IN THE PLACE WHERE IT HAPPENED….

84007032-6923-4C6F-B1CE-98985CE91AB1I know today is the fifth of July, but where I come from this is basically  Independence Week.

The Fourth of July is viewed as the birthday of our country.  Actually, July 2 is the date on which the Continental  Congress had voted unanimously to  declare independence from Great Britain.   July 4 was date that the text of the declaration Independence was approved.

I just came back from a visit to Easton, Pennsylvania, my hometown. If you’ve been following my blog for some time you may recall that I wrote about Easton and our holiday traditions last November when I was in Easton for Thanksgiving (HOMECOMING). During this past week’s  visit I had more time to  look around this town  where my father and his 12 siblings were reared and where my parents and I moved to when I was ten years old.

Easton was founded in 1752 by Thomas and John Penn, the sons of William Penn.   It  is positioned on the Delaware River, or more accurately at the Forks of the Delaware and the Lehigh Rivers.  It’s a city about 60 miles north of Philadelphia, where our Founding Fathers wrote and signed the document declaring our independence from Great Britain, and about 40 miles from Valley Forge, the military camp 18 miles northwest of Philadelphia where the American Continental Army spent the winter of 1777-78 during the Revolutionary War .  The other night I was watching the nightly news from Philadelphia and the reporter proudly declared that there was no better place to celebrate our country’s independence day  than  in the area  where it started.  Although the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776,  it wasn’t  until the Treaty of Paris in 1783 that the War ended and independence was finally won.

I lived in the midst of the history virtually my whole life, but the past few times I’ve been back, I have been especially struck by the fact  that I pretty much ignored it while I lived there.

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George Taylor home, member of Continental Congress, lived in this house, built in 1757 by William Parsons

 

George Taylor, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, lived there in this house on Ferry and Fourth Streets, a home that I passed without acknowledgement many times in my youth.    Easton was one of  three cities in which the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence was held on July 8 1776.

In July 1779, General John Sullivan began the southern leg of the one of the largest offensive campaigns in the Revolutionary War that came to be known as Sullivan’s March, which essentially passed through the bottom of the hill I lived on.

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Easton’s city flag unfurled on July 8, 1776

 

 

Easton’s is the first flag to use the stars and stripes and the red, white and blue colors, even before the flag made by Betsy Ross.   It flies proudly today on the light standards  throughout downtown Easton.

FEA8A90C-8E97-4678-A2FA-3D55AA65E128Since 1752 the town centre square, which we call the Circle, has been the site of the oldest continuously operating open-air farmer’s market in the United States.  So presumably during the Revolution, this market was available to locals, selling their wares.  Now every Saturday, the Circle is filled with vendors selling locally grown produce, honey, art, and meats.  In addition to the farmer’s market, the alleys are filled with local artisans selling jewelry and artwork. A new Public Market boasts a wide range of merchants selling gourmet vinegars and oils, cheeses,  wood work, chocolates, a creperie, a sandwich shop along with seating so that shoppers can grab a bite to eat.

The same city that welcomed representatives of the Continental Congress 241 Julys ago is  now in the midst of a resurgence as not only an historic capitol but  as a restaurant and artisan capitol as well – happily one that is not trading its heritage for glossy glitz. Restaurants and brew pubs have been springing up around the city but they are, by and large, not occupying new structures.  Many of the new proprietors are honoring and repurposing the old buildings with the skill and attention to detail that they deserve and the restoration  results are spectacular!

As an example, one needs to look no further than  the new life of the city’s Penn Building, an 1860 structure. Two years ago, the landlord of the building won the Easton’s Mayor’s Historic Restoration Award for tackling and excelling at the job of restoring the building’s rear apartments.   Once finished with that, he turned to the front facade of the building which presented the challenge that the right side of the building dated to the 1860s and the left half was from the 1930s. The owner wanted the entire facade to be 1860s.  No architectural plans  existed from which to work so the plans were sketched out as the building progressed by a masters-degreed architect and the owners general contracting company, both having expertise in historic restoration.   Eleven hundred days of  days of work later, the painstaking restoration is complete with a stunning result.  Now the home of a new microbrewery pub,  it’s one of the first buildings you see as you cross the bridge from New Jersey into Pennsylvania.    Another historic building dates back to 1810.  It too is now a local craft beer emporium as well as a farm to table restaurant.  The new owners have left the first floor barroom relatively untouched from the 1920s.   Beautiful  1920’s vintage tin ceilings were repaired and painted.   The original milk glass lighting fixtures and terrazzo floors needed only minor repairs and clean up.   I can attest that the outside of the building looks exactly as I remember when I used to pass by as a teenager.

