Last Day in Jersey

Tomorrow we hit the road and head toward home.  It’s been a great visit and I am really happy we had the chance to see so many family members this time.

Today my cousin Bud came over; he’s in town from Florida to celebrate his sister and brother in law’s 50th wedding anniversary.  That’s my cousin RuthAnn and her husband Rick, who were here on Tuesday night.  They apparently did it up right–they had “bachelor” and “bachelorette” parties last night, then had a wedding Mass today complete with their original bridal party and all of their kids, grandkids and other family members in attendance, followed by a luncheon for all.  Their kids sent them to Atlantic City for three days for a repeat honeymoon.  Pretty sweet.  Anyway, Bud came by to visit and we enjoyed hearing about his life and his kids and grandkids.  Denise and  her mom came in from the shore and unloaded a bunch of stuff into Mom’s house while Joe took Ellie, Blane and Brooke to the airport.

After Bud left, the rest of us drove over to see Aunt Gin.  She is always full of laughs and we were happy to have a little bit of time with her.

Mom and I went for massages this evening.  Oh. my. goodness.  I love a massage!  I’ve been having trouble with headaches and neck aches so I asked the massage therapist to concentrate on those areas.  My neck does feel a lot better tonight so hopefully it broke me out of my ache-cycle.  She put peppermint oil on my temples and massaged my head, too.  It felt great!

From there, we went straight to meet Rich, Joe, Denise, Denise’s mom and boyfriend at a Chinese place for dinner, where we shared a bunch of apps and entrees.  Everything was delicious and we had a nice time chatting with everyone.  Came home and continued telling funny family stories till we were all too tired to go on.  :)

Off to bed for me and we will be taking off early in the AM.  First stop, Durham, NC to visit my cousin Kirby and any other members of her family we can find.  We are spending the night there, then stopping in Greensboro NC the next morning to see my Aunt Jeanne.  After that, we’ll drive on to Birmingham, AL to spend a couple of days with our good friends Adrienne and Bill.  More fun ahead!

More Visitors, “Down the Shore,” St. Mary’s Cemetery and Happy Birthday, Jack!

Wednesday my cousin Patsy came over and we had a great visit talking about her mom, my Aunt Liz, who was quite a character, and stories about my Grandpop Rice, whom I never knew (he died when I was a baby). Patsy and her sister Pennie were supposed to come to our gathering the night before but Pennie ended up in the hospital with a mini-stroke! We were shocked and unhappy about that but I think she is doing okay now, thankfully.

Later in the day, my nieces Abby, Alex and Becca came by to see us and we had fun catching up with them before Alex had to go to work.  They are all smart and funny and I was grateful they took time out of their day to come see their old aunts and uncle.  :)

In the evening we went to see my aunt and uncle.  Sadly, my uncle has Alzheimer’s and is not doing well.  It was hard to see this once talkative, interesting man sitting quietly at the table, unsure who any of us were.  What a shitty disease.  My aunt seems exhausted although she does have help from family and hired staff, but I imagine nothing is enough to make a person feel un-overwhelmed.  I didn’t have the heart to take a photo.

Thursday morning, Mom and I drove Kathi to the airport in Philly as she headed back to San Antonio.  We came home and showered, had lunch, and packed up to go down the shore overnight.  I love the way New Jersey folks say “down the shore” instead of “at the shore” or “to the shore.”  Just one of those little colloquialisms that make me think of home.  My brother Joe and his family had rented a house in our favorite spot, Ocean City, earlier in the week so we wanted to visit.  We missed Joe and Denise’s oldest daughter Nicole and her husband Tyler because they had to get back home to Jackson Hole but their other daughters Ellie (and new husband Blane) and Brooke were there, as well as Denise’s parents and her aunt.  We spent yesterday afternoon and evening sitting around chatting about family stuff and restaurant stuff and our favorite Springsteen stories and the inevitable debate about politics, which stayed friendly at least.  LOL   We all went out for drinks and dinner and continued our conversations, then I insisted on going to the boardwalk to get frozen custard–no trip to the shore is complete without frozen custard!  We also stopped in the iconic Shriver’s Salt Water Taffy store and bought some taffy for ourselves and for gifts.

This morning Rich and I took a walk on the beach, took pix and collected shells and rocks to take back to the grandkids.  We said our goodbyes and went for lunch at Kessel’s Korner (where we had cheese steaks, which completed my trifecta of NJ food: hoagie, pizza, and cheese steak), then drove back to Mom’s.  It was a good time all around and I am glad we were able to get together.

