When we moved from North 4th Street to
North 5th Street, all of 3 blocks, we had this wonderful finished
basement in our new home. Besides having a good size workshop for
Dad, the former owners put in a beautiful bar, tiled the floor,
and lined the walls and bar with knotty pine. It was heated, and
just a great place for us to play without getting into Mom’s
We did our homework down there, entertained friends, and basically
just had a good time with a home-made ping-pong table, that doubled
for electric trains. There was a TV and hi-fi set eventually wired
up with three big speakers around the walls. Mom had a sink, washer
and dryer, and her original old Kelvinator refrigerator with its
tiny freezer down there; and still there was plenty of room remaining.
Since we had such a nice open basement area, Mom and Dad loved
to host the big family New Year’s Eve parties, which soon
became a 5th Street tradition. Mom’s family (The Melchionnes)
was big, 9 brothers and sisters, with 30 first cousins in all. Today
there are four generations alive and probably close to 100 cousins.
(Dad’s family was just as big, but headquartered out in Pittsburgh.)
My job before the big party was to vacuum and clean the floor
and then mop it, dust and clean-up the kid stuff, and make it generally
neat as a pin. We would then set up little tables for munchies and
drinks. Dad would buy one of those big metal cans of Bon Ton potato
chips-later using the empty can for parts in his workshop. Before
the big party, Dad and I would stop at our favorite soda depot on
6th Street, right where Delavan Avenue tees into it. There we would
buy a couple of cases of Brookdale soda. Oh,…. that black
cheery was my favorite, along with cream, half and half, and birch
We also bought lots of things like pretzels, cheese doodles, paper
plates, and drinking cups. The old Kelvinator was stuffed solid
with beer and soda. By the time I got married that Kelvinator was
still going strong. Dad had gone through two refrigerators in the
upstairs kitchen, but the old faded Kelvinator kept humming.
The big treat I always licked my lips over was Mom’s cream
puffs and éclairs---all home-made. I could eat a plate and
mom knew it, keeping them well out of reach. All that confectionary
sugar and the way they would just melt in my mouth. How I would
like to feast on those right now with a cup of hot coffee! And she
also made those thin dough shapes…. butterflies, stars, Christmas
trees, and drizzled them with honey and sprinkled on candy bits.
Our sticky fingers would be licked for an hour.
By the time Dad got home from work on New Year’s Eve, we
had the basement ready to go. He would stop on the way home and
pick up some spirits for the celebration, as well as any last minute
stuff Mom said she needed. Whiskey Sours, Scotch and Soda, Highballs,
Rock & Rye, and some Anisette and Champagne afterwards for the
toast. How it all sticks in my mind. Sometimes I would sneak a Whiskey
Sour, and give it a couple of sips. As I got older, it started to
taste real good!
Dad’s trusty 8mm Bell & Howell camera was loaded and
ready, and his blinding home-made lighting system was just a foot
switch away. He was all set to capture the fun and smiles. Somewhere
in my basement are all the old 8mm movies that Dad took over the
years. And buried there are rolls of past New Year’s parties.
I really must dig them out and take a look back in time. It will
be tearful, but I should take another look.
We kept watch by the front windows as aunts and uncles and cousins
arrived. The cars filled a good part of the whole street. Everyone
brought food to complement the salad plates and sliced meats and
rolls Mom had been preparing all day. And of course there were always
meatballs, baked ziti, sausage, plenty of fresh salads, varieties
of eggplant dishes, veal, chicken, and lots and lots of swiss cheese
and provolone chunks, pepperoni and salami. Such a feast. I always
prayed for leftovers.
After dinner, while waiting for the ball to drop in New York City,
there was joke telling, the re-living of old family stories, some
singing, and most likely a penny poker card game. Penny poker, where
even the kids played, was a big favorite after many Holiday meals
at our house. Then we had a nice dessert of Italian pastries, fruits
and nuts and hot coffee.
By then, it was time for the big countdown. We kids knew that
all that Happy New Year kissing and hugging stuff was coming and
we headed upstairs to watch TV in the living room. At the sound
of all the yelling and applauding in the basement we knew it was
only a matter of time before our disappearance was discovered. “Where
are the kids?” we would hear, and then Mom would yell up to
us, “Stop hiding and come get kissed!”
Oh well, it only happens once a year. Funny, when I got old enough
to bring my girlfriends to the parties, my father would always be
nudging me…..”Stop kissing her, save some for the New
Somebody else lives in that house on 5th Street now. Mom and Dad,
and many of the aunts and uncles are gone. Only memories and echoes
of laughter are left. My wife and I go to sleep early on New Year’s
Eve. Somehow it’s never been the same since those 5th Street
parties. I really need to find those old 8mm movies. That’s
the great thing about movies. Everyone looks so real and alive.
I wonder who has that old Kelvinator? I know it still works.