Today is January 6th, 2022. January 6th marks the Feast of the Epiphany, or the day that the Three Wise Men paid their visit to the Christ Child. January 6th is also known as Little Christmas, and like many across the world, it is the day in our house that the celebration of Christmas ends. After the 6th, the outside lights get turned off, and the tree and decorations get put away for another year. As today is Little Christmas, it will also be the last post on this blog having to do with our Christmas holiday.
For today’s blog, I’d like to tell a story about one of the most familiar symbols of Christmas, The Christmas Tree. According to Wikipedia, “Sources have offered a connection between the first documented Christmas trees in Alsace around 1600 and pre-Christian traditions. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmas time.”
Susie and I are never happier in the beginning of the Christmas season, then when we see our first Christmas Tree tied to the roof of a car, and never sadder than when we see our first undecorated, discarded Christmas Tree on the side of the road.
My story today goes back many years, to the first Christmas in 1968 after my folks and I moved from Jackson Heights to Bayside…..
I grew up in a four room, 4th floor walk-up (that means no elevator) apartment in Jackson Heights, a highly urbanized area of Queens. Jackson Heights is serviced by the very nearby #7 elevated subway line, which was literally just outside our windows. When we moved in early 1968 to a single family house in Bayside Hills, it was like we’d gone from the city to the country. Still a part of Queens county, Bayside is one of the most eastern areas of the county, and was one of the places we used to do Sunday drives to when I was a kid. On those days we said we were going on a drive to “the country,” and now we lived here!!
In Jackson Heights, when you bought a Christmas Tree, you got it from in front of the local A&P, or from a random guy set up on empty lot. In Bayside, when you bought a tree, you went to Kiel Brother’s Nursery and chose one from their section of hand-picked trees. That first Christmas Tree in December of 1968 was a beauty, and a central part of our first Christmas in our new home. It served us well before and during the Christmas season, but as we approached Little Christmas, it was time for it to go!
My Mom had read something about what to do with your tree when you were done with it in your house. Perhaps based on that Scandinavian tradition, she’d read that you should stick it in your backyard, and “decorate” it for the birds that had not gone south for the winter. Things like seed pods, peanut butter, suet, and other things that could give the birds stuck in the north substance when the ground was snow covered. As this was the first year in my folks 20+ years of married life that they had a backyard, I guess she was feeling “countrified” in our new home.
Only problem was that almost the day after we got the tree out of the house, it snowed…a lot! This left the D’Elia Family Christmas Tree buried deep in snow. It stayed buried for the next couple of months, as snow storms kept coming with incredible regularity. We really didn’t see it again till almost Spring thaw. By that time, my Mom had lost her desire to set the tree up, and honestly the need was probably almost non-existent. Rather than “decorate” the tree for the birds, it went out to the curb to wait for the garbage men to pick it up. Picking up trees in late December and early January is I’m sure a pretty common thing for New York City garbage men, but I always wondered what they thought that day in March when they picked up our very dead Christmas Tree!
So, on Little Christmas, as we end our Christmas celebration, Susie and I, and our whole family hope that you can keep the light and joy of the Christmas season in your life, until it’s time for Christmas, 2022! See you again, next year Christmas!
Ah Christmastime…As Andy Williams and many other singers tell us yearly, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year! And it is…. This time of year is always a wonderful time to make memories, and to reflect on those memories years later. Here’s some that easily come to my mind!
Susie and I met in July of 1977, and right from our first Christmas together that December, I knew that she loved Christmas. That’s why, a year later when I had a permanent job at ABC, on Christmas Day of 1978, I managed to get her alone upstairs at my folks house in Bayside, and I asked Susie if she’d marry me, and then ran through the house, telling all that would listen, “She said yes!!!” That’s probably my best Christmas memory! Happy 43rd Anniversary of the day you said “Yes” Baby!
Unless Christmas Eve was on a Sunday, my folks always had to do at least one performance at the Metropolitan Opera. When I was small, after they’d gotten home from a show on Christmas Eve, was their time to do the tree, and set up presents and stockings. When I got older, we developed a habit of having Italian Cold Cut Sandwiches, and cheap champagne (them when I was younger, all of us as I reached my teens), while we opened Christmas presents. This made it easier for my folks to sleep in a bit on Christmas day, rather than have me wake them up at 6 AM! Because we’d started this years ago, Christmas Eve was always a day we celebrated with our version of the 7 fishes and then cold cut sandwiches at midnight. The Christmas Eve of 1979, Susie and I had only been married a couple of months, so that night, after I’d worked at WABC, we went to my folks house in Bayside for our traditional Christmas Eve. We left very late at night (really early in the morning) and headed home to our apartment in the Manorhaven section of Port Washington. Tired and wanting to be in our own house, we were happy to park in front of the small 4 apartment building we called home. The great memory of our first Christmas Eve together was not being with my folks, or the microwave oven they gave us for Christmas, but rather the fact that the front door of the building, which had never been locked and which we didn’t have a key for, was indeed locked! A great memory of our first Christmas Eve together (we eventually did get in after our banging woke up another tenant)! Christmas Eve is still an important day for our family. We no longer open presents on Christmas Eve, but we have traditions that we do every year! So for us, Christmas is a two day celebration. Christmas is the time for traditions!
Christmas of 1982 held many great memories, because our oldest Bill was less than two months old. Not that he knew what was going on, but first time Parents and Grandparents enjoyed it that year! The next year was also a great Christmas, but for entirely different reasons. My Dad suddenly died just 10 days before Christmas of 1983. It’s hard when you lose your Dad when you are 33 years old, and was sad for my Mom as they’d spent 35 Christmases as husband and wife, but now Billy was 1 year old, and had a little grasp of what Christmas was. I think the entire family concentrated on him, and while we had every reason to be sad, we weren’t, and had a great Christmas. The Miracle of Christmas?
Christmas of 1986 found us in our new home in Mineola, and our family expanded to five from three. Krissi and Kenny were born six weeks premature on November 20th, and our fervent wish was that our entire family would be together for Christmas. Krissi spent 18 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Kenny spent 28 days in the NICU. Kenny had a little stocking ornament on his incubator that said, “Home for Christmas.” Our prayers were answered that year, and on Christmas morning ,our two little bundles of joy joined their older brother Billy for Christmas in our Mineola house! Our family was complete! By the way, Kenny still has that ornament!
So many wonderful memories of Christmases as the kids were growing and getting older. Memories of doing Christmas Eve dinner at my Mom’s or at our house with Susie’s folks, of having a leisurely dinner till the last minute, when suddenly the clock had run out, and we had to dash out of the house because we couldn’t be late to the kid’s Christmas Pageant at Church, and then the Service of the Carols. Then memories of coming home, of the kids getting into their jammies, and then the whole family continuing my Mom and Dad’s tradition of Italian Cold Cut Sandwiches and cheap champagne, and of watching Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation. As the kids got older, we even made it to the end of Christmas Vacation! Then they’d go to bed, and the real work started! Putting together presents that needed to be assembled, pulling Toys R Us tags off items that were going into their stockings (Santa didn’t shop at Toys R Us!), getting to bed way too late, and then getting up way too early! Of making the kids wait at the top of the stairs till Dad went down and made sure the house was all set up for Christmas morning. Then there was wrapping paper everywhere, and suddenly it was time to all get dressed so we could head to Susie’s folks or her sister Barbara’s house for Christmas, or getting the house cleaned up because the whole family was coming to our house! They were crazy, exhausting Christmases, where we operated with all together too little sleep and too much to do, but I wouldn’t change a thing about them! They are all the wonderful memories that live in your heart when you get older!