After visiting Rich’s family in Arlington National Cemetery, I started thinking about going to my dad’s grave, which I had not seen in many, many years. I am not really someone who places a lot of meaning in visiting graves but I felt some sort of urge to do it this time.  Mom, Rich and I drove to St. Mary’s Cemetery and found the multi-person grave where Mom’s parents and grandparents are buried along with my father (and Mom will eventually join them).  Of course, seeing their names brought back many memories of Dad, Grandmom and Grandpop.  I have a vague memory of my great grandfather when I was very small but I did not know my great grandmother at all.  I was not really sad, just interested in seeing the spot where they were laid to rest. It was odd that I didn’t really remember the cemetery or the plot looking anything like it did. I think I have a warped memory of my dad’s funeral because I was pretty young (18) and traumatized at the time.  Mom reminded me that it was raining the day of Dad’s burial and my primary memory of that day is the piercing sound of the 21 gun salute.  Mom then told us that my Uncle Kirby is buried in the same cemetery so we went to find his site, and she said that my dad’s mother was also buried somewhere in the old part of the grounds so we searched quite a bit and found her grave as well.  I think it was the most moving to me seeing HER grave because I never knew her (she died when my dad was a baby just over a year old) and don’t know much about her so it actually made her more real to me.  I was named after my grandmother and her grave reads “Jane M. Rice,”  which was a little eerie.  Also, we realized she has the same birthday as my eldest niece Kristinn, something none of us seemed to know before.

After our busy day, we are just hanging out at Mom’s tonight.  Meanwhile, back in Texas, our sweet boy Jack turned 2 on the 20th and had a fun birthday party today. I hated to miss it!  He’s our little love!  Happy birthday, Jacky!


Family Gathering

We have quite a few relatives in New Jersey so we decided to invite everyone over to Mom’s tonight rather than trying to make the rounds and visit at various households.  It was great fun to see my youngest brother and his family, my Aunt Mary, and a hodgepodge of cousins, 1st cousins once removed and twice removed (my grandmother made sure we knew how to figure out those relationships!) from both sides of the family (Pratts are my Mom’s, Rices are my Dad’s).


Home, Sweet Home

As an Air Force brat, I didn’t have a permanent home–we moved every 2-4 years throughout my life as a kid.  Because both of my parents were originally from New Jersey and many of my relatives lived there, it was my home by default. I always said I was “from” New Jersey when people asked.  My grandparents’ place was our home base whenever we traveled, vacationed,  or moved from one military installment to another; it was our comfort zone and the one constant location in our lives.  After my dad died in 1973, my mom moved back to the same little NJ town where she’d grown up, Laurel Springs, the same town where her parents still lived.  By then I was married to my first husband and living in Texas, though I claimed NJ as home and returned to visit when possible.  I did talk my ex into moving to NJ for a couple of years when I attended grad school, but he wasn’t that keen on it and we hightailed it back to Texas as soon as I had that MSW in my hand.  :)  He felt about Texas the way I felt about NJ but somehow he won out in the battle of “where’s home?”

Although I’ve only lived in NJ for a very small portion of my years (a few as a baby, two in high school, two in grad school), I continue to identify it as my emotional home.  My mom is here, one of my brothers and his family, a few aunts still living, and quite a number of cousins.  I’m not as New Jersey as people who’ve lived here all their lives–I don’t always get the references or know the lingo–but it’s the closest I come to having a place that brings back lots of memories and emotions.  The first thing I want to do when I get here is to go get a hoagie to eat.  :)  The look of the houses, the big trees and the ocean shore, the Jersey accent, the loud voices and strong opinions, the various ethnicities, the smell of a small home-owned deli, Jersey tomatoes and “wudder ice” and frozen custard, Springsteen on the radio,  the boardwalk, iconic diners, and not being allowed to pump my own gas all spell out “New Jersey” in capital letters.

We slept in this morning after lots of early mornings, long days, and driving late last night.  We had hoagies for lunch and pizza for dinner, both of which taste better in NJ for some reason.  In between we went to the store and bought some food for tomorrow night, when some of my cousins are coming over to visit.  It rained a little today and we mostly hung out at the house, relaxed, chatted.  It’s good to be home.

Family time

After leaving Arlington National Cemetery, we stopped for lunch and drove to my niece Kristinn’s house in Alexandria VA.  We’d never met her husband Patrick and their new baby Johnny so we were excited to get to see them.  We hit it off with Patrick right away and Johnny is the cutest little guy. Well, I shouldn’t say “little” guy. He’s a big boy!  Kristinn’s older two kids were with their dad so we didn’t get to see them this time, unfortunately. My sister Kathi (Kristinn’s mom) had been visiting for the past week or so and we were picking her up to take her with us to New Jersey to see Mom.

We chatted at Kristinn’s for a few hours, then Patrick left to play basketball with his “over 40” league–it was their first game and they were short handed so he really couldn’t miss.  The rest of us, plus Kristinn’s good friend Teddy, met my Aunt Teresa and cousin TM for dinner at a place called Kapnos Taverna.  OMG.  We ordered a bunch of small plates to share and we could do nothing but rave about the food.  SO delicious.  It was great to catch up with Aunt Teresa (91 and still going strong!) and TM, and to meet Teddy after hearing lots about him for a long time.

