Memorial Day – Tradition


I just watched a Memorial Day ceremony at the monument along the river across from the Yardley Inn.  Each year a small group gathers with flowers and flags.  There is a brief speech, a military gun salute and the playing of taps.  Watching it made me reflect on my own Memorial Days past.

Growing up in Bristol for years I marched in the Memorial Day parade. The parade started at Green Lane, down Pond Street to the cemetery on Route 13.  The route and the parade itself was long.  Troop 73 wasn’t the only youth group.  My sisters, Cissi, Vicky and Marylee marched with the Juniorettes.  There was a contingent of veterans, the high school band, military trucks, soldiers, fire company trucks and rescue squad equipment.  And the Bracken Cadets, an excellent marching band sponsored by the American Legion. In the beginning and the end were police cars.

I’m sure there were speeches at the cemetery although I don’t remember them.   Along the route, lined with residents and kids waving flags, there were women collecting donations for veteran organizations in return the donor got a paper red poppy.  There were lots of flags in the parade and all over town  After the ceremony we marched back to the American Legion Mill Street to Radcliffe Street.  Kids were given hot dogs, soda and ice cream.  Then we headed home.


Memory fails again when I try to remember the rest of the day.  I suspect some years we had a picnic at my Aunt and Uncle’s house on Radcliffe Street.  Most holidays we got together with them.  My cousin Ellen remembers her father pulling a large galvanized tin bucket out of the garage,  filling it with ice for soda and probably some beer. Uncle always drank small green bottled Rolling Rock.   If we didn’t go to Mignoni’s, we probably had hamburgers and hot dogs or even Delmonico steaks on our second floor porch and outdoor deck.  Father had a small charcoal grill that he would fire up.

Memorial Days just before, during and just after college are a blank.  I think it’s related to the role of tradition.  When we do something  ritually  it becomes a memory.  The years we lived in New Hope with the Pagliones are a similar blank.  I don’t recall any New Hope or Lambertville parade.  No traditions; no memory.  Then we moved to Yardley in the early 1970s.

The Yardley parade became a tradition for decades.  The participants were similar to those the the Bristol parade.  It was a bit smaller.  I have strong memories of the marching veterans, some year after year.  I remember a few names, Danny, Estelle (she road in a car).  There were a lot of fire trucks from surrounding municipalities.  We’d walk to Main Street with out neighbors, the Dyes.  Blond Katie and our red headed Jenny shared a stroller in the early years.  Political figures, frequently riding in cars, threw candy to the children sitting on the curbs.  The parade started on North Main and ended at the American Legion on South Main.  There were speeches, a gun salute and taps but with the kids we didn’t walk that far but headed home once the parade passed.

For eight years in the 1980s I was on Yardley Borough Council.  And Council marched in the parade.  Some years we rode in a car or truck but other years made the decision to walk. I never got into the candy throw.  Those years I did make it to the American Legion.  In addition to local politicians from the Borough, there were Lower Makefield supervisors, county officials and probably a state representative.  There was always a guest military officer that gave the main address.  Diane and Jenny didn’t usually make the walk, so I headed home back down Main Street.  I recall a few years getting a ride from Dave Heckler, a County-State politician.  I’m sure in the afternoon we had a picnic.  With the Dyes when they lived locally; alone after they moved.

Some years we skipped Yardley for a trip to visit my sister Vicky and her husband Ted in Darien, CN.  My parents, other sisters and children all went for the weekend.  The pool was opened although usually too chilly for the adults; the kids didn’t mind.  One night we enjoyed a seafood dinner, lobster, clams, oh so good.  On Memorial Day we drove to downtown Darien for the parade.  A few years we walked to Rowayton, a village in Norwalk.  The small parade there had kids participating on decorated bicycles.  Very small town.  These years were particularly nice since frequently the entire family got together.  Years later driving to or from New England past Darien I’d remember those weekends.  Family traditions.

In more recent years I have walked over the Mary Yardley footbridge to Main Street and watched the Yardley parade.  Barbecue at home. Some years Vicky and Ted hosted the family at their house in Phoenixville.  Although their was a town parade we never went but were satisfied socializing and eating in their porch.  Our third choice has been to go to Gladwyne and see our grandkids, Eli and Viv decorate their bikes and ride in the local parade.  The Gladwyne parade is very small.  No bands. Marching veterans,  a few politicians throwing candy, fire trucks, and some antique cars, and all those kids on decorated bikes. There are a few speeches downtown where people congregate, socialize, there is some food and drinks for sale.  Again very small town.  After the parade and hanging out for a while we head home.  Always the deck grill.