Let me leave you with one more memory that means a lot to us and our kids. The first year we were married, Susie found these leaded glass toasting flutes at Sterns Department Store. They have been a part of every one of our Christmases over the last 42 years. This year, through the magic of Ebay, I was able to find enough of them for sale that we just were able to send a set to every one of our kids and their spouses, plus have enough so that when we are all together, we will have them too! It’s our hope that this year Bill and Lori, Krissi and Mike, and Kenny and Chris will all toast Christmas the same way their Mom and Dad have for all their married life, and that they will have as great a life and memories of Christmases as we do!
So yes, perhaps another day older and deeper in debt, but I wouldn’t trade any of it for all the money in the world! May you and yours have a joyous Christmas, spent with family and friends that are like family, and make new memories that will warm your heart on Christmas for years to come! Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
On the occasion of last month’s celebration of Veterans’ Day, I posted on Facebook a couple of pictures of my Dad in World War II, performing in Irving Berlin’s all soldier show, This is the Army. I’m going to use this blog today to expand a bit on that post, and to also tell you a story that was a staple of my childhood, that today has a different ending than it did when I was a kid. Let’s start at the beginning…
My Dad, Frank Vincent D’Elia (so no…I’m not legitimately a third as I don’t have a middle name), was born on October 5th, 1910, on the lower east side of Manhattan. He was one of 13 kids in a typical big Italian family, and like many kids of his generation, never went to High School because he had to go out into the world and earn money to help support his family. My father was different from many folks in those days though, in that his chosen profession was to be an opera singer. (One of the questions I wished I’d asked my Dad when he was still with us was, “Why an Opera Singer?”) Jobs were hard enough to find, but finding a job as an opera singer was even harder.
From stories I heard growing up, like many performers, my Dad had many jobs that did not involve singing. From selling pretzels in the park to being a messenger for a Wall Street firm, to acting as “secretary” to his voice teacher, Madame Novelli, he did what he had to do! Long story short, that’s why he was very happy when he got to audition for, and then was offered a job in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, the Germans and the Japanese were edging the world towards war and this would impact my father’s life in a very large way.
Sometime in that first year of being a member of the Met chorus, he got his draft notice! After years of struggling and scraping by while supporting his family, he was finally at the point where he had a regular job, and now the US Army was going to change all that. He went to his draft board, looking to get an extension so that he could at least complete the season before reporting for duty. Ultimately, they did give him that extension, so he finished out his first season at the Met, and then went off to the army. (If you read the blog post, My Dad and His Family then you know the whole Draft Board story, if not, here’s a link https://rnewadventures.com/2020/10/06/my-dad-and-his-family/)
After kicking around at Fort Dix for a couple of weeks, my Dad was sure that he’d be sent off to some area where his background and experience would have no use to him. That’s why he was very surprised to be assigned to Camp Upton, in Yaphank on Long Island, to audition for Irving Berlin and his all soldier show, “This is the Army.” He passed the audition and joined the cast that included Broadway actors, movie stars, musicians from famous orchestras, and one singer from the Metropolitan Opera! For most of my childhood we’d be watching a movie or TV show, and my Dad would point out one of his “army buddies” that he’d traveled the world with in the show.
After rehearsals, the show opened at New York’s Broadway Theater (the same theater that gave us Mikey Mouse’s debut in Steamboat Willie) on July 4th of 1942, and was expected to run for 4 weeks. It was such a success that the run was extended several times, and eventually it ran to the end of September of that year. Since the show was loved by so many, including Eleanor Roosevelt, who saw it 3 times and wanted her husband the President to see it too, next up for the company was a National Tour, with all ticket sales going to Army Relief. Washington was their first stop with a special Presidential Matinee scheduled at Washington’s National Theater. The day after that performance, the entire company of This is the Army was invited to the White House to meet President Roosevelt, where festivities lasted late into the night! Another story I’d heard when I was a kid! When the National Tour ended in February 1943,This is the Army had earned $2,000,000 for the Army Relief Fund.
The next stop for the TITA company was Hollywood. Warner Brothers had offered $250,000 for the film rights of the show, and like the profits from the National Tour, this was donated to the Army, and the entire company spent 6 months in Hollywood making the Warner Brothers movie, “This is the Army.” Although, for the purpose of the movie, a sub plot was added that enabled Warner Brothers to include movie stars like Ronald Reagan (the only one of the “stars” who was in the service as an Army Lieutenant), George Murphy, Alan Hale, Sr., and several others. The musical numbers from the show were still intact and the performers in those numbers were still the soldiers. A camp for the 359 members of the company was set up near the Warner Brothers lot (with heated tents built by the Warner Brothers Prop Department), and each day, the company would march from their camp to the movie studio. As well as shooting the movie, the singers, dancers, and musicians all participated in regular army drills, as befitting soldiers in the US Army.
The real reason for the making of the movie was to raise funds for Army Relief, and towards that end, it was an unqualified success. It earned $9,555,586.44, which Warner Brother’s donated to the Army Relief Fund.
After their American performances, the company was reduced to a cast of 150 men, including my Dad. Their next assignment was to be shipped off to England, and play around the country for 3 months, but prior to that, they returned to Camp Upton on Long Island to re-stage the show taking into account the reduced cast. On October 21st, the company sailed for Liverpool aboard the Monarch of Bermuda. After 10 days of very crowded conditions, sailing in the dangerous North Atlantic, their convoy reached its destination. This is the Army played in London for Royalty and for American and Allied troops, and then embarked on a tour around Great Britain. On February 6, 1944, they returned to London and performed for General Eisenhower. At this point the cast thought they had reached the end of the road, and the show would be disbanded, and they’d all be sent off to regular Army units. However, after seeing the show, General Eisenhower thought that it would be a great moral tool for his troops, and requested from Washington that the show play to Troops at the front.
General Eisenhower’s request was granted, and a week later the This is the Army Company sailed for Algiers. This was to be the the first stop on their tour that would take the company around the world, and not end till October of 1945 in Hawaii, almost 2 months after the September Japanese surrender! Rather than performing for Army Relief Drives or heads of states, now they would chase the front, and perform for the soldiers actually fighting the war! Some of the places they performed were regal, and some just a thrown together stage in the jungle, and their audiences were now groups of soldiers who had just come out of combat and who would be heading right back into it after the show.