The downtown is a juxtaposition of  the very old, newly  restored buildings and brand new structures created when building from scratch was the only viable option.  But it’s a downtown that I can still easily walk through with an old familiarity from my childhood.

This Sunday, July 9, Easton will hold its 41st Heritage Day.  Because of its  historic significance in this country’s birth, a celebration is held each year around the date of the first reading of the Declaration .     At noon on July 8, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read on the steps of the old courthouse in Easton’s Centre Square.   A reenactment of that event and a festival organized around it first occurred during the Bicentennial Celebration in 1976.  From that year on, Heritage Day has been celebrated as Easton’s own Independence Day celebration.

Until next time!

 

MY YEAR IN MUSICAL THEATER

I am ready to confess that I have always been unashamedly a huge fan of musical theater. From my high school senior play, The Music Man, to seeing PippIn, the first play I saw on Broadway, I’ve been entranced.

For me, this has been a banner year for seeing some of my favorities live, starting with a phenomenol performance of My Fair Lady at the Lyric Opera. Each year, the Lyric reserves part of the month of May for a virtuoso production of a Broadway musical. My husband and I have made a bit of an annual  tradition out of going with some friends to see a Broadway show done spectacularly at the Lyric. We are never disappointed because the Lyric’s stock in trade is being entrusted with producing iconic works; they are used to taking precious care with every detail. I think I’ve seen this classic live at least four times over the years and, by far, this Lyric production was the best.

thumb_IMG_0498_1024Next we saw the current darling of musical theater, Hamilton, a show that can only be described as a masterpiece in its conception, its writing and its performance. Derived out of Ron Chernow’s historical biography about Alexander Hamilton, the orphaned flawed genius who was a principal designer of our federal government. When I told my husband, who takes history very seriously, that, yes, on stage Hamilton’s story unfolds in fast paced rap cadence, he had no comment, not sure if he wanted to see it or not. I too was skeptical:   I knew little about Hamilton and had not read Chernow’s book. Would I be able to follow and enjoy the story when told this way? Would it do serious justice to the story of the man who is arguably “the most important figure in American history who never attained the presidency.”    Also, think about it, Hamilton had the potential to be a real sleeping pill:  it’s about the visionary who developed  America’s banking,  tax and budget systems, the author of The Federalist Papers, and the Customs Service.   Is it finger popping time yet???  Anybody still awake out there??? No!   But Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton, the play, indeed turned all that into poetry.   He did a masterful job of synthesizing the vast story into a beautfiully executed, wildly entertaining night in American theater. In my opinion, telling the story with the hip, edgy cast enunciating in rap actually enhances the experience.    It is truly a show that will be seen and enjoyed, continuously in venues across the country, for many years to come. My history curmudgeon husband, our son, daughter-in-law and I were truly awestruck.

In the next two weeks I will see Aladdin which I hope will live up to the hype and that my grandkids will enjoy it. I can’t comment since we haven’t seen it yet but I’ve heard nothing but raves so I’m looking forward to it.

Hello, Dolly! with Carol Channing premiered on Broadway in New York in 1964 and became the hit of the year, eventually going on to win 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, a record that held for 37 years. Everyone sang the praises of the telling of the story of matchmaker, Dolly Levi. My 16-year-old self was vaguely aware of the exodus of people of a certain age going from my hometown to New York to see the play. Good for them, not for me. In the summer of ’64, I was too busy securing tickets to see The Beatles in Atlantic City; I had no time for Dolly Levi. My  full on  grudge with her however ensued when Louis Armstrong’s rendition of the title song of Hello, Dolly! came along and kicked my beloved moptops off the top of the charts.  The Beatles had first arrived in the United States in February 1964, and they had held first place on the Billboard chart for many months. There was no other rightful owner of that Billboard spot, in my mind.  When Armstrong’s song took first place, I was enraged and staged a one-person boycott of even having a thought of seeing Hello, Dolly! at the time.

