand, and a pickle stand.
Englewood: (11am-6pm) Located at Depot Square off N. Van Brundt St. There are two farm stands offering a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, an Amish stand with homemade baked goods, a mozzarella and bread stand, and pickles.
Come out to support our local farmers and buy fresh while you can. For a weekly listing of all the farmers’ markets and locations, visit the calendar at “Bergen County Mom to Mom.” Search Yahoo groups for “bergencountymomtomom.” Click on “Database” to see some of my favorite farmers’ market recipes.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
During these lazy last days of summer I’m having a really hard time trying to focus. Every time I come up with an idea for a column, my brain gets all A.D.D. and what begins as “Great Day Trips” somehow morphs into my giving the dog an embarrassing haircut so I can save money and stop getting my own embarrassing haircuts. I mean, when your dog’s grooming costs more than yours, and her hair looks better, there’s a problem, right? See what I mean? My linear thought process seems to be on vacation which isn’t good because I’m on deadline. Wait…look at all those hippies on television…what channel is this? What? The 40th anniversary of Woodstock? Get out! I was at Woodstock, man.
The summer of ’69, the summer of love, was the summer of my fourth birthday, and believe it or not I have really clear memories of it, albeit filtered through the prism of a 40-something woman. I was at Woodstock, but like everything else in my sordid life, I arrived the day everyone else left.
Every year in August, my old man would load up the Ford Falcon and take us to Callicoon, New York where his hard drinking retired Army Air Force brother, Jack, and his German wife, Friedel, lived. I always loved to say the name Callicoon—it sounds like the bastard off-spring of an alley cat and a raccoon. (See what I mean about my focus?) We were to learn on our trip that Callicoon is 12 miles from Woodstock. Was my old man in for a surprise!
Although I consider my father revolutionary in many ways, he took no part in the ‘60’s counter-culture. He was strictly a product of the Depression and WWII. Framed pictures of Franklin Delano Roosevelt hung on our walls; Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters continually played on our “pulled from someone else’s trash” RCA stereo console— just like the kind Monty Hall used to give away with a remote control color T.V. behind Curtain Number 3 on “Let’s Make a Deal.” Anyway, “Mele Kalikimaka” is to my family what “Silent Night” is to others. It wasn’t until I entered Kindergarten that I learned WWII was over and FDR had died; I’m still waiting for the Depression to end.
The point is, driving through Woodstock with John Wayne as your tour guide is pretty memorable. Words like “hop-heads” and “ja-boopies” resonated from the driver’s seat and still cloud the air over Woodstock. As we drove along those mud-caked single-lane roads, my brother and I ogling the barefoot stragglers in their crocheted vests and ponchos from the safety of the wagon’s backseat window, I felt like I was in Oz. It was also the closest me and my brother would ever come to our parents taking us to Jungle Habitat—the place designed to make you feel like you were driving through Africa; you stayed locked in your cars with your windows hermetically sealed in August sweating your ***** off while dodging wild animals teed off from living in suburban New Jersey. Instead of wild animals, hoards of hippies surrounded our car thumbing their way home.
As the Falcon sputtered along, John Wayne turned into Rhett Butler as my old man instructed us with a wave of his outstretched arm to take a good look around at the wasteland that lay before us. The back of his head shook in consternation and I could see his aggravated expression reflected back to me from the rearview mirror. Gone was the love and peace and flowers; all that was left was a psychedelic mess of dried mud and filth and trash. From my rolled down window my eyes followed the dried muddy footprints now baked into the earth—the La Brea tar pit of a barefoot generation. The generation of peace left its mark in many ways, but on that sunless summer day from the backseat of a white Ford Falcon my embryonic wonderings marveled…so many footprints must be leading to somewhere, and all I wanted to do was follow them.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Growing up in Fort Lee in the late ’60’s-70’s, The Feast of St. Rocco was to old Fort Lee what the San Gennarro Feast was to Little Italy, and the members of The St. Rocco Society continue to work hard to maintain the fundamental traditions of the Feast. I remember as a young child watching in amazement as the members hoisted the enormous statue of St. Rocco onto their aged and crooked backs and proudly marched through the streets of West Fort Lee stopping to pay respect before the homes of deceased members.
I remember the ordered procession that began with the sons who followed their fathers knowing that in a quarter century they would be charged with carrying on this tradition and bequeath the same inheritance to their yet unborn sons. Bearing the weight of all the generations were the Nona’s dressed in mourning black from the lace of their veils to the soft soles of their orthopedic shoes. Clasping fingers gnarled from years of scrubbing floors and wringing water from wet laundry; their stooped bodies distorted from the weight of carrying more babies to the grave than to the cradle. To them belonged the hearts that cannot break, but do not heal. Flanking them were the young women sharing the laughter of girls--unconscious of the pain that life had yet to deliver to them; hopeful for a future that may not be as kind to them as they imagined. Last came the mass of children dancing exuberantly to the music of their own mirth oblivious of the line of lives they trailed behind.
I remember my parents, aunts, and uncles sitting on their green and white nylon lawn chairs in front of the gas station that sat adjacent to the Yellow Front Saloon (now J.D.’s Steak Pit) meeting and greeting old friends who gathered their own lawn chairs around them; the earth beneath their feet conjuring memories of growing up poor on lower Main Street, evoking for me a fondness for a time I never knew. I remember my grandmother, Carrie Viola – mother of ten, grandmother of way-too-many-to-count—who lived on the second floor of the Gnasso house (now In Napoli) as she sat regally on her nylon throne like the female Godfather as people stopped to offer her respect. (Whenever I’m upstairs in Naps I can’t help but see my four-foot-nothing grandmother standing on her tip-toes stirring a humungous pot of meat sauce and yelling at my Uncle Joey to stop dipping pulled pieces of Italian bread into it. Every time Chef Sammy Gnasso walks through the upstairs kitchen doors I half expect to see my grandmother chasing him out with a wooden spoon dripping with her Sunday gravy.)
I remember my mother sending me into The Yellow Front Saloon to find my father who always found his way into the bar where men young and old would buy him drinks and beg him to tell a story from his life because he was the funniest man I ever knew and could make a room come alive with laughter. I remember the bartender handing me a Coca Cola with a cherry in it as I sat beside my dad watching while he made the world around him laugh from the pulpit of his stool. I remember my mother coming in and finding us both sitting on barstools having the time of our life. The less-than-pleased look upon her face made me feel what it was like to be married to an Italian woman…and I was scared.
This year, as I stand amidst the crowd at The Feast of St. Rocco, I can’t help but look back on those days and feel a deep homesickness for those ordinary moments. To hear my father’s laughter float from a barstool, to see my grandmother ladling sauce—those monumental moments taken for granted evoked by the annual tradition of a feast. Thank you to all the members of The St. Rocco Society, who keep the memory of those who came before us alive every year by carrying on the tradition of your fathers.