Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ultra Mart

For the longest time, we had regular family reunions on my Dad’s side.  We had them at Moon Park, west of Pittsburgh.  I think we started in the 70’s and I know we ran through 2003 before it ran out of steam.  I loved the reunions; we always had a blast.  We had beer, grilled burgers, dogs and chicken, salads, cookies out the wazoo, pepperoni, cheese and crackers, and more beer.  I never missed a single one, no matter where I had to travel from to get there.  It was really my only chance to hang out with my cousins.  After eating, we’d always get up a big softball game or volleyball game, or whatever court/field/game area was open. 

As the first-born of the lot, it’s been a trip watching them all grow up in 1-year increments.  I didn’t have much of a chance to get back to see everyone, otherwise.

But there was this one time, I think it was the Christmas of 1987, that we made it back for the holidays.  At one point we went over to my Dad’s cousin Deni’s house.  That was the first time I remember seeing her.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I’m sure I’d actually seen her before at a reunion, but she would have been a baby or toddler, and I wouldn’t have paid her much mind.

Deni had 3 kids, the youngest of which was Marta.  She was probably 3 or 4 at the time.  No sooner did we all troop in the door, she came up to me and pulled me into the family room and had me sit on the couch.  She then went over to the VCR, put in the Batman movie, (the one with Michael Keaton and Jack Nic), plopped on my lap and pulled my arm around her.  We stayed there for the entire movie.  I don’t know why she picked me out of the crowd, but she must have had her reasons.

So yeah, I guess I was wrapped around her tiny little finger from the get-go.

Eventually when it was time to go, she wanted to know when I was coming back.  I told her I’d see her at the reunion in June.  That didn’t go over very well, but what can you do?  I’m sure 6-months seemed like forever to a 4-year old.

Then there I was that June, down in a pavilion shelter, when her family car rolled up.  She came running down that hill and hit me like Dino hits Fred when he comes home from work.  She took me by the hand and led me down to the playground stuff, where we climbed on things, I pushed her on the swings, and twirled her around the twirly things until it was time to eat.
This is Marta, in 1988.  It was like the Ultra Mart cup she had was made just for her. 

That’s how it would be for the next number of years.  Each reunion, she’d be on me like white on rice.  Various grownups would tell her to go play and leave poor Bluz alone for a bit.  To me, it was never a problem.  I enjoyed playing with her and we always had a good time.  Some years, when my parents and brother and sister couldn’t make the reunion, I came anyway.  Sure I wanted to see all the family, but mostly, I’d promised Marta I’d be there and there was no way I was going to disappoint the little girl with the eyes big and brown like Hershey’s Kisses.
Happiness is a fistful of marshmallows.

Hanging out with Marta always made my heart happy.  There’s nothing like getting that blast of pure love from a little one, before all the grownup games and issues make things so complex.  It was like that with my buddy Rik’s girls too, which I wrote about here.  But Marta was there first.
I swear, a second before the picture, she was all smiles.  Now it looks like I have her stapled there.

As always happens, grownups become less interesting to little kids as they get older and Marta was no different.  After all the years playing closely together at the reunions, she started missing them here and there.  When she was there, the magic seemed to have faded away.  Which was fine; that’s how it goes.

I remember seeing her at one or our last reunions.  I think Marta was going to St. Vincent’s then, the college where the Steelers hold training camp every year.  She brought a boyfriend with her this time, a kid named Phil.  Seemed like a nice guy.  At one point, I might have told him that he had a good one there and better take care of her.  (I say I “might have” because that far in the past, it’s hard to remember what I actually did versus what I thought about doing.)
The little girl is growing up.  And I’m just getting old.

After we stopped having the reunions, I didn’t get to see Marta very often except for weddings.  All those cousins started getting married so they became de facto reunions.  Same fun, only we’re all better dressed.

I saw Marta in 2008 at my cousin Angela’s wedding and good Lord, was she ever all grown up.  Not that it surprised me that Marta would grow up into a dazzling young woman.  It was, in fact inevitable.
Her: Dazzling.  Me: Very very old.

Which brings us to last Sunday, for the wedding of my luminous cousin Marta and the very lucky Phil.

I would have come across the burning desert to be there for this.  Luckily all I had to do was navigate through Pittsburgh.  With a desert, you often find yourself looking at an oasis, only to find that you can’t really get there.  Pittsburgh is a lot like that.  You can see your destination, but can’t find the right sequence of ramps and bridges that can take you there.  But I digress…

The wedding was beautiful, and blessedly short… All business, just the way I like it! 

It was a little toasty in the church; a very old church.  So old, in fact, that they didn’t build the doors very high.  Of course, I found this out the “hard way” as I clonked my head on the top of the door on the way in.  I came very, very close to saying some unholy things in a church.  I won’t tell you what they were, but they sounded a lot like, “Bun of a snitch, my duck’n bed.”

Maybe that’s what knocked so many of my wedding pictures out of focus.  They looked good to me at the time, in my semi-concussed state.

I wasn’t very happy with my pictures… I still have to learn a better combination of settings for low level light, but I did get one good shot.  In fact, I think this was the best one I’ve ever taken with people in it:
Maybe I just like it because I finally got one in focus.

The reception was wonderful; they jumped right into things… The Happy Couple arrived,

the First Dance,

the Cake Cutting,

the Toasts, then right to dinner.
I had the lamb.  It was darned good, except by the time I was done, I had an urge to go put on a sweater.