But alas, the time has flown by and here I sit, having watched the Tony Awards last Sunday, and ready to visit my mother-in-law in two weeks’ time.   And she lives just 75 short minutes from Manhattan. If only there were a show that both she and I would love with a headlining star that I would give my eye teeth to see. What’s that you say? Bette Midler has just won the Tony for best female perfomer in a musical revival? I am overjoyed because I love Bette Midler. What, now? The show she has brought back to life is Hello Dolly!, itself winning the award for the best musical revival this year?  That’s it, let’s let 53-year-old bygones be bygones!   We’re going! Got on my Stub Hub site and scored two tickets while we are back East. I’ll be going with my mother-in-law since my husband has no interest.

And that, folks, is my year in Musical Theater ———so far.

See you next time….

MUSINGS

Is everyday a Saturday?

My son and I were talking about retirement recently and what it really feels like. “Do you have to think about what day it is?” he asked. Actually I do. When I worked, Monday was back to work day; Tuesdays often meant leadership meetings, etc. So I often got up having an idea of  what the day held in store for me. In retirement, except for Thursday, I have no defined task by which to identify the day. Thursday is defined by our Italian class. Other than that, as one retired physician once told me, “Every day’s a Saturday.”

My son and I both laughed about the universal “Sunday afternoon” feeling – the idea that the weekend can’t possibly be about to end already, can it? No matter how much one loves the job or school, in work life the fleeting of the weekend always comes as a somewhat wistful surprise. In fact just recently, my granddaughter, age 6 and in first grade, made reference  this past Sunday to going back to school on Monday. “It’s already time to go back to school,” she said, and she’s a girl who loves school. She’s already caught by the end-of-weekend reality.   No such feeling in retirement.

My working friends invariably laugh when I tell them when we’re going on vacation. “Vacation from what?” they say. “From what has now become our day to day; from this scenery and experiences to different scenery and experiences,” I laugh and answer. Or how about the working friend who calls me at noon or 1:00 in the afternoon, and, when I answer, jovially says, “Oh, you’re up!” Haha – very funny, my dear. It’s true, though, retirement and the livin’ indeed is easy.

After 43 years of work life, I’m still pretty much in the honeymoon phase of my freedom. But lest you think that retirement means just blowing in the wind (kind of does, happily) I do have obligations that I have voluntarily undertaken that require dedication, thought and some work – out of class Italian homework, for example. Writing this blog on a reasonably regular schedule, for another example. In the fall, I plan to join one of the many book groups in which I can participate as a member of the local American Association of University Women.   I love the idea that the assigned books in a book group are often ones that I would pass by if  left to my own devices.    I’ve found that I  want  just enough structure that I feel somewhat productive but not so much that I feel burdened.

The King of Cosmos

Last week, my husband, son, daughter-in-law and I went to see Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist disquised as a rock star who is head of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. Anyone who has seen him on a talk show or on his television series Cosmos, understands his easy, playful, comedic style as he’s describing the intricasies of the universe (or the multiple universes, that he posited are likely out there).  Going to this event fits in nicely with my desire in retirement to stretch beyond the usual forms of entertainment or knowledge that I enjoy and learn something new.

thumb_IMG_0399_1024The Chicago Theater was sold out and he stayed on stage for the better part of three hours, educating us from topics on the Big Bang to black holes to quarks to quantam mechanics. I know, it sounded way above my head too, believe me. I never even took introductory physics in high school. For people like me, he wrote a book called Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, for which this presentation was a part of his book tour.  I don’t want to know the minutiae; I won’t understand it anyway.   The book, a signed copy of which was given to every person (or couple) in the audience, is basically a Cliff Notes to bring us up to speed on the major discoveries behind our universe in readable, understandable English. I don’t know how he’s viewed in the physics community; it seems sometimes that  serious experts who become TV personalities often run into criticism from their peers in academia, medicine or science.  I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with  bringing esoteric information  to the masses if it’s done well.  You’re not going to come away knowing how to split atoms – his goal is just to make us fluent enough to be reasonably conversant (should we want to be) when the next cosmic headline comes along.

