I never went on vacation anywhere as a kid. I don't say this for pity, it's just the way things were, and I accepted it. Most of my friends were in the same boat, so I really didn't have anybody to envy. Besides, we were too busy having "poor kid" fun. Not a day went by that I didn't wake up looking forward to playing some dopey, made-up game like those I've discussed in other posts (10/11/08, 10/14/08, 11/7/08.) I've used this line before, but it's worth repeating here: "An Italian's idea of a vacation is to sit on someone else's stoop."
We did have our "country home" in the summer. Before you get excited for me, a word of explanation. My Uncle Jim and Aunt Anna Lagonigro had what we called "the bungalow" on Elderts Lane in Brooklyn. The area at the time, down toward the Belt Parkway service road, was largely undeveloped except for a scattering of smaller homes, many without sewers or indoor plumbing. The roads were poor, and it didn't take much imagination to believe you were in some small town in the deep South. I found an old picture of the area that looks pretty much like it did in those days. This was our country home, and we spent many happy weekends there with the Lagonigros, the Bivonas and my family.
The property and house were very rustic, and not at all large, but for us kids it was paradise. The house had a primitive kitchen, but it didn't stop the three sisters (my mother and two aunts) from somehow turning out the most fantastic Italian dinners, which we ate outdoors at a wooden table shaded by a grapevine. The beer and homemade wine were always plentiful, and after dinner, while the adults talked, played cards and relaxed, the kids had the run of the place. There were blackberry bushes on the grounds and we ate the fruit right off the bushes. There was also an old cherry tree that shaded the house, and the cherries were delicious.
There was no television to park ourselves in front of, no Game Boy or X-Box, I'm not sure the property even had electricity. That meant we had to devise amusements for ourselves, something today's kids almost never get to do. The cousins would play checkers, have a catch, jump rope, maybe a game of hide-and-go-seek....simple pleasures that we thoroughly enjoyed. There were trees to climb, comics to read, tin cans to throw rocks at, and woodsy corners of the property to explore. Cousins of all ages, boys and girls, played together until it was time to eat or go home.
There was a well and water pump at the bungalow that I loved using, and a spider-filled outhouse that no matter how much lime was thrown down that hole, you always knew exactly where you were. We got to walk freely around the neighborhood (if you could call it that) since there was almost no traffic on the dirt roads. There was what can only be described as a "general store" around the corner that sold a little bit of everything. I remember a favorite purchase was the paper kites they sold, all rolled up, that had to be assembled before flying. We also bought two rolls of kite string that we tied together so that the kite could be flown higher. Negotiating the overhead electric cables required skill, but being city kids, we managed just fine.
These were our "vacations" in the fifties, no frills to be sure. Maybe it's the phenomenon that makes things from the past always seem better when remembered many years later, but those weekend trips to the bungalow, to this day, have a special place in my heart. Spending time with people you loved and who loved you, and gladly sharing whatever you had, is an experience that can't be easily put into words. We may have been "poor", but no amount of money could buy the togetherness and good times we shared.
I have since been to many places on vacation, and I always have a good time. If you asked me if I would ever trade a modern-day vacation with all the trimmings for a weekend at Aunt Anna's bungalow, my answer would probably surprise you.
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