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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Family Traditions

To quote my Uncle Corte, "Grandma and Grandpa Spencer used to host a July 4th party at the Altay house with pool. Relatives, friends and neighbors came. Ray (my other Uncle...the one we stay with) was still at home and your Dad and I would attend as often as we could get to town at the right time." The closest real town to where my grandparents lived has a population of about 1700 people. Their "town" is considered a hamlet...a rural area not even large enough to be considered a village. There are literally just a few handfuls of families, and everyone knew each other when my dad and his brothers were growing up. My grandparents ran a meat locker, which was painted PINK, so everyone knew them...or at least their business. You've never met harder working people in your life. They were real salt-of-the-earth folks and always gave back to their community. When my grandparents died, my uncles took the "proceeds" from their estate (they were not monetarily wealthy by any means...their house finally sold last year for $5000 although the family that had leased it had done so much damage that the house itself is unlivable and it took $6000 worth of work to clean it up) to fund a resurrection of the picnic mentioned above. So each year, our family gathers at my uncle's house on the last Sunday of June. Lifetime friends of my grandparents some too, although that attendance dwindles every year as people die or just become too ill or incapacitated to attend. It is sad to see them fall. For our family, it's a once a year chance to catch up on our lives. Gone are the days when everyone lived in the same town, or at least within easy traveling distance. Now, we are in many different states. But this annual event keeps our hearts and lives grounded in the Finger Lakes. My children are getting the chance to see where their family's "roots" have been established and to stay connected with people who otherwise would be names on a Christmas list. They are making a lifetime of priceless memories. They are having firmly established for them the connection that for me was severed for many years during the time my family moved away from there and until I became a married adult and we were able to make the trip up there for ourselves. I wouldn't trade it for the world.
We have so many traditions encompassing this special week-end...from pizza on the grill, to pancakes and homemade sausage (made by my uncles from my grandparents' recipe), to a bonfire and smores at night, to the picnic itself. My cousins and I play Euchre. The kids pick cherries. It's the best week of their lives. (TJ's favorite part? Playing Sorry! with my cousins!)
Here are some pictures from the bonfire and the picnic.

Burning my cousin's school papers (he got out of school the day we got there). He's a smart guy...he scored a 100 on his REGENTS Biology test. The NY Regents are famous for being difficult. No one at his school had scored a 100 in 7 years.

Roasting the perfect marshmallow becomes a serious competition.

Caught sticky-handed!

Sitting around snacking.

Old family friends and neighbors...

My dad's cousin and my mom.
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