Like any rock star, NDT has his groupies – those college-age, middle age or senior followers who try to see him wherever he appears. I found that to be true of those who were in this audience because those sitting next to me told me that they also came the last year when he came to Chicago.    We were surrounded by college students – to the front, side and back of us – cheering whenever he mentioned a theory that they had studied with their professors: reminiscent of The Beatles in concert singing I Want to Hold Your Hand to screaming teenagers back in the day.   There were also children and seniors who asked impressively pointed, educated questions for Tyson at the end of the show.

If it all sounds too nerdy for words, it wasn’t.   At least not to me or my family.   Granted, you needed to have a smidgen of curiosity about the beginnings and evolution of the universe  to even go to the presentation but you required no expertise whatsoever in the subject matter to find it a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Until next time…….

 

Mother’s Day

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My mother with four friends approximately 1935- mom is on the far right

I’m going to follow two of my friends today on the topic of Mother’s Day. One of my friends wrote beautifully about her mother and Mother’s Day in her latest blog  (ivyandironstone.com).   Another friend sent a copy of a recent New York Times article entitled “Our Mothers as We Never Saw Them.” I hope you’ll check it out. This is an interesting, thought-provoking article about our mothers as young women before motherhood. Haven’t  we all marveled at youthful pictures of our young mothers, before we knew them.   Did the person they were continue on throughout their lives?  How did they change along the way?

One of my favorite pictures of my mother is this one of her in the 1930’s walking with several of her friends on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. She was in her early twenties then and all dressed up in a white linen suit, white heels (she always had a great sense of style), as were all her friends! I guess this is the way they did the boardwalk in the ’30’s! There they were, laughing and having a great time! All so full of youth and freedom!
My mother didn’t marry my father, the love of her life, until she was 27. She  was 36 when I was born and both my parents had died by the time  I was 28.   So my memories of my parents are from long ago.   I envy those who have had their parents into their middle age and beyond.   I am blessed with a mother-in-law who has filled a lot of the void left by my early losses.

One of my favorite stories of my mother was from the day my son was born.  She was at her office at the business my father had started.  We called to tell her very early on that cold December morning that I was in labor.   As I, her only child, was making her a grandmother, she told me she couldn’t concentrate and she was a wreck until she received word that both my son and I were doing well.   She was in Pennsylvania and I was in New Jersey at the time.   She came and stayed with us for about 10 days  when we came home from the hospital.    I felt that everything needed to be absolutely  perfect and so the slightest thing made me jump up and clean or sterilize bottles, toys, anything that touched my child.   My mother watched this for a few days and finally had had enough.   She said, “If you don’t calm down and slow down, you will make everyone, including the baby, a nervous wreck.  He’ll be just fine.  Relax and enjoy him!”    She was right and  from then on, I tried to curtail the hysteria and recognize that I may not always be perfect but I would always do the best I can when it came to him .

Over my lifetime, I’ve learned from all the moms who have been close to me.
My grandmothers were the soul of my family. They taught me the traditions of my ethnicities – Italian and Slovak – that I cherish and in some ways pass down at least verbally  to my son and grandchildren.

Most of the Italian dishes I make I’ve learned from, or have been enhanced by, what my mother in law teaches me. I marvel at the story of her as a war bride and the bigness and richness of her life, her sense of style,  to this day.
My daughter in law is immersed in the full bloom of motherhood now with two children in elementary school.    She is the most patient, loving and thoughtful mom I know.
Some of my friends are not mothers, but most are. Some have become second mothers to the children of others. Some like me have one child, others have as many as five. But one common thread runs though all of us: our children are our greatest accomplishment, that of which we are most proud, that part of our lives we cannot imagine being without.
Many of us are grandmothers, feeling this special euphoric joy that comes from our children’s children. I remember my mother talking about that kind of joy when she held my son.  And I feel it every day with my grandchildren.   So the beat goes on.

A few days after my mother died, a woman I did not know, called me.  She had been a long-standing business associate of my mother’s.   She said she just wanted me to know that  my mother never stopped talking about my son and me.   “She thought the world and all of you,”  was how she put it.     I never forgot that and have thought about it often in the intervening years during those times when I really missed or needed my mom.

Happy Mother’s Day to all who are blessed to be called “mom.”

Until later…..

 

 

 

You Should Be Here….

That’s what a sign said last weekend as we walked through the Wilmington, North Carolina airport retrieving one of our friends who had flown in for the girls’ weekend that has taken place every year since 1995. That sign extolled the beauty of the Carolinas and the fun to be had as families and friends vacation there.

