Daddy's Big Day!
Mommy once said that we really weren’t sure exactly what day Daddy’s birthday was, but we always celebrated on July 18th.
Back in the 1960s, my parents bought “The Farm” in Circleville New York. It is 14 acres at the gateway to the Catskills and was absolute heaven on earth to my Dad. We spent our summers there, and just about every weekend during the school year. On Wednesdays (his afternoon off) Daddy got in the car and headed up to the Farm for an afternoon of mowing the lawn on the tractor or digging and weeding his vegetable garden.
He definitely was the “gentleman farmer” and he and my Mom were near replicas of the characters on Green Acres, a TV sitcom popular in the 1960s. Daddy actually looked a bit like Eddie Albert who played the New York City Attorney turned farmer. Mommy always wore high heels and had perfect hair and jewelry, not unlike the city-loving wife played by the glamorous Eva Gabor. It didn’t take much for the family and friends to recognize the similarity, and there was much teasing that went on!
The Farm was always the setting for Daddy’s Birthday Celebrations, which also served as Family Reunions. Unlike previous generations, mine tended to leave home because of school, jobs, friends etc. The family was dispersing, and the frequent family gatherings of my childhood were becoming fewer and farther apart. This made these July gatherings at the Farm even more important, and the must-attend event of the summer.
All our family and friends knew it was coming every year and just waited to hear from my Mom to confirm the date. It would always be a weekend close to July 18, and would always be on a Saturday, so those who came wouldn’t have to fight the tiresome Sunday bumper to bumper traffic returning to the city. It seemed all of New York City came to the Catskills each weekend and returned on Sunday night.
Mommy, the consummate hostess, was always at the top of her game for these parties. We would be about 30-40 guests, and there was always food for many more. You just never knew if someone might show up unexpectedly at the last moment. There is no worse sin on earth than running out of food at a party! As the guests arrived, they would settle in, sprawling all over the expansive lawn on folding chairs, sipping cocktails and catching up on all the family gossip since the last funeral or wedding when we last gathered.
The bar was always set up under the big cherry tree in the center of the yard, and hor's d’ oeuvres were varied and plentiful. One year, Frank Valone (whom we called “The Clam Man”) came with bushels of fresh cherrystone clams from Long Island. For hours, he would stand at the table and crack open drippy salty clams for the guests, squeezing on fresh lemons and offering spicy cocktail sauce until everyone had their fill.
As for the main meal, each year the menu would change, but the food was always “abondanza”, a lot of the vegetables coming from Daddy’s garden. Often Mommy would use this opportunity to try out new recipes on her guests. She would shop and cook for days and seemed to love every minute of it. There was nothing to compare to one of “Tina’s Parties!”
At some point, my Nonna Jenny would ask one of us to get the Bocci Balls and would gather everyone for a match. She loved playing Bocci and was rather good at it. But this was not the serious game of the old men in the park. This tournament was open to all from the oldest to the youngest, and played on a bumpy lawn, challenging even the best players. It was all about being together and having fun… and that’s just we did!
If my Uncle Giovanni Vicari was there, (one of New York’s finest Mandolinists) Daddy would grab his guitar and duet with Uncle Giovanni’s mandolin. Soon everyone was singing along to their favorite Italian songs.
By early evening, as the weather cooled down, the birthday cake, along with our friend Nancy’s homemade cookies and Italian pastries from the Bronx, would all be served with lots of strong Italian coffee to keep everyone awake on the drive back to home.
This July 2019, Daddy would have celebrated his hundredth birthday! I’m sure up in heaven, Mommy has already made her list for the party!