By Maria Lagalante Schulz
Summers could be intense when I was growing up. As the temperatures would rise, our cramped, un-air conditioned, pizza-oven-like brick house would get hotter, and hotter, and hotter. We would mostly lie around, hoping that the fans would blow something other than the tepid air back on us.
We only had air conditioning in my bedroom and my parents’ room, and my father only allowed us to run it at night if the temperatures were above 80 degrees. Since most of my brothers lived in the attic, they would often come downstairs and lay on the floor of my bedroom to escape the heat.
My father would get up for work at about 5:30 a.m. and shut off the air conditioner. The result would be that all of us would wake up in a pool of sweat, unless our mother felt sorry for us and put the air conditioner back on after my Dad left.
Music would blast from the stereo speakers by 7 am on the weekends, or from the basement at night when my brother’s band was practicing. In the mornings on weekdays, the television would bark out the theme music from Concentration, which I could never actually understand or solve; Wheel of Fortune, when charming Chuck Woolery was the host and you bought yourself awesome prizes with your winnings; and of course, The Price is Right, with that Game Show god, Bob Barker.
If we were very lucky that day, my Aunt Frances would call and invite us over for a day at her family’s pool. Aunt Frances lived in Franklin Square with her daughter, Eleanor, son-in-law, Bob, and grandchildren, Susan and Richard.
Aunt Frances was there alone most days because Eleanor, Bob and Richard all worked. Even though Susan also worked, she was the same age as some of my older brothers and would be there waiting sometimes, ready to swim with us as soon as we arrived.
My mom would pack up the car with cold cuts, Italian bread, salads, cake and cookies, and we’d head off to Franklin Square for a long day of sun, fun, and of course, food.
We would spring from our car like sweaty zoo animals released from a cage, and Aunt Frances would be there by the gate, laughing and waving at us.
Aunt Frances was a little lady, and she liked to pose in her shorts and say, “doesn’t Aunt Frances have great legs?” She had reddish-brown hair, a big smile, a hearty laugh, and yes, great legs.
After we all bombarded her with hugs and kisses, Aunt Frances would say, “What are you waiting for? Jump in!”
No matter how cold that water was, my brothers and I dove right in. Later on, there would be a heater in the pool that almost guaranteed that we never got out.
Chris and I would dive in. Then, we’d put on our masks and dive underwater to see who could make the other person laugh first. Chris usually won because he would crack me up while he did kung fu, the hustle, a handstand or calisthenics.
When I came up for air, Joey would toss me over his shoulder again and again, or get everybody involved in a game of volleyball and football across the pool.
Meanwhile, Louie was always good for a cannonball, and Paul was busy racing back and forth. Tony and Kathie would jump into inner tubes and play Marco Polo with us.
Eventually, my mother would jump in. She’d hold onto the ladder and do the bicycle for awhile before Aunt Frances would yell, “Okay everybody. Let’s eat!”
We’d pile out of the pool, dry off and then take our seats around the picnic table. Then we’d dig into crusty bread with Genoa salami, prosciutto, mozzarella, American cheese, Virginia ham, turkey breast, mustard, marinated mushrooms, olive trays, three bean salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, and Cole slaw.
We had lots of entertainment while we ate. There was a “live” show that went on right in front of us, since the neighbors who lived behind our cousins would climb up on their roof and dive into their pool. That moment before we heard “splash,” I was always terrified I was going to hear “thud,” but it never happened.
My aunt, cousin, brothers, mom and I would talk about family, news, television shows, and of course, our soap operas. Like the rest of my family, Aunt Frances was a longtime, devoted fan of Guiding Light. She would laugh as we talked about all of our favorite characters.
Would Floyd figure out that he was the father of Nola Reardon’s baby, and not Kelly? Would Kelly and Beth ever be together, or would Nola’s shenanigans break them up for good? Would Roger Thorpe come back from the dead again? Was Rita’s baby Allan Spaulding’s child, or her husband, Rick Bauer’s? These were the deep existential questions we pondered until our hour after eating was up, and we could jump back into the pool.
We’d swim for another hour or two, then dry off and head inside. I remember seeing a funny new channel called “MTV” for the first time at my cousins’ house. The video that was on was called “Video Killed The Radio Star.” My brothers and I laughed and enjoyed the song and the crazy story that the video tried to tell.
At 3pm, everything stopped. Guiding Light was on. We’d have cake, cookies, coffee and tea while we laughed and talked during the commercials. When the clock ticked 4 pm, we packed our things up, kissed Aunt Frances goodbye, and headed home.