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For 22 years, our friend has opened her Bald Head Island, NC home to us. Most of us became friends as we were also career colleagues, one of us is our host’s friend from college. Some of us still work, some are retired. There are just several of us left from the orignal invitees. New friends have been added so that for the past eighteen years or so, it’s been a group of the same 3 to 6 women who attend on any given weekend.  Last week there were five of us.   Our weekend begins on a Friday and ends on a Monday and often, it’s the only time that many of us see each other in person  throughout the year since we’re scattered around the country.
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On these trips, we cover a lot of ground.  What a gift! We drink wine, we eat, we shop, we walk on the beach, we look at the sunsets. The artist among us may go off and paint or sketch – but more often than not, she is drawn back into a conversation so that little painting actually gets done. And we talk! Conversations run from the frivolous to the deadly serious. Through these years, we’ve shared happy times and sad.   We talk about  the graduations and weddings of our children, the births of our grandchildren and the sharing of all the pictures of these  bundles of joy. We support and encourage each other through illnesses, divorce, deaths of loved ones. Some of us revel in retirement and others can’t imagine leaving work. Because this is a very involved, activist group, there is a good deal of discussion about politics and the world in which we live.    And there’s the usual talk of exercise, cosmetics, anti-aging routines and “procedures.”

I try to explain female friendships to my husband and how, in my opinion,  male and female friendships  differ. I’ve observed that men tend to do things together while women  share emotions more readily  and thus I think that many female friendships run deeper. I am blessed to have several clusters of very good friends. I hope you all have groups like this who give you the same joy that my friends give me. As the ad said, “you should be here” (anywhere) with your good friends.

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From the Bald Head Island group over the years I’ve learned:

  • Laugh from the belly every day – preferably with family or good friends doing it with you
  • There’s a lot that can be handled in the company of a friend,  with a glass of wine and the sight and sound of the ocean alongside  you
  • If you ever suffered fools, stop it right now. You don’t have time to waste on this anymore.  You never did.
  • Try new things

Dabbling…….

I used to hate dabblers. I thought of them as flighty, flibbityjibbets, unable to stick with anything, evidence of a certain lack of character. That was also in the days when I had no time to try something just to see if I might like it, so maybe there was a touch of envy going on.    I was fully committed to everything in my life. So uptight that if I started a book, and then found that I didn’t like it, I usually plowed on to the end because I had made a commitment (to the book???) – sometimes I never enjoyed it, sometimes the reward was a surprising reversal found only by seeing it through to the end. The nuns who taught me would have been so proud!

Today I hope I have a “why not” attitude and the freedom to try something and then, set it aside if I don’t like it. Or, the ability  to admit that while I may  not become a  virtuoso maybe the journey of  putting myself out there might be enough.

I have a new “why not” that I’m interested in trying.    Never having envisioned myself as a painter,  lately I find myself intrigued by the question of whether I have any talent in that direction. Interesting coming from a person who stared for some time at the Mona Lisa on a visit to the Louvre, looking for a rush of emotion to overcome me as I took in this icon. When I left, I was convinced that I had no soul. I will say that I was excited that I was seeing the actual Mona Lisa, because, after all, it’s the Mona Lisa. I mean who am I to say “Meh” to her. Centuries of people have found this a magnificent, intriguing painting and I walked away feeling somewhat sorry for the bloke who painted the work on the  wall opposite  the Mona Lisa with everyone’s back turned to it.

One of my Bald Head Island friends retired a number of years ago. Already a wonderful writer, she turned her attention to painting. And I have to say that whether you’re talking about her florals, or her animals or her human portraits, she does fantastic, beautiful work. Surely, she had been painting all her life. No, she says, she simply picked up a paint brush a few years ago and started taking classes and found this new talent and passion.

George W. Bush also found painting post-presidency in his mid-sixties. No matter what you think of his governing abilities, his skillful portraiture of veterans he sent into battle is getting reasonable painting acclaim for this novice artist who again started rather late in life. As a side note, his painting of these veterans has also resulted in a book and a charity to honor and aid veterans maybe as a kind of atonement. And again, before  picking up the brush four years ago, he had no prior painting experience, just the desire and obviously, some very good tutelage.