TITA Posters, The Original Cast Album, and pictures of Irving Berlin
After 2 weeks performing in North Africa, they sailed for Naples, Italy. In Naples they were billeted in the partially destroyed palace of Victor Emmanuel, and that’s where the story of The Box starts. This was not my father’s first visit to Naples. Back in the 30s, he had sailed from New York to Naples with his voice teacher Madame Novelli. Madame Novelli was originally from Naples, and they stayed with her family for several months while visiting . Among the members of the family was a young man about my Dad’s age, and the two of them became fast friends. Turn the clock ahead to 1944 and the American liberation of Naples. As soon as the “This is the Army” company got to Naples, my Dad looked for his old friends and found them living at the same address he’d visited as a young man. The war years had not been kind to his Italian friends, and my father did all he could to get them food and other supplies that they’d been without for years. One of the benefits of this was that my Dad got to eat with the family, and had home cooked Italian meals for the first time in several years. From my Dad’s stories, simple ingredients like SPAM in the right Italian hands could be turned into gourmet food, so this Italian kid from New York truly enjoyed his meals with his Italian friends!
The royal palace in Naples had been German headquarters in the city, and as such was a favorite target of the allied bombings. My Father would tell stories of sleeping in incredibly opulent surroundings with bomb blasted holes in the roof. The doors at the palace were about 10 feet tall and decorated with intricately carved and painted 4 inch by 10 inch panels. In a typical GI move, my Father pried one of these panels off the door as a souvenir. He told his friend about this and even took it with him to dinner one night to show the family. His friend said that he knew a wood carver and how would my father like it if he could get him to carve a box to match the panel, and use the panel as the lid? My Father liked that idea, and a plan was hatched. About a week later at dinner, his friend showed him the box. The wood carver had done an excellent job of matching the lid, and the carving was exquisite. All that was left was to paint the box to match the lid, and my father’s souvenir would be completed. He left them that night and promised to be back for dinner in 2 nights, and in turn, he was promised that the box would be ready for him to take. As they say, best laid plans.
On the afternoon of the second day, the “This is the Army” company was ordered to load their trucks and be ready to leave Naples within 45 minutes. The Allied forces were continuing up the Italian boot and their show was needed closer to the front lines to entertain the troops. There was no time to get to his friend’s house and no way to tell them what was happening, so that was the last of his stay in Naples, and of the carved box.
That happened in 1944 and was but a brief episode in all the escapades of the This is the Army troop, as they continued through Europe and eventually island hopped in the Pacific theater too.
So now turn the clock forward to the summer of 1971. I’ve just graduated from college and we’ve planned a 4 week trip through Europe. It starts at the Ford plant in Cologne, Germany where we picked up a new Ford Capri. We traveled through Germany, Switzerland and down one side of the Italian boot and up the other side. I very distinctly remember the day we got to Naples. After getting situated in the hotel room, my Dad went down to the lobby and found a phone book. He looked up the last name of his friend’s family and found a listing at the exact same address they’d lived at when he first met them in the 1930s. My Father placed a call and when a young lady answered, he explained who he was and asked for his friend by name. She said that he was looking for her Grandfather and that she’d get him. In a few minutes his friend, who he hadn’t seen or talked to in over 25 years, came to the phone. He couldn’t believe that this voice from his past was on the phone and was in Naples. One of the first thing he said to my Dad that day was, “Frank…I’ve got your box!”
That happened 50 years ago this past July, and was the culmination of a story I’d heard my Father tell all my life. Now his story of “The Box,” the souvenir that got away, had a new, and almost impossible to believe ending! My Dad died in 1983, but I must admit that I have continued to tell the story, and I guess keep him and his “This is the Army” stories alive. My Father was a great story teller, and after growing up on so many of these stories, and then finally seeing the movie, I’ve always felt very connected to this time in my Father’s life.
Oh…and the box? Well, for many years it resided on my Mother’s coffee table in her living room in Bayside, as it had since we returned from Europe in 1971, and it completed its trip started in 1944! When my Mom died in 2011, the box moved to our dining room hutch in our Mineola home. When Susie and I moved to Ocean City permanently, and cleaned out the Mineola house, our youngest son (Kenny…the performer and spiritual heir to my Mom and Dad’s profession) asked if he could have the box. It’s traveled around the country with him and his husband Chris, and now lives in their St. Petersburg, Florida living room. I hope it will always have a place of honor in our family, as a reminder of one of our family’s member of the Greatest Generation.
This is the Army was my Dad’s life for over three and a half years, and was how he fought the Second World War. My Dad made friends and had experiences that he talked about for the rest of his life. As well as entertaining thousands during the war, and making millions of dollars for Army Relief, This is the Army was America’s first integrated company in uniform! Up until I finally saw the movie at the Museum of Modern Art in the 70s, all I had were those stories of my Dad’s of this period of his life. Believe me, I heard lots of “This is the Army” stories growing up, but none of them was any more prominent that the story of “The Box!” His stories of This is the Army continued to be told for the rest of his life, especially every 5 years when the alumni of the company would get together for a reunion. Reunions my Dad relished going to until his death. Sadly, most of the folks that my Dad spent these years with are gone, and the reunions just a memory for those of us who heard our Dads talk about This is the Army.
Thanks Dad for your service!
One of the great sources that I had for filling in some of the TITA details was Alan Anderson’s book, “The Songwriter Goes to War.”
Here’s an excerpt from that book detailing a story my father often told about TITA in Italy – Click on the book cover below to open the passage…
The 1969 movie of the above name, detailed the adventures of a group of Americans on an 18 day whirlwind bus tour of Europe. The hectic tour traveled so fast, and to so many places, that it was only by remembering the day of the week, that they knew what country they were in. Susie and I have just had our own whirlwind tour, and although it wasn’t to Europe, we did travel extensively. We call it…
Our 2022 Thanksgiving Weekend
About 9 AM on Thanksgiving morning, we loaded bags, food stuff, clothes and ourselves in the CRV and off we headed over the 9th Street bridge and out of Ocean City. Our destination? Sara and Gabe Smith’s home in Ellicott City, Maryland. Sara and Gabe are our son-in-law Mike’s sister and brother-in-law, and for a number of years now, they have been kind enough to include us in their Thanksgiving plans. Of course, last year there was no traveling to Maryland, and no big family celebration, so we were looking forward to a return to tradition!
In addition to us, the participants were our daughter Krissi and husband Mike, Mike’s Mom and Dad, Jerry and Paula, Sara and Gabe’s teenage kids, Maddy and Ethan, Gabe’s Mom Linda and her husband Bill, Gabe’s sister Danielle and her husband Erik along with their kids Genivieve and Scarlet, and wrapping up the group, Gabe’s sister Darcy and her guy Ken. It was a full house, and a wonderful time for all. Susie had made her traditional Turnips, Mashed Potatoes, and Cheddar Cheese mash-up, but the real star of the meal has, and continues to be, the meat that Gabe smokes. This year, thanks to a new pellet smoker, the traditional turkey was joined by the most delectable brisket!
It was really a wonderful day, being a part of this big family celebration, and of course eating way to much, but hey Thanksgiving calories don’t count, right? So there you have stop #1 on our Thanksgiving weekend!
That night, we were off down the road about 15 or 20 minutes with Krissi and Mike to Columbia, Maryland, and Jerry and Paula’s home. They’d graciously offered us lodging for the evening and we gladly took them up on it. Everybody got in their PJs, and we hung around until the food coma became too overwhelming, and we headed off to bed! The next morning we were up and by 10 AM had the car packed and Susie and I, along with Krissi and Mike Mikowitz were off to our next destination….543 Main Street in New Rochelle, New York!