There are traditional Memorial Day activities and images. For many it’s the beginning of summer.  The first big weekend at the beach.  Of course this year there is concern about crowds, social distancing, masks and the spread of Coronavirus.  And businesses, some with restrictions, are concerned about sales.  There are no parades but I suspect many communities displayed flags and had small ceremonies in cemeteries or at monuments like the one in Yardley. Immediate family, maybe friends gather for a picnic.

I’ll be home this Memorial Day.  We saw our Jenny, Rob and the grand kids yesterday.  It’s overcast so we may or may not cook on the grill.  But I pause and give thanks to those who lost their lives in defense of our country.  For that’s the main purpose of the day.  I’ll call some family members.   And I’ll remember the memories and traditions from all those  Memorial Days from my past.






Easter Tradition





1957, sixty years ago, I was ten years old.  Easter Sunday we came home from church and my mother noticed that a butterfly (a Swallowtail) had emerged from a cocoon on a branch in a large jar in my bedroom.  The previous fall I had placed the branch and a caterpillar in the jar.  Mom and I were quite excited.  She talked about the miracle of life.  “And,” she said, ” It happened on  Easter Sunday.


Catholicism was an important part of our upbringing.  My four sisters and I had an Irish Catholic mother and an Italian Catholic father. For the most part we attended Catholic schools and attended church, Saint Mark’s in Bristol, every Sunday, holidays, weddings and funerals.  Starting maybe in sixth grade, I was an alter boy for about three years.  I served Sunday masses, an evening Sodality (women’s prayer group), and best of all weddings (usually weekends) and funerals (usually weekdays when we got to leave school). It was fairly lucrative since you received tips for the special events.   George Nelson and I had it sewed up for a year or two.  Easter week was quite busy with events on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Saturday and of course Easter Sunday.


This year I saw that Terrain at Styers, our favorite garden center in the Chester County, was closed from 1 to 3 on Good Friday, the hours Jesus is said to have sufferered and died on the cross.  In the 1950s and 1960s I remember many businesses on Mill Street in Bristol where we lived,  closed.  On the years when I didn’t  take part in a church service during those hours I had to find something to do.  One year I went to the Bristol Theatre to see “Toby Tyler.”  I recently saw it was on TV.  My Good Friday attendance at a movie was something I had to keep a deep secret — if my mother found out?  Several years in high school, I hung out in the surplus section of Spector’s Army and Navy store on Mill Street.  Time was spent looking at gear I might use camping and talking with the owner Mitchell,  a family friend, Jewish, so Spector’s didn’t close.


In the weeks prior to Easter Sunday we all got new clothes.  For my sisters it meant a dress, shoes, white gloves and flowery hat, maybe a dress coat.  For the younger girls, the coat may have been a hand me down.  I think my grandfather Profy may have financed some of these purchases.  Interestingly although my grandmothers liked to see us dressed up; neither were interested in shopping.  However Grand pop sometimes was the one to take me shopping for a new suit, shirt, tie, maybe shoes and a coat.  Although there was a good clothing store on Mill street — Edward’s.  They were Jewish.  At first I didn’t understand, grand pop would say “Buy from your own kind.”   So we drove to Trenton, the well know boys clothing  store, Donnelly’s & Sons.  “Our kind?”  I assume they were Irish.  Several years he took me to Caucci’s in Bristol Township.  They were Italian.  “More our kind.”  If my father was doing the shopping we would go to South Street in Philadelphia where the merchants were Jewish.  I also remember 2nd floor places on Chestnut where you were asked for a secret password before admittance.  They made clothes with Wanamaker labels for instance but sold the same suit without the label cheaper.  The password entrance really made it seem like a great deal.


Another Easter tradition was going to Grants, a 5&10 cent store on Mill Street.  In the basement, near the toy section, were the baby chicks.  Some were a furry yellow but others were green, blue or pink.  Easter pets.  Can you imagine.  I think one year I got several. My recollection was they grew bigger and father said he would take them to a farm. They disappeared.  My sister said mother would never allow us to get Grants chicks and that this memory is more likely a wish or dream.  I do know as the oldest, only boy in the family I got away with things my sisters could only dream about.