Hmmmmm. I think I need to add painting to my list of things to try. But in the meantime, it will have to get in line behind (beside?) my study of Italian and the several writing pieces that I’m trying to complete.

Until next time…..

COMING TOGETHER

I’m sure many of you will be able to identify with the Sundays I’m going to describe from my childhood. I think for many of us  during the 1950’s and ’60’s, before schedules got turbo charged, Sundays were family time, first and foremost. My Sundays, growing up, meant going to Mass in the morning and then going to my Italian grandmother’s house for a get-together in the afternoon. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, my mother, father and I lived together with my Slovak grandparents whom I adored and who just doted on me, until I was ten. So I saw that much-smaller side of my family, including my mother’s brothers, almost every day.

But it’s those Sundays and the dynamic of growing up part of a very large ethnic family in mid-century America that I’m writing about this time. I think it’s a story that resonates among a vast swathe of the baby boom, no matter what the nationality. Nana, my father’s mother, had been having children from 1906 to 1931, ultimately having 13 children, not totally unusual for Italian families in those days. With my grandfather’s death in 1939, she became the matriarch of this large, and still growing, clan. By the 1950’s Nana’s children were all married and had children of their own. Some of my father’s siblings – 4 of them – had moved from Pennsylvania, to California, Utah or Nebraska. But, when you consider my father’s 9 other siblings, their spouses and children, that still left a large contingent in our hometown to gather on Sundays.

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My Italian grandparents on their wedding day

I’m not sure when I realized – but it was early in my life – that my father and his brothers spelled their last names in different ways. I have no idea how my father’s sisters spelled the name before they married. The family name was Piparato (this is the way my father, and therefore my mother and I, spelled it). My grandfather – the patriarch of this family – spelled it Piperata. There were at least three spellings that I was aware of: Piperata, Piparato, Piperato.

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Thus the t-shirt at our 2016 family reunion!

How did this happen? The answer that was handed down to me is that whichever way the siblings’ teachers spelled it when they started school was what that child went with. I keep thinking about how we now work with our kids and grandkids to know their colors, shapes, numbers, the alphabet and how to spell their names before they start school. My grandparents were likely feeling very blessed, rightfully so, to keep all their children fed, clothed and housed, nevermind teaching them to spell their names. So it is very plausable in the early twentieth century that the first time they were taught to spell their names was from a teacher in school.

Sunday at Nana’s was sacrosanct. It was more of an open house than an actual dinner, although there was always pasta, salad, Italian bread to graze on whenever you arrived. I could always be sure that I would see at least a  number of my aunts, uncles and cousins. If I missed a cousin or two at Nana’s, I would see one of them in the school halls on Monday and they might say, “You weren’t at Nana’s yesterday!” “Yes, I was – just not when you were there!” It was the rare occasion that we missed Nana’s on Sunday. And every summer at least once, my Uncle John  would give Nana a break and have all of us out to this house for a cookout. In addition, we kicked off each year with a family gathering on New Year’s Day.  There was no need for a Piparato reunion back then!

I never gave much thought to being an only child growing up because of the presence of this large extended family. I took it for granted. And it was not unusual, especially as I got into older, childhood,  to bemoan having to go to Nana’s each and every week. But once that weekly obligation was removed, after my grandmother died and my father and some of his siblings had died and my cousins moved all over the country, not having Sundays at Nana’s gradually became a void, especially after having my own child who was part of the family. The family as I knew it was gone but I wanted my son to know the family of which he was a part. My son knew about them from stories I told and he had episodic first-hand experiences with the family: a few Sundays at Aunt Mary’s when Nana was still alive and living with my aunt; his pizza birthday party at Aunt Theresa’s Italian restaurant; his confirmation party at our house when both the Slovak side and the Italian side were invited. But it was hardly the constant presence I had and wanted for him.

The last reunion of the Piparato family had been in 1990 when one of my cousins pulled it together virtually singlehandedly. Unfortunately, I had been unable to attend that one but I kept the beautful follow up letter my cousin had written to all, whether we had attended or not, ending with the hope that a reunion would be an ongoing thing. It turns out that that reunion was the last time that so many of our aunts and uncles would be with us to attend.