Over to Interstate 95, up through Maryland and then Delaware to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, to the state of New Jersey (hi home…see you soon), up the Jersey Turnpike, across the George Washington Bridge (the toll plazas still stink at the GWB), across the Hudson River, and up the New England Turnpike to New Rochelle! Night two (It’s Friday in case you’re keeping score) we were spending in Krissi and Mike’s new condo in New Rochelle. This was just our second visit to the place and we loved the further things they’ve done since we last saw it in May. We also loved getting to see our Grand Cat, Marz!
Later that day, we helped Mike out by testing a couple of new vodkas that his company is representing (Mike works for the liquor distributor, MS Walker). I mean come on…you’ve got to help your kids, right? Then it was out of their building, just down the street to a wonderful Mexican Restaurant and some great Margaritas and food!
After a good night’s sleep, our now seemingly domesticated daughter served us a delicious vegetable frittata accompanied by an arugula salad as a very nice Saturday brunch. A very nice way to end our stay with two of our favorite people, because it was now day 3 of this weekend, and time for us to move on to our next stop!
Back to The New England Thruway, but south this time, across the Throgs Neck Bridge, back to a place we know very well…Long Island! First stop, Joe’s Sicilian Bakery in Bayside, just down the street from my former family home. We needed some friselles for our Christmas Eve Spicy Shrimp and Linguini, and Joe’s has the best! Once the friselle’s were in hand (and a Sfogliatella for me and a little cheesecake for Susie) we traveled back to our neighborhood of 31 years, and the Hilton Homewood Suites that is literally down the road from our old Mineola Home.
For 26 or 27 years, Susie and I were involved in Boy Scouting in Mineola, first Cub Pack 246, and then Boy Scout Troop 45. Well, tonight (it’s Saturday by the way) a huge 100th Anniversary Gala celebration for Troop 45 was planned, and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world! Chartered in 1921, Troop 45 was probably even older than that, but 1921 was the only date that could be proved, and over 300 people were scheduled to be at Mineola’s Jericho Terrace to celebrate this event. We relaxed for a couple of hours and then showered and got into our “adult clothes” and headed over to our dear friends Pat and Steve Grosskopf’s house to pre-game. Steve has been the Troop 45 Scoutmaster for more than 24 years, and I am proud to say that I am the one who convinced him back in the late 90s to take the position! Steve was, of course, directing last minute activity at the catering hall, but we had a nice visit with Pat, their son Dan and his wife Michelle, and Steve’s brother Freddy and his wife Linda.
It was a wonderful night, seeing so many old friends, young men who we knew as kids, and even middle age men we knew as kids! Folks who were involved when we first started and folks who are still involved. There was great fun, slide shows with old pictures, and just a feeling of pride that we were involved with a group that has ben around for 100 years and that has probably helped well over 1000 boys transition to young men!
It was a great but late night, and we were thrilled when after 2AM we slid under the covers of the king-sized bed at the hotel!
Sunday was a relaxing morning at the hotel. We slept in, were bad and had McDonald’s for breakfast, and vegged till early afternoon. Then we showered, got once again dressed as adults, and headed out to Susie’s sister Barbara’s house in Huntington. What with covid, surgeries, and the like, we hadn’t seen the Vincents (Barbara, her husband Rob, and their son and our Godson Ryan) since their Mom’s funeral in February of 2020! A visit was long overdue, and we were happy that we were able to make it happen! After a nice visit with them and getting to see some of the new projects they’d recently done in their house, the five of us journeyed back in time, to a place that Susie and I have loved for years, and that we have exposed so many family and friends to over the years.
32 years ago, the night we bought our 1989 Ford Taurus station wagon, Susie and I stopped in at a place we’d passed many times. It was on Jericho Turnpike in Mineola, and it’s a place we’ve loved since that first visit…Piccolos Italian Restaurant! The Francescini Family is more like friends to us, as we saw the two boys who run it now (Robbie and James) grow up from little kids. Their Dad Bert is still involved and we still miss their late Mom Debbie who was a real spitfire! From my Mom’s 80th birthday party, to Susie’s Mom’s 90th, to after funeral meals for Susie’s Dad and my Mom, Graduation celebrations, and everything in-between, it was our go-to place!
The 5 of us had a wonderful meal, got to see Robbie and James, reminisce about the old days, the great meals, and the great times. It was fun to go back in time and who says you can’t go home again??
As I write this, it’s late Monday afternoon and I’m sitting at the island in our kitchen in Ocean City. I’m going to be honest with you, as this weekend was approaching, the two of us were a little bummed that we had so much to do and so many different places to be this weekend. Between the time we crossed the 9th Street Bridge on Thursday morning till we crossed it again this afternoon about 2 PM, we covered 663 miles. But now, with the weekend in the rear view mirror, we are so glad we didn’t make an excuse or beg out of one of the events we were involved in. From our Thanksgiving in Maryland, to our evening with our Daughter and son-in-law, to the pride we felt on Saturday to be back with our Boy Scout friends, to the love of spending some time yesterday with Susie’s sister and family, remembering experiences over the almost 45 years that I’ve been a part of their lives, to capping the weekend with a great dinner with family and our Piccolos restaurant friends, we agreed we wouldn’t change one thing! We did agree however that life is too short, and we won’t wait as long to enjoy what we did this weekend all over again!
Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, filled with family, friends, love and reminders of all the things you have to be thankful for. I know we did!
Have you ever been in an Automat? Do you even know what an Automat is? Well, let’s turn to Wikipedia and see what they say…..
“The first automat in the U.S. was opened June 12, 1902, at 818 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia by Horn & Hardart. Horn & Hardart became the most prominent American automat chain. Inspired by Max Sielaff’s AUTOMAT Restaurants in Berlin, they became among the first 47 restaurants, and the first non-Europeans, to receive patented vending machines from Sielaff’s Berlin factory. The automat was brought to New York City in 1912, and gradually became part of popular culture in northern industrial cities.”
The listing further goes on to state that in New York City there were eventually 40 Horn and Hardart Automats, with the last one closing in 1991. Automats were prominent in New York City when I was a kid in the 50s and 60s. In fact, when the Metropolitan Opera was located at 40th Street, there was a basement level Automat on 7th Avenue, between 40th and 41st Street, and we went there a lot. It was a place to get a quick cup of coffee, or for a little kid to get a bologna sandwich!
If you’ve never been a little kid, with a handful of nickels, looking over what you could get in an Automat, then you probably weren’t a kid in NYC at the same time I was. It truly was the quintessential New York experience from back in the day. So much so, that in the 1962 movie ,That Touch of Mink starring Cary Grant and Doris Day, Doris Day’s best friend (played by Audrey Meadows of The Honeymooners fame) worked behind the scenes in a local Automat that was prominently featured in the film. Here’s a clip from that movie that gives you an idea of what an Automat looked like.
