It was a chilly, cloudy fourth of July this year and the Chancellor and I had no specific plans for the day. There had been things kicked around of course: Buy paint for the common bath, take a ride to Levittown to her Cousin's place, maybe fireworks later.
After trading texts with the Cousin we decided on a ride.
Her Uncle had passed away last November leaving a house full of furniture to her cousins. They offered much of it to family and we had picked up a few things for the boys but had left small parts back at the Uncle's.
Today's empty calendar made the perfect time for the 30 minute trip to Bucks county.
It was strange to see the Uncle's house like this; empty. lifeless. We had spent a lot of time here over the years as The Chancellor's mom was close with her sisters, one which who had married the Uncle and moved to what was the end of the earth in those days: Bristol PA.
The Chancellor had lived here for a time while we were dating and she took a job in Oxford Valley and I would visit on weekends.
We grew closer to the Uncle and his family when we later married and moved to Bucks county ourselves because it was the center of the remote points of the compass that ruled those days: New York, Monmouth County NJ and of course our parental homes in PA.
There were holiday visits to that house to meet with the Chancellors cousins that were dispersed in that general direction in the days in the days reserved for extended family after Christmas Day and Thanksgiving.
And now it was a musty shell, walls and old carpet, piles of old record albums, a cupboard with a plate or two, the chair no one wanted.
The Cousin, The Chancellor and I sat on the floor rummaging through an old suitcase that the Uncle had "organized" pictures into and by organize I mean "put in one place". We examined each picture: Zio's wedding, a holy communion, the sisters at the mothers home on a sunny summer afternoon long past.
It was sad to see all those events that had been so important tossed aside and now soon to be forgotten. Oh there would be good intentions of organizing the photos but there is never the time for such activities.
We tossed a few things into the van: stacks of old record albums for oldest son to pick through, a giant framed poster of the Vino of Italy, the missing furniture bits and headed to the Cousin's for a visit. It seemed a waste to have driven the giant empty minivan for these things.
The Cousin's home is unique. It's located within a typical Bucks County development with 1/2 acre lots and tract mansions but he chose his lot with a particular purpose in mind: A vineyard. That's right on the southern side of the house he has planted 8 rows of grape vines, enough for 50 or so gallons of wine every year.
All Italian Americans have a built-it sense of Mediterranean cultivation where they feel genetically compelled to grow things. . It might be expressed in a tomato plant in a pot on an apartment terrace or a fig tree that is so foreign to the region it's growing in that great efforts are spent protecting it from the harsh realities of not having it's roots buried in Italian soil but like a salmon returning to spawn we all want to grow things.
And it's never things like potatoes. It's the familiar things of our heritage: olives, lemons, the aforementioned figs and tomatoes.
The Cousin has taken this to a level that until he imagined it - no one though it possible. A Vineyard withing a tract development. All the convenience of modern suburban living: local supermarkets and dry cleaning with the ability to grow grapes. Genius really.
And of course such obsessions, no matter how culturally inbred, can't end in just wine grapes. There are lemon trees in pots for the sole purpose of making homemade limoncello, chestnut trees producing nuts for roasting in the fall and if you've gone that far how can you not have olives.
In Italian American-ism, he wins. He's an Italian-American Eagle Scout and has earned all the required badges that such an honor demands.
Well he was winning until we met the Canadian cugini that has a fig tree in a sun room with a removable roof but that's another story for another day.
After a nice visit with the Cousin and his wife it was time to head. home.
As we pulled up one of youngest son's friends pulled up with a couple of London Broils. Now in their fifth college summer, the boys were planning a get together with with local friends but now it looked like only the two of them were down for the party.
The four of us decided to have a fourth on our own and grill one of the steaks but then 4 turned into 7 when texts started flying about and some friends of ours decided to join us.
We had a nice dinner together, surprised by how the boys had really grown up and now were joining us for boring adult things. The Adults had dessert while young men retreated to the garage for some Intellivision and the older folks made plans for fireworks.
We all agreed that driving to the next town over and being locked into a high school parking lot for two hours while traffic slowly drained away like last year was NOT what we wanted to do. The fireworks at the riverfront sounded as equally grid-locked and so we decided on Collingswood.
Collingswood is a just barely outside Camden community known for both it's proximity to Philly and it's liberal lifestyle. They hold fireworks every year and the last time I recall going, The Chancellor's best-friend who is among us this evening was pregnant with her now-sophomore-in-college daughter.
A plan of attack was formed. We would come in behind the enemy from the Philly side were the access roads were wide, park remotely and walk towards the High School carrying our beach chairs. The post fireworks plan was to to walk outside the grid-lock zone to the car in the lot, drive and turn onto wide access road and hightail it out of there.
We sat in a large field full of locals and discovered that we had awkwardly chosen four chairs, all somehow of different heights. One low to the ground, One half way and two full height. We sat and all put our faces into out phones. Four heights, four faces glowing from the reflected LED light.
Why did we drive all this way, hike with equipment 4 blocks and then just do what we could have done at home, I have no idea but the objective now was to get enough internet bandwidth to tell others what a great time we were having and post pictures proving it.
The fireworks started on time and lasted a full half hour but all decided that we missed having the usual soundtrack of "Little Pink Houses", "Born in the USA" and "Philadelphia Freedom" blaring from loud speakers.
We took pictures that were immediately uploaded to the "cloud". These are the pictures that our children would need to rummage through and decide what was worth keeping and what to throw out after we were dead and gone like the Uncle.
The exit plan worked perfectly with the added advantage of a traffic light to our left putting the pick on on-coming traffic so we could slip right on out.