I had been promoting the idea of a family reunion for a long time with several of my cousins. Most that I talked with were very interested but time went on and there had been no reunion. I was still working at the time and the reunion, even with my enthusiasm about it, always seemed to fall near the bottom of my to-do list. Then two years ago, after I fully retired, a beloved cousin passed away. Within minutes of hearing the news, another cousin called me and said, “We have to do this reunion. We need to bring all of us together again.” So that was our sad push to get this going. We formed a committee of three to spearhead the planning. We sent questionnaires out to cousins for whom we had email or regular mail addresses across the country. Were they in favor of a reunion? Would they attend? Where should we have it – back in Pennsylvania where the Piparato’s started in this country or somewhere else more centralized to make it easier for both East and West Coast cousins to attend? If they attended, how many from their family did they think would come: sons, daughters, grandkids – we wanted to go out to all generations. Would they be willing to help defray the cost?

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Special cupcakes made and brought by one wonderful industrious cousin!

The response was great, in my opinion. There was so much enthusiasm for a reunion not only from our first cousins but particularly from my son’s generation – those who I believe felt like he does, that he’s heard the stories but wanted to see the family interact for real and in person. One interesting note that I pretty much expected was that the interest was essentially concentrated among the East Coast cousins, those of us that grew up in Pennsylvania with Nana and our family and experienced it week in and week out for our whole childhoods. The Piparato clan was well known in Easton, Pennsylvania when we grew up. My father and several of his brothers, and a number of my cousins gained reputations as major football or baseball stars in high school. Two of them went on to college on football scholarships; one cousin on a baseball scholarship. Their lore was such that they have been written up in books. Later, my father and a number of his siblings started well known businesses in town. So there was some cache in being a Piparato in that town in the years we grew up and one we all keenly felt. To this day, when I go back and visit a certain business in town that I have known most of my life, the owner who was a few years younger than my youngest uncles, tells his story of when he himself was a very good football player at the same high school my uncles attended. He tells me that his mother would say, “You’re a great football player, but you’re not as good as the Piparato’s!” And that was his mother saying that! His Italian mother saying that!
I imagine that because the West Coast cousins visited once a year or so, and then left, the dynamic between them and the rest of the family was totally different. I don’t know if their identity was caught up in being a Piparato as much as ours was. But possibly that’s an unfair assessment, because I didn’t interact with them as much as some of my other cousins did.
All I know is that from the time we sent out the first “what do you think about a reunion” survey, it was Katie bar the doors. Cousins – and many second and third cousins that I didn’t know – contacted us with great ideas, offers to help and expressing the sense that this is exactly what we’ve all been waiting for! It was remarkable!   We had cousins come from up and down the East Coast, primarily.   My family came from Chicago.   After years of talking about it, we were actually going to pull this off.

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Those who attended our family reunion and made it the success it was!

 

 

 

On June 25, 2016, on a magnificently beautiful day, our Piparato family reunion became a reality: at a park in Easton, a park that has its own beginnings with the immigrant Italian Catholic families that came to Easton in the early 1900’s from a Sicilian town called Santo Stefano di Camastra. Our grandfather and about 80 of his Santo Stefano friends donated amounts of money that were very small by today’s standards – $1, $2, $5.  With these meager  contributions along with their local Italian parish, they eventually bought this land on which now sits a large picnic pavilion, a field where their great and great-great grandchildren were now playing frisbee and jumped in bounce-y houses; and a beautiful little chapel in which to pray and honor their memory, down the hill from where much of the Piparato clan is buried. Just one thought about visiting the cemetery: you see all those tombstones with all those memories, you say a prayer and as you’re walking away down the hill, you invariably have a smile on your face about some funny  family incident from long ago and all those different spellings of the name saved for posterity for all eternity: PIPARATO, PIPERATA, OR PIPERATO.

I would encourage you to have a family reunion if that is already not your tradition.  Whether there are 10 in your family or 300, it is so worthwhile for you, for your children, and their children to come together to share stories and confirm where you came from.   It’s a primal yearning I think we all have.   Our reunion was a total blast, and so satisfying on such a deep level,  and one we hope to replicate in another 2 years in our family.

Until we meet again…

TANANA

There were four overriding priorities  I envisioned as I approached my retirement three years ago:   being able to spend more time with my son, daughter-in-law and our grandkids, learning to speak Italian, traveling and writing.