The two things in the Wikipedia quote above that surprised me were, (1) that the first Automat opened in Philadelphia and (2) that it was basically a copy of Berlin Automats using the machines that dispensed the food as produced in Germany. Who knew. As I said, the Automat seemed like the quintessential New York Experience! My personal relationship to this blog, and why the Automat will always hold a special place in my memory, centers around a story that my cousin Jeanne Pratt and I have laughed at many times over the 60 plus years since it happened to us.
My Mom’s parents were visiting New York from Chicago. This time, they also had my Chicago cousin Jeanne with them (the daughter of my Mom’s younger brother). One day, my Grandparents, Jeanne, and I were in Manhattan. We could have well been at Radio City Music Hall seeing the movie and show – something my Grandma liked to do. At some point in the day, we stopped in at an Automat. My Grandma always seemed to be picking up strays, and this day in this particular Automat, she picked up, what we used to call back in the day, a bum. He was dirty and smelly, and my Grandmother fell for his story that he’d been a famous brain surgeon, but when his wife died, his life fell apart, leaving him to beg on the streets. I think my Grandma was the only one to buy his rap.
She invited him to sit at our table, to the dismay of myself and Jeanne (she was probably 10 at the time and I was 8), who were not buying his tale of woe! Immediately, she dispatched my Grandfather, “ Go get him a cup of coffee Bill,” and off he went to one of the famous Automat coffee dispensers. Jeanne and I looked at each other, as the story unfolded as he drank coffee and regaled my Grandmother. I have no recollection of how we finally got to get away from him, but I’m pretty sure my Grandfather left with a few less bills in his pocket, at the insistence of my Grandmother!
While we don’t see Jeanne and her husband Walt that often as they live in Connecticut and Florida, and we’re in Jersey, the once or twice a year we’re together, invariably one of us will bring up the “Automat Incident.” Some 60 years later, we still both laugh, and shake our heads, and just acknowledge that, “That was Grandma!”
Something happened this Father’s Day weekend that has never happened before! The entire immediate D’Elia Family was together in one place for 2 days! Two parents, three siblings, three spouses, and three grandkids! But first, we had to get there!
After a wonderful week in Ocean City with our two oldest Grandkids (https://rnewadventures.com/2021/06/25/two-kids-at-the-beach/), the four of us were looking forward to the weekend at Lori and Bill’s Lake House, on Roanoke Rapids Lake in North Carolina. Lori and Bill were going to pick up Uncle Kenny and Uncle Chris at the airport, and then drive to the house. Waze said that the trip would take about 6 hours for us, so we figured with bathroom stops and a lunch break, we’d all get there about the same time, if we left about 8:30 in the morning. On Friday, we all got up, Susie got Layla and Henry some cereal and toast for breakfast, and Grandma and I got ourselves, and what we were taking with us ready. Just after 8:30 we pulled out of the driveway, and thought we were in great shape!
Waze took us up the AC Expressway to Philadelphia and then down I-95 towards Delaware. When we stopped at the Delaware Welcome Center to switch drivers, we’d made great time, and were right on schedule, but traffic was getting heavy. Then, as Susie drove through Maryland, we were bitterly attacked by Cicadas! First one bounced off the windshield, leaving a white streak, and then Susie saw a swarm of them flying across I-95! Size-wise, somewhere between an insect and a small bird, three or four more slammed into the front of the car and the windshield with a resounding thud! At one point, our Granddaughter Layla cried out, “Come On Now!” in reaction! When we switched drivers in southern Maryland, the front of the car was plastered with their remains! Yuck!
Traffic was heavy, but moving as we crossed into Virginia, and thankfully the Express Lanes around Washington had changed directions, and we were able to use them! Regular 95 South was a parking lot, and we were happy to pay for the convenience of driving at the speed limit! However, as we approached the end of the southern express lanes, our joy was replaced with dread! Of course, traffic was heavy when the Express Lanes merged with regular 95, but unlike what usually happens, we crawled for most of the rest of our trip! A couple of times Waze took us off 95, but honestly the relief was short lived. Suffice it to say that the trip that we’d figure to do in 7 hours with stops, took 10 full hours! The kids were troopers (even when they had lunch at 2:30) and although Henry wanted to know a lot if we were in North Carolina, they did real good! Then, suddenly we saw the North Carolina border, and within miles had exited 95 and were near the Lake House!!
It was the trip from Hell, but once we pulled up outside Lori and Bill’s Lake House, it was so worth every minute of every hour on the road! Bill, Kenny and Chris met us at the car, and after hugs were exchanged, quick work was made of emptying the Honda! Then the fun started. We went down to the house, hugged Lori and 2 year old Annabelle, and quickly started making plans to head out to the lake and their pontoon boat! Some munchies, some drinks, and family time on the lake…what could be better!
We sat around the fire pit on the deck way too late that night, and with 3 little kids, morning was early too! Another beautiful day in North Carolina, as we anticipated the arrival of Aunt Krissi and Uncle Mike, and the completion of our family circle. As we had a couple of hours till Krissi and Mike arrived from New York, a little more boating was on the agenda after those who wanted it had breakfast. Problem was, the boat wouldn’t start! We tried everything from jump starting the battery to pushing every button on the dash, but nothing. Bill tried calling his dealer’s service department, but on a beautiful Saturday in mid-June, he was told that perhaps they could get to him in a week or two. Not what our son wanted to hear! None the less, after Krissi and Mike arrived, the lake was still the spot for everybody, and a great time was had in and around the boat house!
That night, we all feasted on wonderful Cheesesteak Sandwiches that Lori created, along with Grandma D’Elia’s macaroni salad. To top off a wonderful day, there were s,mores on the back deck as the sun set on another wonderful day of Father’s Day weekend!
Sunday morning, actual Father’s Day, dawned with a wonderful gift for our son Bill…He and Lori had found a boat repairman to come look at the dead pontoon boat! The second piece of good news was the problem was just a blown fuse, which he replaced, and showed Bill where it was and how to do it, and even left him a couple of spares! Even better, the guy wouldn’t take any money! He just asked for a good review! Lori and Bill now have a new pontoon boat repair guy!
Layla and Henry gave their Daddy the Father’s Day cards they’d made with Grandma as well as the flag, pole, and bracket they’d wrapped in Ocean City. Grandpa got several wonderful cards, gift cards to Chipotle (from Kenny and Chris), Omaha Steaks (from Bill and Lori), a custom made New Rochelle baseball cap from Krissi and Mike, and a Grandpa cup from the little D’Elias to match the Grandma mug they’d gotten Grandma for Mother’s Day! Great gifts, but the greatest gift of all was the weekend with our family!!!
Gift giving over, it was time to hit the Lake on the pontoon boat and have fun!! Now with a happy oldest son/husband/father because his boat worked!!
Early that afternoon, Lori and Bill’s good friends and neighbors from Wake Forest, Courtney and Adam, showed up to join in our Father’s Day celebrations. Not only are the four parents good friends, but Adam and Courtney’s daughter Violet is a good friend of Layla’s and their son Crosby and our Henry are good friends! We loved Adam and Courtney and what could be better for our two oldest Grandkids than to have people to play with, well, besides Uncle Chris, Uncle Kenny, Uncle Mike and Aunt Krissi!