We had considered spending the night with Kristinn but Mom wanted us to try to get to NJ sooner so we hit the highway right after dinner and drove on in to the Garden State.  We arrived around 11:30 PM and chatted with Mom for a bit before heading off to our comfy beds.  Long day but full of good stuff.  :)

Frederick, MD & Arlington National Cemetery

We had a pretty short drive to Frederick, MD to my friend Courtney’s but we were slowed down by heavy rains in PA.  Made it there around 3 PM where Courtney, her husband Derrick, her mom BethAnn and her friend T-na (visiting from Houston) were waiting for us.  We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting outside on their deck enjoying the nice weather (no rain there).  Later, Rich and Derrick went to pick up Peruvian chicken with all the fixins and it was delicious, not to mention Courtney’s home grown tomatoes and figs from their trees.

I knew Courtney’s mom a little bit already but had never met Derrick, who’s lots of fun. BethAnn moved from Texas to be with Courtney and has a cool apartment in the basement.  Perfect!  All of them are very funny and had lots of stories to tell. We talked and laughed till late and enjoyed catching up on everyone’s news, plus lots of politics and current events.  Courtney and I are social workers and T-na teaches political science at the university level so, of course, we had plenty to say!

The next day we left for Arlington National Cemetery to visit the graves of Rich’s parents, brother and sister in law.   We have been to Arlington a couple of times before and it is always such a somber and sobering place.  Miles and miles of white grave markers among the trees.  I can’t help but think of the folly of war and the senseless loss of life as I look at the names and dates on the headstones.  Of course, not all of those buried here were killed in a war but I imagine a large number were, and even if not killed, many suffered the consequences in other ways.  We hadn’t seen Rich’s brother’s gravesite since his sister in law Nadine was interred with him and it was kind of a shock to suddenly see her name.

We walked to Rich’s parents’ graves but his brother and sister in law are interred another 20 minutes away so we took advantage of the free shuttle service.  The driver was excited to know we are from Dallas because he loves the Cowboys. He noted he was even wearing his Cowboys belt buckle that day.  Later when he picked us back up at George’s gravesite, he told us a story about why he became a Cowboys fan.  He started out a Redskins fan and when he was 6, he went to a game between the Redskins and the Cowboys with some family members. The Redskins won and he was waiting after the game to meet and greet and get some autographs. He stated that all of the Redskins walked right past his 6 year old self, only greeting the “good looking girls” to his left and right.  He soon became sad and upset and began crying.  Just then the Cowboys came out and Emmitt Smith walked over to him and told him it was okay that they’d lost, they’d win next time.  The kid said he wasn’t crying over the Cowboys’ loss; he was a Redskins fan.  Emmitt asked, “Then why are you crying?”  He told him that none of the Redskins would sign an autograph for him.  Emmitt then not only signed an autograph but called over all the other Cowboys to sign the kid’s autograph book.  Little kid becomes an instant Cowboy fan.  And that’s only half the story.  Fast forward 10 years, the guy is back at some sort of game or event, sees Emmitt Smith and asks him what’s his best memory of all the years of playing football.  Emmitt says it’s not the accolades or the rings or the wins but “one time there was this little kid….”   They figure out it’s the SAME little kid, of course!  Okay, how many of us believe this is a true story???  Rich and I kept questioning him–no way this happened, right??  He was so sincere and said he knew it sounded unreal. LOL  Rich asked him if he had a similar story for any Seattle Seahawks fans who got on the bus. He denied it. We are still shaking our heads!  He wanted something from Dallas so I took his address and will send him some sort of Cowboys gear.  Rich said that’s probably how he got the Cowboys belt buckle he was wearing.

(Top photo taken somewhere in Pennsylvania)

Wheeling, West Virginia

We left Chicago early and headed down the road for Wheeling, WV.  We are stopping to see some friends in Frederick, MD but we decided it was too far to drive all in one day.  We sort of randomly picked Wheeling because it was more than halfway and it’s also the site of Rich’s parents’ elopement.  :)

We arrived around 5 PM and checked into our hotel, The McLure, right downtown and a couple of blocks from the waterfront. We could hear music outside and when we stepped out to find a place for dinner, we realized there was a festival of sorts happening at the water’s edge (later I found out it was the “Sternwheel Fest” and lots of boats come in for it). There was a band playing Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind and Fire tunes, with a few people dancing while a bunch of others sat on the steps and in lawn chairs.  We walked along the waterfront, looked at the boats and took some pictures, got a Philly cheese steak and a fresh-squeezed lemonade from the vendors lining the walkway, and enjoyed the nice evening outside.

After our pleasant evening, we enjoyed the  night at our historic hotel and slept in a little bit this morning.  Next stop, Frederick, Maryland.

(Featured image at top by Rich)