And So Fourth

As the second anniversary of my dad’s passing approaches in August, it occurred to me that I have been using my blog to help me mourn. Writing out my memories…my moments later, are all part of my process of both honoring my dad and reliving the many gifts he gave me. This post is about a family ritual that occurred each summer in July. But there was one summer day in particular July 4, 1982 that shines brightest in my memories. This 29 year old memory is packed with rich, juicy memories.

Mitch, Jeff, Jack and Sarah July 4, 1982 at Phillips Avenue Beach
I often think that my dad’s biggest role in this particular event was letting my mother do her thing as she brought a virtual picnic to the beach that would have made Henry the Eighth full. Dad never tried to discourage her from doing what amounted to catering an incredible meal for at least 25 people that included every type of food group you can imagine.

My dad was indeed a very patient man.

Like most people from New Jersey, our pride and joy was the Jersey Shore. Not the raunchy TV show but what North Carolinians call the beach. We went to Phillips Avenue in Deal, New Jersey. I think we went there because my grandparents had a house in the vicinity and it became the regular retreat each summer. 

But this July 4, 1982 was special.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         It was our daughter’s Sarah’s first visit to the shore and created an incredibly strong imprint in her mind. Remember, she lives in Hawaii so you know that sand and surf is never far away.

This trip, like many others included a stay at The Crystal Motor Lodge. In hindsight, I think Ra El is smiling that we were in a hotel with the word Crystal in its name. This was no ordinary motel. Well, truth be told- it was an ordinary motel. But somehow when we descended upon it, we transformed it into a place to relax and get away from the world. 

This particular summer, mom had what dad used to call “a bug up her ass”. She didn't think twice about creating the following menu that consisted of these homemade foods:

Mom's menu- written on Mitch's Larry King's memo pad
       Fried chicken
   Fried Filet of Flounder (something her son-in-law Jerry requested)   Shrimp & Macaroni
   Roast Cold Filet of Beef      
   Baked Virginia Ham
       Cole Slaw       Cucumber & Onion Salad       Sliced Tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber      Tartar sauce, mustard, ketchup, lemons and parsley
      Rye bread and small rolls

The table was set and she didn't forget anything. 
She made almost all of these things herself- from scratch. I don’t think anyone else helped her or brought anything. But wait, as they say in the infomercials…there is more!

For dessert she made an ice cream cake and kept it frozen with dry ice. I can only imagine this scene at 20 Warwick Circle...

What no poached salmon?

Sarah being pushed by her cousin Jamie and Garret. Or  as
I like to call them, Henry's mommy and Juliet's daddy.

Al Schaffer, Florence Turen, Jack Slater sitting. Nat looks at beautiful Sarah held by me. 

Bea and her best friend Rita Laderman from Philadelphia enjoy Lobster at Moby's the next day

Norma and Al- very focused on some chicken lobsters

Al and Nat at digesting a big meal

Sarah, Bea Bea and Poppy Jack 

So Dad found dry ice somewhere and did what was asked. I’m sure he was also in charge of packing it into the car as he was a great car packer. He could fit 12 suitcases, 6 people and a small refrigerator in a Buick Electra.  I would pay good money for a home video of my parents packing this meal in the car, but unfortunately none exists. Where were you Flip camera when I needed you?

It is at this point that our younger daughter Fanny is thinking, "If I could just get that Delorean back from Doc Brown, I would travel Back to the Future so I too could have sampled this feast!" 

Doc, where the hell is Fanny?
Also for dessert Mom had Rachel’s Brownies, Jeffrey’s cookies and a homemade pound cake because as mom will tell me, Al Schaffer doesn’t like chocolate.  She didn’t miss a trick.

July 4th like most holidays has been pretty low keyed for me and Ra El over the last 30 years. We aren’t big on the parties, firecrackers and parades that many people enjoy. We love quiet and calm.

Norma, Al and Benjamin- their grandson

But for me, my memory of this particular weekend was stuffed with wonderful food 
and even more fulfilling  time with family. I know that part of it was a celebration of our daughter Sarah who on July 4, 1982 was about 9 months old. Part of it was the way my parent’s celebrated life and special occasions by throwing a big net around a lot of people and bringing them in close with too much food and even more love. Another part was something I think my dad was always very conscious of but never spoke about- as he realized how fleeting and transitory life is.

One of my favorite Moments Later involving my dad and Sarah

But in the end, the ice cream cake was truly the star memory of all. There was a layer of Grunning’s vanilla, chocolate and coffee ice cream separated by the thickest wall of their deep dark fudge. The cake had some type of chocolate wafer around the side to hold it all together. In the sweaty and salty moment from the beach, that cake tasted like heaven.
The taste of that ice cream cake that hot summer day and the feelings of love that this evokes, will be a sweet treasure I will carry with me throughout eternity. 29 years later, I want one more bite. 

Just as ice cream melts and blends together, for one frozen moment, so does a family.

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