It was a fun afternoon on the boat, enjoying it as a platform to swim in the lake as well as some adventurous tubing courtesy of Captain Bill!!
Dinner that night was under the direction of Chef Uncle Chris, as he grilled several tri tip steaks that Grandma and Grandpa had brought from Ocean City, along with all kinds of delicious sides. Full and happy, the night concluded with Layla reading her story of she and Henry’s time with Grandma and Grandpa, with an able assist from Aunt Krissi!
It was a wonderful weekend, and a wonderful way to cap off an incredible week in Ocean City with Layla and Henry! Grandma and I were tired, but oh so happy! Thank you to Krissi and Mike and Kenny and Chris for flying to North Carolina, and for making the weekend probably the best Father’s Day ever! A special thanks to Lori and Bill for being the perfect hosts and for coming up with the idea originally. None of it would have happened had you not bought the Lake House and the boat, and once again, we applaud your decision, and the wonderful family memories that will come because of that decision…including this great Father’s Day Family Reunion!
Family is wonderful, especially when 3 generations get to spend time together! We truly love our 3 kids, their spouses, and of course, the 3 most incredible Grandkids in the world! Color us proud and very happy!!!
Late on the night of November 3, 1982, our oldest child, William Ryan D’Elia, came into our lives. About 7 months later, he had his first vacation in Ocean City, New Jersey, and his first exposure to the beaches and boardwalk I had known as a kid. 4 years later, he was joined by his sister and brother, and Krissi and Kenny’s Ocean City life started too! For the rest of their childhood years, part of every summer was spent in Ocean City. In a way, Bill, Krissi, and Kenny grew up here, as this was the beach and boardwalk they knew as kids, and still love today.
On Sunday, June 13th, Susie and I drove from Ocean City to the Philadelphia Airport (a trip that would have been immeasurably easier had the Yankees not been playing the Phillies at Citizen Bank Park near the airport) to meet a flight from Raleigh/Durham North Carolina. There were 3 special passengers on that flight…our son Bill and his two oldest kids, 7 year old Layla and 5 year old Henry, who were here to spend a week with Grandma and Grandpa, and get to know the town that their Dad knew as a kid! After getting Daddy to the correct terminal for his return flight to Mommy and youngest sister, 2 year old Annabelle in North Carolina, Layla, Henry, Grandma, and Grandpa headed to their week of fun under the sun!
Our son had brought up the idea of this trip to us several months before, and we had busily been making plans. I think it was a toss up who was more excited: Layla and Henry or Grandpa and Grandma! We’d made plans, and Susie had lists of things we could do, but in the end, the beach, boardwalk, front porch of the house, and just enjoying our time with the kids was the best thing we did!
Of course, there had to be trips to the beach, with romps in the ocean, building sandcastles, burying each other, digging holes, finding shells, and kite flying. Turns out that Grandma and Layla did a better job getting the kite in the air than Grandpa and Henry, but in the end, the wind pulled the kite handle out of Layla’s hand, and even though the kids (and Grandma) chased it, the wind dumped it in the ocean. A nice man retrieved it, but it was a total loss. Wind: one – Layla: zero!
There was a trip to Hoys on Asbury Avenue where the kids got the required Ocean City sweatshirts, hats to keep the sun off their heads, and water shoes. For Susie and I, suddenly we were back in the 1980s and trying to keep our kids focussed on what they were looking for, and not the toys that were in the next aisle!
Ice Cream was always a part of our beach vacations back in the day, and the same can be said for Layla and Henry’s time with us. Not one, but two ,times did we head over to Custard Hut, where the hardest part was deciding what they were going to get, and keeping as much ice cream as possible off Henry! I know Grandma and Grandpa loved it, and I’m pretty sure the two little D’Elias did too!
Of course, there are things that are almost mandated by law that have to be included in an Ocean City vacation, and we followed all those rules too! From playing Mini-Golf (Henry has a decidedly “Happy Gillmore” like swing), to visiting the Discovery Seashell Museum (it was much better when our kids were young and run by people who loved the ocean as more of a passion than business), to doing as their Dad and Aunt and Uncle did as kids, and enjoying the big playground on 34th Street, to watching them make Salt Water Taffy at Shriver’s on the boardwalk, and then filling a bag with your choices!
A family rule is that no D’Elia can visit Ocean City, New Jersey without having at least one meal of “Hose Pizza”, and as good Grandparents, we followed that rule! The pizza place (it’s real name is Manco and Manco) has been part of the Ocean City Boardwalk since the 50s, and was one of the pizza places my Dad liked when we first came to Ocean City way back when I was five years old. The name “Hose Pizza” was given to it by our son Bill when he was 2 or 3, because unlike most pizza places, here they apply the tomato sauce via a hose, and once he saw that, when asked what he wanted to eat on the boardwalk, young Billy always said he wanted to go to “Hose Pizza”. The one we went to is the newest on 9th Street that used to be the old Strand Movie theater. Great to see that old building still being a part of Ocean City’s Boardwalk life, and great that Henry and Layla love “Hose Pizza” too, keeping a 4 generation relationship alive!
Ocean City’s Boardwalk features two big Amusement Piers, and what kind of Grandparents would we be if we didn’t spend at least one evening at the rides!! Layla and Henry enjoyed lots of rides at Gillian’s Wonderland, but agreed that they are pretty much done with the “baby rides”, and that next time they come, they’ll concentrate on only Big Kid Rides! They really liked the Bounce ride, the Superman ride, the Fun House, and the Glass Maze, where Henry refused to walk with his hands in front of him, and kept bumping his head on the mirrors! When I got them on the Merry-Go-Round, I told them to find Grandma and I, and wave at us every time they went around. About the 4th or 5th time around, Layla gave me a look, and I said to Susie, “Layla just gave me a Krissi look!”, you know, the one that says, “Shut up Dad and stop calling out my name!!!” Message received! Who says history doesn’t repeat!
A tradition we honored each trip to Ocean City when our kids were young, was getting an Ocean City T-shirt. It was a very involved process, that could take days to complete. First, they had to agree on which T-shirt shop we should go to. Then there was the process of picking out the design they wanted on the shirt. Last, they’d decide on the color T-shirt they wanted. These decisions often lasted the length of the trip, with the purchase finally happening on our last night on the boardwalk. We were able to speed the process up with Layla and Henry, and do it all in one day…our last day, on the boardwalk. We ended up at the same shop we usually shopped at with our kids, Layla and Henry knew that the design had to say Ocean City, NJ someplace (rule worked out when their Dad was 2 or 3), and they made sure it did. Design picked out, the two of them then had to decide what color T-shirt they wanted. With that taken care of, then it was time for the lady to put the design and the T-shirt into the heat machine, and make their shirts. I think Layla and Henry enjoyed following in their Dad’s footsteps, and Grandma and I did too!
