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Waiting for Sinatra

Sep
1
2006

Labor Day weekend – for my family one of the High Holy Family meeting weekends while I was growing up. Labor Day weekend was mandatory attendance time.
No, not a single relative of mine was ever a member of a union, though we all labored quite intensely, thank you very much. But honestly, the holiday had nothing to do with it.
It was the weekend of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon and that meant that sometime during the night Sinatra would show up to sing.
For Italians in Jersey that’s like church.
And so we’d wait and watch for, not only Frank Sinatra, but sometimes the whole Rat Pack, minus Dean Martin (excluding one memorable year that practically gave The Uncles an aneurysm). Pillows and blankets were strewn on the floor for those who couldn’t “make it” to whenever Sinatra showed up.
In the meantime, the adults felt it was their duty to point out to us kids every “ploy” used to get you to donate to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“Lookit that,” Uncle Vinnie would aim his whiskey and soda at the TV screen. “ That kid can probably walk.”
“Look, look,” Aunt Angelina would snarl, “his mother is trying to cry, but she can’t. She’s too busy flirting with Lewis. Puttana.”
And, of course, there was food – several large meals over the course of the weekend. But, most importantly, grazing food brought before the television, so we wouldn’t miss even the minor deities like Julius La Rosa or Pat Cooper.
And, lest you think like an Americana that everyone brought a dish to share – this is not the generation of Italians that would take kindly to anyone thinking they didn’t have enough food on hand to feed everyone. To bring a covered dish would be the ultimate insult.
The only exception was my Aunt Betty who had easy access to the best Italian bakery in Jersey. She was only admitted into the house if she had at least two boxes of cannoli, three boxes of cookies and four or five boxes of breakfast buns. I try to think of her fondly when I try to zip my jeans.
An interesting dynamic developed while we sat around eating and watching the telethon. Little separate conversations would develop.
Over the years I watched major family controversies resolved over the Labor Day weekend simply because all the players in the argument were there to talk at the same time. I’ve seen battles explode, play out and fizzle during the course of a day, the participants all the better for it. This is where my mother taught me to manicure my nails, my Aunt Marie told me I had pretty ears and The Aunts and my mother told me about “the curse” of menstruation while my grandmother wept.
The funny thing is I don’t remember, in all those years, actually seeing Sinatra. I’d hear about it the next morning and, when I was older and the gatherings more sparse, seeing him zip quickly in and out. But what I remember most is waiting, hearing the announcer say his name at the commercial breaks and hearing Uncle Vinnie say, “Eh – he won’t show ‘til he’s done at the Sands.”
I’m embarrassed to say that during these years at no time did anyone think to actually contribute to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, a wrong every year I feel is my obligation to right. MDA is the better for my guilt, certainly better off than if Aunt Angelina had made the call forty years ago.
I still love the Labor Day weekend. Most of The Aunts and The Uncles are gone now and we cousins are strewn all over the globe. But my brothers and I still get together with our own kids.
We eat, my generation having absolutely no qualms about anyone bringing covered dishes. The Best Italian Bakery in Jersey has long since closed down, otherwise one of us would be driving the five hours to supply the weekend. We manage, though.
But it’s just not the same without Sinatra.

Share  Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 8:33 AM | Permalink

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