I love family traditions. There are those traditions I enjoyed as a child and pass on, tangled in the helix of my DNA, to my own children. There are those traditions of my husband's childhood...so palpable to me through his magical reminiscing that I almost felt I was by his side as a 8 year old kid. Then there are those traditions that sprout from the fresh earth of our new family, finding its shape from a whim, an accident, a plan, a memory so sweet it aches for annual replication.
The Italian Festival on Labor Day Weekend is one tradition that started in my husband's boyhood has been absorbed into the porous flesh of our own family unit. It is a huge festival in his home town (and the place we began our family life). Stretching across 4 delirious days, the festival promises rides, games, 50-50 raffle, beer garden, live bands, and as good Italians, food, food and more food.
The zeppolli arrive into your hands in a paper bag filled with powdered sugar and warm balls of soft, airy, fried dough. These things are a divine mess, and live up to the build up of waiting all year for one sugary mouthful!
We have not lived in this town for 6 years, but we return often to visit our family and friends and of course for this festival. It is a bittersweet journey back to all we've left behind.
The girls and their Nonna (great-grandmother) who is 4 feet 10 inches of pure, invincible love.
Our relocation to the other side of New Jersey was a good and sound decision. It was far too expensive where we originally lived and we had to hold down multiple jobs just to afford a modest house. Our relocation was for the best and we have found professional and personal fulfillment in our new pocket of the Garden State. Still, there are things that cannot be replaced. People, really. Support. Family and friends. And not just family and friends.... GOOD family and GOOD friends. The kind of family who all get along, who don't gripe and snip behind each others backs or drift along with little to say to each other. The kind of family where you fit seamlessly together, as if you've all been cut from the same block of wax and even if you've married in, you've always belonged right there. This, we miss. This is the hub of our support... the kind of support that is offered without request, anticipated before it's needed, and always precise and comforting, with no strings to trip over.
We've made many new friends here in our new world and we are very happy. But trips back to our previous home, the other wonderful life we had, sometimes highlights for me that there are some ingredients that cannot be force fit. There are some relationships that cannot recreate the power of simple history. When you have history with someone, it all just flows and eases in and out of moments and falls right into place without doubt, effort, or self-consciousness.
At the festival you can always count on hearing our friend Billy's voice announcing the 50-50 over the microphone.
His lovely wife in her newly pregnant glow is always a site for sore eyes.
Our old friends were "couples" friends and allowed my husband and I the opportunity to go out socially together. Now, I have my gang of girls and we escape out for daily doses of alcohol injected girl talk twice a month. My husband has his professional colleagues/friends whom he'll meet over a beer after hours. But my husband has his group and I have my group and ne'er the two shall mix. Our only joint socialization occurs at work functions where, while the people are really awesome, shop inevitably gets talked.
When we're back in our old stomping grounds there is so much I miss. The quiet neighborhood streets lined with sidewalks, tall sycamores and ancient oak trees; the charm of little down towns and beautiful old homes filled with character you can't find in a track house. But most of all, I miss the support system and socializing with family and friends. Friends that stay true even when schedules change, playgroups fall away, and logistics cease to accommodate the relationship.
There are good things in life that cannot be contrived, conjured, or replaced. History is the heartbeat of those relationships that calm your soul and feel the most real and solid. The history that family and friends weave together like a cord connecting you across the ocean, buoying your spirit. Gently tethering you to all you have been so you can continue to be all that you are, even if miles away. We have built a new life here, a good life here, and we are beyond blessed and happy. But a little piece of us lies in that festival, in all the whirling lights and smiling faces, in the great community of love we will never take for granted. A little piece of us will forever dwell in the place we left. Like a breadcrumb it sits, reminding us that home will forever straddle two poles of the Jersey Turnpike.