That was some of the big stuff we did, but as I said up front, just enjoying our time with the kids doing simple stuff was just as wonderful! The first night they were here, I read them a story before going to bed. It was a story I’d written when their Dad and Aunt and Uncle were kids, and our three kids were the prime characters in the stories. They were called “Three Kids” stories, and I wrote a total of three of them. The morning after reading it, Layla came to me and asked if we could write a story about their time in Ocean City. She decided that we should call it “Two Kids at the Beach or Layla and Henry Visit Their Grandparents”. After we’d come home from somewhere, Layla would dictate what we should write while I typed on the computer. Multiple times during the day, Layla would come to me and say, “Let’s work on our story Grandpa,” and off we’d go for 10 or 15 minutes, and do just that. By the time Thursday was done, we had 7 pages, including some pictures. Grandma, the best editor around, corrected what we’d written, I printed it, and then Grandma laminated it so Layla can have it for a long time. I’m gonna miss those, “Let’s work on our story Grandpa” words from my smart, precocious Granddaughter!
We’re gonna miss those times we sat on the front porch and watched the world of Pennlyn Place go by. Like the morning Layla and I watched our 99 year old neighbor Doie ride her scooter down our driveway and up to the boardwalk for the daily Ocean City Flag Raising. That led to a discussion of Doie being a Marine in World War II and what being 99 means. Or watching Christina our mail lady arrive and have Layla say, “I’ll go down and get the mail Grandma and Grandpa.” Or Henry running down the stairs to put the garbage cans away after the Garbage Men emptied them and saying, “I got them Grandpa.” Or Layla waving to Emma across the street and watching her new Jeep come and go, and then talking to Emma’s Mom and Dad (sorry Bittenbenders if it seemed like Layla was stalking Emma a bit…). Or watching our neighbor’s dogs Beach Boy and Breaker Boy getting walked, and wondering when Doc was coming home. I had fun on Flag Day telling them what we were celebrating, and watching the kids decide they wanted to get a flag and flag pole for their Daddy for a Father’s Day present. They both became very comfortable in our house and we loved that.
There was meal time fun with Grandpa making eggs or Grandma fixing their waffles or cereal for breakfast, making sandwiches for lunch, cooking mac and cheese and hot dogs, or heating up pizza. There was the night we ordered Chinese Food and Layla and Henry eating everything, and then having Layla tell us, “It’s almost as good as North Carolina Chinese!” Or the day we discovered, as we sat down to eat, that yes, Henry does like McDonald’s cheese burgers, but NOT with ketchup and pickles! Or Henry and Grandma putting a puzzle together and Grandma working with both of them to make Father’s Day cards for their Daddy.
There was the day we switched cars around, and rather than go out in the Honda CR-V, we all piled into Grandpa’s old 2000 red Mustang convertible with the top down to go to the Acme Grocery and drive around Ocean City. The kids loved watching the top go up and down, which they did multiple times, but to quote what Layla wrote in her story, “Too hot, too much sun, too much wind and no room for feet in the back seat!”
So those are just some of the highlights of a wonderful week with Layla and Henry! I’ve heard it said that Grandchildren are the reward for not killing your own kids before they became adults. If that’s the case, we were richly rewarded last week. To spend the better part of 5 days with our two oldest, to learn from them, to see how they’ve grown, to get hugs and kisses, and called Grandma and Grandpa was a delicious treat for the two of us. To be able to watch them experiencing Ocean City, and to remember back to yesteryear when their Dad was their age, and doing the same things for the first time, was just a wonderful time capsule for us. It was a great week, and I just hope that it was as wonderful a week for Layla and Henry as it was for Susie and me! Thanks Lori and Billy for lending us your two oldest for a week!
A great week, only needs a great weekend to cap it off, and that’s exactly what we had next! Look for our next blog, Lake House Fun, coming soon to an internet near you!!
Susan Lynn Johnson was born on May 28th, in a place called Amityville, New York. She came into my life on July 3rd, 1977, so today will mark the 43rd birthday I have been fortunate to spend with her!
She is the most giving, loving person I have ever met, and she is simply the best thing that has EVER happened to me!! She is frankly so much better a person than I am, and I know for a fact, that were it not for her, I wouldn’t have the life I have today!
Susie, like most folks in our life, I love you and am in awe of your ability to touch folks and to be loved by them. Thank you for loving me, and for giving me a better life than I could have dreamed of!
I am so blessed that she said “yes” when I asked her to marry me on December 25th, 1978, and love that she is the Mom of our 3 kids and the Grandma of our three little darlings, and has kept me in line every day of the last 43+ years!
You are my life Baby, and I will love you FOREVER!! Happy Birthday!
On Thursday November 20th, 1986, at 4:13 PM, Kristen Anne D’Elia was born. Two minutes later, at 4:15 PM, her brother Kenneth Michael D’Elia was born. They were born six weeks premature, and because of this, Krissi spent 18 days and Kenny spent 28 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. They were born, and spent the first weeks of their lives at Winthrop Hospital, next to the Mineola Long Island Rail Road Station, and about 3/4 of a mile from our Mineola home.
As twins growing up, they had the usual “twin” experiences. Yes, they were close, from the earliest times of their lives when they liked being together, and even seemed to be able to communicate with each other, way before the rest of us could understand what they were saying. All through school they were close, sharing friends and interests, and generally being each other’s best friend. Going to different colleges was probably a challenge for them, but they still shared in each others lives, and even today in their 30s, they are still very close and generally know everything about each other, way before their Mom and Dad do!
In January, Krissi and her husband Mike bought and moved into a condo in New Rochelle, New York. In January, Kenny and his husband Chris moved into a new apartment in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The second weekend in April, Krissi and Mike came down from New York and spent the weekend with us in Ocean City. During that visit they told us that they’d been seriously contemplating adopting a cat. About a week later, we got the first pictures of our “Grand Cat” Marzipan….Mars for short.
Last week, we spent four days in St. Petersburg with Kenny and Chris, and heard how they had been cat adoption shopping too. Just the other day, we got a text and pictures of our second “Grand Cat”!! Say hello to Saint James Foxington of Petersburg, also known as Jimmy!
So 34 years and 5 plus months since these two entered this world at Winthrop Hospital, and living some 1170 miles apart, these two are still “connected”! Welcome to the family Mars and Jimmy…may you both have great lives with your new families!
To recap, Miracle of Science Part One was the weekend that having our Moderna Vaccine let us leave the state of New Jersey for the first time since March 14, 2020, and to journey down Interstate-95 to see our son Billy, daughter-in-law Lori, and our three wonderful Grandkids Layla, Henry, and Annabelle, who we had not seen since the end of January, 2020. Miracle of Science Part Two was the weekend that being fully vaccinated allowed our daughter Krissi and son-in-law Mike to not only come and spend the weekend in our house in Ocean City, but to be hugged and kissed by Susie and I for the first time in over a year. That takes us to Miracle of Science Part Thre
After we went down last weekend to Wake Forest, North Carolina for the dual birthday party of our two beautiful Granddaughters Layla and Annabelle, it was time to broaden our horizons, and to encompass the rest of our kids in this miracle, and towards that end, we continued our journey down Interstate 95 south, to the Sunshine State, the home of Our Boys, son Kenny and his husband Chris! We wanted to see them, we wanted to return to our Florida home of Pinellas County, and we wanted to keep our Florida visit record intact! So last Sunday, after the Saturday birthday party for Layla and Annabelle in Wake Forest, we headed south, and on Monday, we reached our goal!
