So three good buddies marry three sisters. They live within a few blocks of each other in Brooklyn. They have kids. They rotate Sunday dinners at each other’s homes. Their kids grow up together. Their kids party together, play games together, get in trouble together, and end up just plain loving each other. That is pretty much my dad’s side of his maternal family in a nutshell.
My grandmother Grace Teravainen’s maiden name is Triano. Grace’s sisters Rose and Dorothy (“Dottie”) ended up marrying buddies Frank Kelly and Pete (“Dude-a-bops”) Milazzo. Frank and Pete were buddies with my grandfather Allan. He was born in Finland but ended up somehow in Duxbury, Massachusetts and eventually in New York.
Last weekend, as they have done every year for more than a decade, my father’s cousin Marie (Milazzo) Williams and her husband Doug hosted a Triano family reunion at their home in Bloomville, New York. You need to get a visual before we proceed.
First, Bloomville is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Farms dot the hilly, green landscape with pretty wooded areas separating most neighbors. As you pull your car up to a reunion, this is what you will see.
The Williams’ home is a beautiful, two-story farmhouse set on a few acres of lawn, flower gardens, and trees. A huge barn sits to the house’s left, which functions as a poker hall, concert house, and saloon – more about this later. As you walk past the barn up a small incline, you will see an old two-story schoolhouse and a large function tent immediately next to it with a bunch of picnic tables underneath. By the way, a four-wheeler and a golf cart could be buzzing by you at any moment, which are usually operated at unsafe speeds by kids too young for driver’s licenses. As you come under the tent, a charcoal grill is to your right. A covered deck adjacent to the schoolhouse is on its back side, which overlooks a large open backyard surrounded by a sprawling corn field and a steep hill with tall grass to the right. The yard is our bocce court.
Meanwhile, most folks pitch their sleeping tents in various locations of the yard between the house and the picnic tables. Some people sleep in their cars, others in the schoolhouse, while the truly adventurous sleep at the Buena Vista motel about 8 miles away.
As stated previously, my father’s generation of Triano cousins (and not just the children of Grace, Rose, and Dottie) had their own bonds and shared experiences growing up in Brooklyn. As they married and mated, many of them relocated to greener pastures. Due to the geographic distance and lack of opportunities to spend time together, the Triano cousins planned sporadic reunions in random locations or used special occasions like weddings to accomplish their bonding time.
Over time, the cousins’ spouses and children were added to the mix. They, too, began to enjoy and partake in the bonding of the reunions, holidays, or whatever event they may be spending together. Ultimately, Doug and Marie hosted their first reunion at Bloomville and the annual pilgrimage to their home began.
As Bloomville became a staple event of everyone’s summer schedule, my generation of “cousins” also began to stage our own reunions at different times throughout the year. For example, uncles and cousins come to Boston for one weekend of NFL playoffs every year. Other times, relatives of any generation are known to show up for shows by our cousin Steve’s world famous band, Peculiar Gentlemen. There is also an annual trip to Key West by any male Triano (and in-laws) over 21. Basically, we find excuses to reunite, bond, catch up … and party.
At any reunion, we have certain traditions – and most of them involve gambling. After everyone arrives on Friday, we eventually congregate in the barn. After a lot of arguing about ground rules, a massive game of scat (see http://www.pagat.com/draw/scat.html for the rules) will ensue with players of any age. After scat, poker begins. It doesn’t matter how old you are, Uncle Bob will bleed anyone dry of lunch money or social security in 7/27. Meanwhile, bodies will fade into the night to their respective sleeping spaces as the crowd gradually thins. The usual suspects who close out the barn playing drinking games tend not to be the early morning risers on Saturday.
Saturday morning usually begins with someone vowing never to sleep in a tent again because of some drunkard’s late night antics. After people return to the premises, we collect $20 from each participant for a massive bocce tournament complete with a championship belt that memorializes the first and second place finishers of years past. Again, as long as you have $20, we don’t care how young or old you are. You’re in.
As the day goes on, people drink, eat, chat, watch and play bocce, and compete in any other yard games that arise along the way. During these rituals, we reconnect with our loved ones. You trade stories. You catch up. You share news. Perhaps you relive a memory from a previous year’s reunion.
By the time Saturday night rolls around, a live music show begins. Doug sings in a doo-wop band that warms up the crowd. After the opening band’s set, Peculiar Gentlemen comes on and stokes the crowd into a dancing frenzy. The night usually ends in a similar fashion as Friday, but usually with more mutants and cretins. This year’s Saturday was highlighted by keg stands and cross-eyed daddies whose baby mamas went back to the Buena Vista sans papa.
More importantly, 2009 was Greta’s first experience at Bloomville. Our family greeted her with hundreds of hugs, kisses, smiles, laughs, goofy faces, weird sounds, and every other way I hoped they would. The highlight of the weekend for me was our chance to compete together a la Baby Bjorn in the Sunday morning Frisbee golf tournament, which is another belt eligible event and a $10 entry fee.
While reflecting on this year’s reunion and looking forward to the next one, I am excited about Greta’s future reunions and Triano experiences. I can’t wait for her first bocce tournament in Bloomville when she eliminates Uncle Bob in the first round. It will also be fun to see her holding cards at the beginning of a scat tournament, hoping that her three chips will hold up long enough to win the big money. Above all, I am especially looking forward to seeing her interact with the next generation of her own “cousins.” There is such a comforting warmth in experiencing the connection to an extended, loving family. Even though we all live far apart, the reunion lets us forget about our problems and stresses for a little while, we get to know each other a little bit better, and we have fun doing it together.
Anyway, next year’s Scrabble tourney leaders are rumored to be developing a championship sash to rival the bocce and Frisbee belts. Looks like Gigi and I have some reading to do…