Summers were sweet because we would visit “Tiny Grandma” and the rest of my mother’s family in Pennsylvania. Mom would wake us up before the darkness had turned to dawn and would snuggle us down with pillows in the back seat of our old Chevrolet. There we would fall asleep again before Dad had driven out of town on the turnpike. The drive was long, but Mom made it fun by packing a picnic lunch which we ate at recreation areas. They were like little green parks along the way.
Then my little brother, Greg, and I would toss an orange ball back and forth as my father consulted maps to our destination, Erie, the city near the lake. To me, it was a place of enchantment, filled with aunts and uncles and so many little cousins who made a big fuss over their New Jersey relatives. There were always special dinners and barbecues that they had in our honor, and of course, trips to the beach. But this lake was not like the ocean at home. The waves were gentle; they didn’t crash and roar but softly slid onto the shore. We built castles and moats in the sand.
I remember how my petite Polish grandmother, “Busia,” not quite five feet tall, would be cutting layers of dough for kluski. They were noodles made from scratch to accompany her delicious homemade chicken soup. And how my mother’s younger sister, Aunt Nettie, a beautiful dark-haired woman in her twenties, would scoop me up into her lap and hug me. Her twin, blond Aunt Angel, would rush into the kitchen to get us cherry “pop” to drink.
Leaving was the hardest part. Even Ginger, the family puppy, had tears in her eyes as we all hugged and kissed and cried. A loneliness set in which would last for days after we returned to New Jersey. I missed them so, but they filled my childhood with warm and happy memories that I still cherish today.