It was Christmas Eve, 2007. We were hosting Christmas Eve dinner at our house. We had a houseful of guests that included  our immediate family plus my husband’s cousins visiting from Italy and  my son’s high school friend.  We were getting ready to sit down when, just before dinner, my son asked me to come into the family room because they had a gift they wanted to give me right then. What was the urgency? Was it a utensil that I needed for the dinner? I sat on an ottoman when he and my daughter-in-law gave me a small cube of a box.     It seemed too small to be a utensil but you never know!     My husband tells me that at that moment he had an inkling that this was not about the gift in the box, but that this was an announcement.   I  pulled off the ribbon and and took off the paper. Inside was a plain box that gave no indication of what was inside. I opened the tissue and inside was a small red onesie with the inscription – July 20, 2008.    My fervent wish since my son and daughter-in-law had married five years before was that we would be grandparents, so you would think that this would have been the first thing I would have thought of.    But I can be pretty thick at the strangest times.     All I could think of were the onesies I had given to the daughter of a friend at her baby shower a few weeks earlier, on which was inscribed “The result of Mommy kissing Santa Claus.” “How adorable!”  I said, holding up the onesie,  still oblivious to its meaning, “Almost like the one I gave to Julia!”

IMG_0163And then it registered! It was one of those moments when everything is happening in slow motion on the outside but my brain was in the middle of a firestorm – “Oh my God!” “Oh my God” I kept screaming! My husband and I had been waiting for this moment, we were going to be grandparents and I was going to be Nana. That sense of thrill and wonder  – that reveling in grandparenthood – has stayed with me from that day to this.

I believe I was born to be a grandmother. I remember the relationship  my son had with my mother  who  found it difficult to describe adequately the love she felt for him – he was truly the light of her life. And it was a joy for me –  his parent, her child –  to behold the two generations on either side of me bonding the way they did. I saw my mother-in-law and father-in-law and my son and the fun they had together.     I watched  my friends become a grandparents, and what  a unique gift that was.    I remembered my own special relationship with my  grandparents and how important they were to me.     Grandparents are the ones you can rely upon to confirm that you are the best, the smartest and, yes,  to tell you that sometimes you screw up. I knew I wanted to be that person for another generation of our family.
My son and daughter-in-law chose not to know the baby’s sex before the birth of their first child who was actually born on July 26  that year (“Same day as Mick Jagger,”  my grandson now tells me!). So when my son came out to the waiting room and breathlessly told us that the baby was here, told us the baby’s weight, told us we could go back with him to see the baby, I finally exploded, “Is it a boy or a girl!?” “Oh!” my son said laughing, “it’s a boy!” I saw my grandson just minutes after he was born almost 9 years ago.  He was a large baby, 9 pounds 5 ounces, and very alert.   I knew right then that I would take any opportunity to be with him. I was still working at my job  for the first six years of his life. But when any chance came up to take care of him on a workday, I made it a priority (and I know I was blessed to have  the kind of position where it was possible to do this) to  clear my calendar in order to be with him. I didn’t want to miss out. I wanted that connection, to pay attention and know the infant that he was and watch the child he is now.
I didn’t know whether there would be another grandchild but just 2 years after our grandson was born, we were ecstatic to receive   another red onesie with the date July 14, 2010 (actually born July 11)!    IMG_0165  This one to be a “perfect little girl,” as my son told me after her first ultrasound.
So that was it – our dreams had come true – we had a boy and a girl to dote on! And what a joy they have been! They are healthy (both), beautiful (both), smart (both), funny (both) , dramatic (my granddaughter), willful (both). With our grandson, we have learned all there is to know about construction equipment, dynosaurs, dragons, horned animals, cars, and soccer and soccer stars. With our granddaughter, we have watched FROZEN many times, I’ve played Barbie and American Girl dolls, and have taken up the role of errant student to her very stern, officious  principal, when we play school. Together, we have had countless sleepovers,  taken numerous trips to visit family in Italy, attended a family reunion in Pennsylvania, visited Disneyland, gone to plays and movies,  and splash parks, gone  bowling, visited arcades.

Last week, I happened to be at their house for dinner.   My daughter-in-law was filling wine glasses and writing on the glasses to identify whose glass was whose.   She called my glass “Tanana.”   I said, “Tanana?”   She explained that whenever they get in the car to come out to the western suburbs, the kids ask, “Are we going ta Nana’s?”   It doesn’t get better than that!

See you next time!