Memories Of A Special Place

Summertime Sundays growing up often brought loading my parents’ station wagon literally to the roof with the grill, charcoal, cooler, picnic basket, food, snacks, sporting equipment, swimwear, and gear, towels, and extra clothes (in case we fell in the creek) and heading out for a picnic somewhere close by.

Some of those picnics were as a part of my father’s veterans’ group, the Catholic War Vets. In my younger days they took place at Point Grotiot Park in Dunkirk. Later, the event shifted to Allegany State Park, then Long Point, and later still, to College Park, in Jamestown.

The yearly picnic agenda usually went like this: we had most of the picnic gear packed the day before, so we could get up early Sunday morning; go to 7 a.m. mass, make a quick stop to get a few blocks of ice, and then get home to finish getting the things to bring ready; chop the ice; separate the beer and soda into tubs; ice them down; ice down the coolers, then finish loading, and head for the park somewhere close to 9 a.m.

It usually took about 45 minutes tops to get to both, Point Grotiot and Allegany, less to Maple Springs, and even less time in Jamestown, so no matter where the picnic, we were at the respective parks somewhere around 9:45 a.m., and unloaded by 10 a.m. It took about a half hour to get everything set up, so by about 10:30 a.m., us kids were down by the creek, over by the lake, or playing catch, or whatever we chose to do.

I enjoyed all the CWV get-togethers, especially the ones at Allegany. It was much more spread out. There was more to do there. You could rent rowboats, canoes, bicycles, and tandems. You could play baseball, softball, and tennis. There was a beach for swimming or just lying in the sand. It was just a bigger playground, so to speak.

Anyway, back to the CWV agenda, and still talking about Allegany, after arriving, unpacking, unloading, and setting up, and going off to play, about 11:30 a.m. Dad would start a charcoal fire to get ready for lunch. Mom would usually bring steaks and have a macaroni and/or potato salad enough for us and to share with other members who came early. My dad’s closest friend, Harry Olson and his family were also early arrivers, and we couldn’t wait for Rachel Olson to pull out her casserole dish of the best rice pudding I’ve ever tasted. Frank Palermo, a man with the deepest, booming voice I’d heard by that time in my life, and his wife, always came and always brought chicken to grill for lunch. Believe me, there was no change in what people brought to eat year after year. After eating, and as other members trickled in, we waited an hour (yes, we believed that myth our parents fed us), then went down to the beach for a while.

About 3 p.m. we headed back to our picnic site where members of the CWV were relaxing, talking, some of the men playing cards or bocce, and all us kids were getting ready for the games that member Sam Zanetta organized and ran. Sam could have hosted a kids’ TV show. You could tell, he lived for hosting the “CWV Games” at the annual picnic.

After the games ended, sometimes we’d hit the baseball field, form teams, and play a baseball game until it was time to fire up the grills again for the CWV sponsored grilled Italian Sausage supper, with leftover whatever people brought for lunch and wasn’t eaten. Frank Palermo was the sausage chef and Paul “Curly” Jaffe masterfully carved the watermelon. When Frank passed away, Curly took over the sausage duties, and the meal never skipped a beat. After supper, we cleaned up, making sure we left the sight better than the way we found it. We’d pack the car and sit until the sun started going down and sometimes would drive up to the park dump to see if we could see any raccoons, or bears. (There weren’t a lot of warnings about rabies and such back then, so we thought feeding the animals was a good thing.) Mom always packed Marshmallows and those Circus Peanuts for this part of the day. As I said, we enjoyed Point Grotiot, and College Park, but we had the space and more opportunities to have fun at Allegany.

Allegany was special to me for other reasons as well. Sometimes, Dad would take his weeklong vacation in the summer, and we’d join our neighborhood friends, Massey and Bob George and their kids where we’d rent cabins near each other and camp at Allegany. It was lots of fun as their kids were close in age to me and my brothers and sisters, so we had playmates and things to do, and our parents could do their thing and enjoy the quiet and serenity of where we were.

There were other times when I was older, my parents would take my younger brother Tom, and join my Great Aunt Mary and Great Uncle Joe in a large cabin house to sometimes camp for weekends. Us older kids would drive down and enjoy an evening campfire with them, roast some marshmallows, and we too, would enjoy the peacefulness of the time together, the dancing flames of the fire, and the company we shared.

I also remember one special opening day of trout fishing Season when my buddy Johnny T. and I went to Allegany to try our luck there. We found a spot where we could make a fire and a pot of coffee, we brought bag lunches, and spent our day doing some fishing. We didn’t talk much as the company of friends was all we needed. We didn’t catch anything, but we rarely caught much the times we went fishing. I think it was a given that we wouldn’t catch much, but we didn’t care. The day itself, with a good friend, was the experience. That day at Allegany was very special.

When Sally and I got married, we’d bring Chas and Chris (Jon wasn’t born yet) to Allegany to camp, sometimes in cabins, sometimes tents, but regardless, it was a great family outing. Jon did get to go a couple times after he joined our family and was a young boy. We were tent campers then. Unfortunately, the kids all grew up and Sally and I haven’t done much camping since those days, though we still love driving up to Barcelona, sitting on the beach, making a fire and enjoying the sounds of water meeting shore, savoring the smell, and taste, of coffee over our fire (nothing like the taste of coffee perked over an open fire), and putting our cares and worries away for a brief escape from the real world.

All these memories trace back to those days of my youth and visits to Allegany State Park. Imagine, we actually had fun with our parents, without electronic devices, and lived to remember all that. Sally, the kids, and I did travel to Long Point as a family, a few times. We liked arriving there about 7 a.m., cook bacon and eggs for breakfast, with fire-perked coffee, and just relax, talk, read the Sunday paper, and spend time with loved ones and nature.

It might be time for Sally and me to get back to some of that solitude and peace. Sometimes you have to go back and remember what takes away the stress and energizes you to move forward. At my age it just lets time slow down and allow me to relax, reflect, and respect the beauty of the people and the surroundings in my life.