I can still see her waving goodbye to us as we drove away.
A few times during the Summer, Eleanor and Bob would call our house and invite us all over for a weekend pool party.
My father would protest because unless he was golfing, he never wanted to go anywhere on the weekends. With some gentle prodding from my mother, he would agree to go.
We’d pile back into that 1971 Buick station wagon in 70s chic lime green and head out to Franklin Square. This time, there would be lots of other relatives there as well.
Angela and Pete, their grandson Tommy, Mary and Pete, Lorraine and John, their kids Lisa and Johnny, Tony and Vicki and their kids, Theresa and Michael, of course Aunt Frances, her brothers and relatives, my grandmother and uncles, and loads of others. The kids were in the pool while the adults played cards or bocce.
I’d see Eleanor running up and down the stairs to her kitchen, toting out food, drinks, and ice. At one point, her son Richard would grab her, lift her off the ground, and throw her into the pool. We knew it was coming because you could hear Eleanor screaming and laughing, and then suddenly she was in the pool with us.
On the 4th of July, we’d have roasted marshmallows and then watch as they set off the fireworks. I preferred the Roman Candles to the Cherry Bombs and M-80s. One year, we brought a Ferris wheel shaped firework that my cousins nailed to a tree and then set off. Circles of bright green, brick red, and bold blues swirled and crackled as I munched on my roasted marshmallow with one hand and waved my Sparkler in zigzags with the other towards the star-filled sky.
Now that I’m an adult with my own pool, I understand that Eleanor and Bob probably wanted to shudder every time all 9 of us (plus friends, girl friends, boyfriends, assorted relatives, etc.) showed up at their door.
We were a loud, disorderly, rowdy lot, and we represented a boatload of work for the poor souls who had us over. We also took up every nook and cranny of their home. Still, I like to think that they enjoyed having us, because they kept asking us back.
One of the last times I was there, my brother Joe, his wife Christine, their kids Joey and Gina, Tony and Kathie and their newborn baby, Sara, came to visit and spend the day with Aunt Frances.
My mom and I took turns holding the kids, swimming around the pool and enjoying lunch, peek-a-boo games, and Guiding Light.
Now, those “kids” are all in their 20s. One of them, Gina, even has a child of her own. Aunt Frances is long gone and so is my mother. I would have loved to have them both over to my pool to enjoy a special Summer day with my husband, girls and me.
But on a hot day like this, with the sun high in the sky and the temperatures soaring, I can almost hear Aunt Frances and Mom talking and laughing.
I bet they’re eating too.
To all my Bayside peeps, remember King’s Delicatessen? It was located right next door to the bakery near the corner of 48th Avenue and Bell Blvd. Tony “King” was the owner.
Tony was (and is) a character. I remember him always laughing, always sharing jokes with my mother, and providing us with all the cold cuts and meat we needed. I can still see Tony coming out of the meat freezer with a hunk of beef yelling “just a second dolly. I’ll be there in a minute.”
My brother Joe worked there for many years and he’s still friends with Tony King to this day. Thanks to him, I can share Tony King’s potato salad recipe with you. It’s really simple and really delicious!
My Aunt Frances loved the marinated mushrooms that my mother always brought for her, so here’s a recipe for that dish too.
Use these two recipes at your next pool party, barbecue, or summer get-together.
P.S. If you like the recipes, have a recipe of your own you’d like to share, or if you have a funny Summer story to tell, please leave a comment. Thanks and enjoy!
Tony King’s Potato Salad
2 lbs. red potatoes, boiled to medium hardness (not too soft)
Skin them after boiling
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 large onion finely chopped
4 tbsp. sweet relish
1 tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 red bell pepper finely chopped
3/4 cup of mayonnaise, or enough to cover potatoes
2 carrots grated on the opposite size of the grater (the julienne side, not the cheese side)
Take boiled, sliced, skinless potatoes. Place in bowl. Add onions, pepper, celery, relish, and grated carrots. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix with mayo. Do this the night before to bring the flavors together. Refrigerate and serve cold. Serves 4-6.
1 lb. button mushrooms
1/3 cup light or regular extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
1 roasted red pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped fine
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. fresh basil
2 tsp. Italian seasonings
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
Place the mushrooms in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients. Pour over mushrooms and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight. Drain and discard marinade before serving. Yield: 6-8 servings