Had to stop by the Cookie Table, of course.
Oh my.  The goodness abounds.

It’s a good thing they were brisk about things because they needed to leave plenty of time for the Lebanese Circle Dance.

Director’s DVD Commentary: The mother of the bride is Lebanese so there was a great blending of the Italian and Lebanese traditions in Marta’s wedding, as there had been with her older siblings.  And one of these traditions is the Lebanese Circle Dance.  I’m sure that’s not the real name, but it’s what I call it.  Or the LCD, for short.  All forthcoming descriptions are my own non-expert observations.

The LCD takes about a half an hour and it involves a big circle of people who move clockwise and go sidestep/sidestep/stomp left/kick right… repeat.  Inside the circle the bride does a ritualized dance with various partners. 

The bride’s partner can be either male of female.  Sometimes, the male waves a white towel while he’s dancing, like Meat Loaf used to do with the red hanky.

At one point, both the groom and the bride’s father came in the ring with the white towels.  I think that symbolized the moment when the father says to the husband, “She is now off my books and on yours.  No take-backs.”

It’s all very ritualized.  I’m sure there are meanings behind every gesture.
For example, this gesture means, “Let’s go bowling.”

Hey, who bleached the Terrible Towels?

Even after the LCD was done, I swear the bride never left the dance floor.  Baby girl must have incredible stamina… either that or she was all hopped up on goofballs.  Wasn’t my kind of music though, but that’s just a generational thing.  I was digging when they played Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” though.  Can’t deny The Funk.  But the kids, God bless’em, they danced long into the night.

And me?  All night long I couldn’t help looking at the portraits up on easels in the corner.

No matter how grown up she gets, I can’t help but see that little girl with the Hershey’s Kiss eyes.

20 comments:

  1. This was a great post!!!!

    The pictures remind me of our family gatherings down at Mammouth Park just south of Latrobe.

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  2. Thanks Trash,
    Man, I miss those reunions. So much fun...

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  3. So many things about this... Marta's childhood infatuation, your early accommodation and growing love for her, the early and later photographs, plus--a fabulously written relay of it all? I think this may be one of my favorite things you have ever written.

    You haven't given us a blog post here, but a bit of a beautiful memoir. Thank you.

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  4. Thank you so much, Sherry. Your words mean a lot to me. This is a post that has been swimming around in my head for ages, and I finally had the perfect opportunity to bring it out.

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  5. What a great story, Bluz! I LOVE IT!

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  6. What a fantastic telling, Bluz. Really very beautiful. Every family needs a good storyteller to pass on the real value of all those people, the love and interactions that shape us over time. Thanks for sharing this with us. :)

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  7. Cassie and Cristy,
    Thanks so much. I’m pretty happy with it and it seems to be going over well. I even added it to the Best of D-fish label. This one meant a lot to me.

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  8. You're such an old softie! What wonder memories you conjure up of your early life in your salad days! My early family reunions where my cousins and I would sneak off and smoke were great! The later ones, when I finally realized that I was a member of the Addams family were pretty grim.

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  9. I really needed those reunions because at the time, I was on my own in Cleveland managing the record store, and living on a daily diet of stress and fatigue. The reunions were a welcome oasis.

    And I didn't have any time to sneak off for smokes because I was too busy drinking!

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  10. What a GORGEOUS bride! Congratulations, "Uncle" Bluz!

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  11. This was so sweet. Beautiful bride!

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  12. Mrs. Bachelor Girl and Jessica
    Yes, she certainly was. And thank you.

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  13. This was beautiful!!! Really meant alot to me. :) those reunions were always some of the best times of the year! So happy you were there for my wedding!!
    - Marta

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  14. Marta,
    I'm glad you liked it, Dear One. I would have hated to have to delete it if you didn't.

    Thank you for having me at your wedding. May you continue on, hand in hand with happiness.

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  15. Hello Bluz, we really got a buzz reading your blog. This comment comes all the way from the Darwinian land of the Koala, the land of Oz- Australia, and more precisely from Deni's cousins Mary & Fred. What a wonderful collage of stories and photos, you made it so that through you, we too were there with Marta and Phil and family on this most memorable occasion. May we congratulate you on a fine job done and thank you for sharing these pearls with us. Fred M

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  16. Fred M,
    I was wondering who was spending so much time on this post, all the way from Australia... I'm glad it was "that" Oz, and not the one with the Emerald City... I hate those flying monkeys.

    I'm so glad you found and enjoyed the post. I never considered its usefulness to those that weren't in attendance. Kudos to the mother of the bride for posting it on Facebook.

    G'day Mate.

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  17. I was 8 posts behind on you thanks to my back-to-back vacations, and I thought I'd just read but not comment to save time, but I had to stop and ask:

    Are those BUCKEYES on that cookie plate? Are those a common thing in Pennsylvania? They're easily in my top 5 foods, but I've never seen them outside of Ohio. It being our state nut and all.

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  18. Mundane,
    Glad to have you back!

    Yes, apparently buckeyes have migrated across the border… they’ve been showing up at our family weddings for ages. And notice how I have 3 of them… they’re one of my favorites too.

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  19. Nice photos of the cookies! You are making me smile. Love your writing...

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  20. Beautiful post, cousin!! So incredibly sweet.

    Nina--

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