Since I retired the end of January, 2016, a “winter” trip to Florida has been part of our yearly agenda so that we could sample a preview of the next summer. In 2019 and 2020, we rented a condo in Indian Rocks Beach, and immersed ourselves in the “Snow Bird” life style. Unfortunately, we had to cut our 2020 visit short due to the pandemic, and made no plans for a 2021 visit. However, now that we are fully vaccinated, and Kenny and Chris live in St. Petersburg, Florida, we decided that a brief trip was in order. We are not going to be here a month…heck we’re not going to be here a week, but we are in Florida, enjoying this early spring/summer weather, and we are with the boys
The first thing we were interested in seeing was their apartment, that we’ve only heard about and seen in pictures. Bottom line was we loved it! They have definitely put their spin on it, and with so many familiar things from our house, my Mom’s house, and Kenny’s life, we definitely knew we were on familiar ground! It was great and they feel very much at home!
After a brief visit, it was time to drive down the street and check into the hotel. We are staying in a brand new hotel, just 2 blocks away from the boys’ apartment. It’s called Tru by Hilton, and is a hotel of the new “industrial” style, but it’s very close, the room is comfortable, and the cost is zero dollars a night, thanks to Hilton points! We didn’t even get charged the $17 a night to park the car!
After we got all set in our room, the boys came over and it was time to get our evening started. The plan was that they were going to show us the area that they live in, the Central Avenue area of Downtown St. Petersburg. There are lots of new apartment buildings in the area, and an active bar scene, and looks like the perfect area for the boys. There is always something to do, and they are very much enjoying being just a couple of blocks away from it all. The boys walked us all over the area, including past Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. By the time we got to the venue they’d planned for dinner, we were ready for a seat, and a drink. We got both!
The boys had decided our first stop of the night was going to be the Burnt Ends Tiki Bar, a beautiful roof top venue located above a bar-b-que joint (hence the name). The weather was absolutely wonderful, and it was super to be with Kenny and Chris, to be in Florida, and dining outside!
After a couple of great drinks, and some excellent appetizers, we decided to venture downstairs to Dr. BBQ to sample some of the BBQ the boys had said was so good…and it was!
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped and had another drink at a place on Central Avenue called Ferg’s Sports Bar. This incredible venue encompasses nearly two city blocks, and is ground zero for game day pre-gaming, as Tropicana Park is just a block away. It was much quieter on a non-game day Monday evening, but it was fun to sit along Central Avenue and have a drink with the boys!
After a good night’s sleep, Tuesday’s plan was for the boys to show us around St. Petersburg some more (not on foot), and to ultimately show us where they lived for the first 6 months they were here. When they left Ocean City last July, it was to move to a furnished apartment they’d found online in St. Pete’s Beach. Although they enjoyed their time there, living in a furnished apartment without their “stuff,” they kind of felt that they were just visitors and they did not really get into a resident vibe. The area was also very transient, as most folks there were on vacation. It was a nice place, in a great location (just a little over a block from the beach), but when their 6 month lease was up, they were happy to move to their current apartment. Back in January, they rented a commercial van, drove back to Ocean City and emptied their storage unit. So now they are living with their “stuff” and loving the new location. We agreed that the beach looked interesting, but being on Central Avenue was the right neighborhood for them!
They did show us a bunch of local establishments they frequented during their time in St. Pete’s Beach, and one in particular was singled out as our lunch stop of the day! We’d been hearing about this place called Focheezy almost from the first days they were in St. Pete’s Beach. It turned out that it opened just days before the boys arrived, and from what they told us, and the pictures we’d seen, it looked like the home of the most outrageous Grilled Cheese sandwiches ever devised. Susie and I had to see what it was all about! We saw, and we tasted, and it was incredible! The sandwiches are huge, so the four of us split two sandwiches and some sides. Take a look and tell me if it doesn’t look incredible!
After lunch, we stopped and did a little shopping, and then returned to the boys apartment. A late afternoon and evening of hanging out, having a drink or two, talking and relaxing, and ordering some take-out food was the perfect way to end our second day in St. Petersburg!
Wednesday was a bit of a laid back day, with our plans for the day not starting till around lunch (or brunch) time. Unfortunately, Chris was a bit under the weather, so it was time for Kenny and Mom and Dad to venture out. Our plan was to go toTrip’s Diner, a place we’d enjoyed in 2020 when we were in Indian Rocks Beach. We were going to go to a location nearer the boys, and one that had outside dining, as the weather was superb. Unfortunately we were not the only ones that apparently had that idea, because there was a line out the door, and nary a parking space within a 2 block area! After a couple of passes, it was decided that Susie and I could have Trip’s tomorrow as we headed to Indian Rocks Beach, and we’d go with Plan B! Plan B was the Maple Street Biscuit Company on Central Avenue, and it was fantastic!!
Susie and Kenny had The Five & Dime and I had the Egg-stremely Risky Biscuit. We added Potatoes O’Ryan and something called Maple Sausage Balls, and we had a fabulous brunch! Plan B was good!!! Leftovers went home for Chris, and for safe keeping, Kenny made sure they were strapped in!
After a brief rest period back at the hotel, the four of us did a tour of the boys two favorite St. Petersburg breweries! The day was beautiful, with sunny blue skies and low humidity, and we enjoyed being outside, first at Three Daughters’ Brewery and then at Pinellas Ale Works! An interesting thing about Pinellas Ale Works…Chris is an artist, and later this year (July to September) he is going to have a showing of his work there!!
What a wonderful town St. Petersburg is, and amazingly, Susie and I both agreed that in our minds, it was a place we associated with old people, but today it is a wonderful vibrant community for young folks. We’ve loved every place we went with the boys, and see why they love where they live!! St. Petersburg is a wonderful community with lots of culture (museums everywhere), with art all over the place, with a vibrant bar and food scene, with a love of dogs, and seems like a wonderful place for Our Boys to live! We will be back, and we think they will be here for the long haul!!
On Thursday, for our last night in Florida, we were off to Indian Rocks Beach, and the place where our love of the area started back in 2018..the Holiday Inn and Jimmy Guana’s! This will be the 4th year in a row that we’ve visited IRB, unfortunately not for an extended period, like we’ve done the past two years. In fact, in this semi-post-pandemic year, this one night stay will be our shortest stay ever in IRB. Unsure about what 2022 will bring in terms of a new hip for Susie and my second new knee, our fingers are crossed that we’ll be back next year, but we were so glad that the boys joined us at the Holiday Inn, and a good time was had by all as we celebrated our last night in Florida!!
Friday morning, we were up and out of Indian Rocks Beach, and that afternoon bid a fond farewell to the Sunshine State! It had been a busy 4 nights in Florida, and we loved being with Kenny and Chris, seeing their apartment and city, and reconnecting with Our Boys! Farewell Florida…see you soon!
PS – Our stop Friday night was Darien, Georgia, and yes, we did get our shrimp at B&J’s Steak and Seafood, that we’d missed in 2020 when we “ran” home from Florida! It was wonderful as always!!! Thanks Abe!