During the years I was a Boy Scout, I sold Easter candy from Warner’s candy on Route 13.  We earned a percentage profit which went to the cost of our summer camp.  It was a fun project, taking the orders and making deliveries.  I sold hundreds of dollars worth.




Saturday evening we dyed eggs.  Probably about two dozen. The next morning the eggs and Easter baskets would be hidden around the house.  When we got up, maybe before our parents, we searched for the eggs and our basket.  In the basket would be a chocolate egg (typically coconut) a rabbit (I liked the white chocolate), jelly beans, maybe pink and yellow marshmallow rabbits and chickens (hated them), chocolate balls in colored tinfoil.  A special treat I liked was a large egg that you looked through on one end into an imaginary scene. It came out every year.

I don’t recall St. Mark’s having a Sunrise service.  More likely in our new Sunday best we went to a 8 or 9 o’clock Mass.  For some reason even though it was only about 1/2 a mile, Father would drive us.  Getting dressed up took time.  But after Mass we’d walk the 3 blocks with our cousins to my Aunt Ellen’s house on Radcliffe.  If lucky we’d be offered breakfast.  At home my grandfather Profy might visit or we’d cross the street to visit him and my grandmother.  As mom prepared dinner, other relatives might stop for a visit.  Especially if Uncle Albert, Aunt Carol and the boys were visiting from Flushing, New York.  They stayed in the Bristol Motel or in later years had a RV that they parked near the river behind our apartment. It was always a big deal when they visited.

Easter dinners were usually late afternoon.  There were tulips or an Easter Lily plant that someone, maybe us kids,  had given Mom.  Some years Nanny (my mother’s mother) might attend or her sister Aunt Lucy.  Sometimes it was the NY Profy’s.  Mom usually served ham, maybe scalloped potatoes, deviled eggs, a green salad and some vegetable, peas come to mind.  I don’t remember a particular dessert — although pound cake (with ice cream) was a standard for her.  My sisters and I might dig into the Easter baskets.


After dinner we would probably watch TV.  Ed Sullivan was a Sunday favorite for Nanny. And she would get her way.  I usually hated it.  Some years there was a biblical movie.  This year I watched some of the 1965 “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”  Easter was always a quiet holiday; low key; family orientated.  The colorful flowers, eggs, chocolate, warmer weather, and longer daylight spoke to the change of season, renewal, rebirth. We were reminded of out Catholic heritage.





Thankfully, some of the themes, beliefs and traditions of those early years continue this Easter 2018.










Tapestry of tradition and memory





On December 3, Diane and I met the Kwaits at the Prallsville Mills craft show.  It was our kick off for the 2016 Christmas season.  It’s a small but friendly show, maybe 40 booths, a lot of jewelry and women’s clothes.  I didn’t buy anything but enjoyed talking to several crafters.  Kathleen Lang Metaxas makes scarves eco-printed and colored with natural materials; she has a new studio in downtown Yardley.  We liked raised wooden trays by Larry Rocco from Pipersville; but I think if I shopped for the right piece of wood, I could make one.  A carpentry challenge.  I was particularly taken with handmade Irish tweed caps made by a woman, “Dannybird.”

Back home I built the first fire of the season, between games and reading with the kids, I reflected  on our Christmas traditions.  This past week, we took the kids to McCarter Theatre in Princeton to see “A Christmas Carol.”  When Jenny was growing up Christmas Carol at McCarter or some other Christmas theatre was an annual outing.   This was the first time for Eli and Viv.  Neither got scared, like the little boy behind us.  And they seemed to get into the spirit as the cast wandered and talked to the audience, before and after the performance.  And so, as Tiny Tim said, “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us every one.”

Other years, we have  gone to the Nutcracker — in Philadelphia several times —  but the best was the NYC production.  We’ve enjoyed Handel’s Messiah.  This year we went to Princeton to see Robert Kapilow & the American Boys Choir at the Presbyterian Church on Nassau.  Another big Christmas show is the Rockettes, at Radio City Music Hall.  We’ve only gone once with the Dehene’s. This year we joined them for a Christmas Open House Tour sponsored by the Delaware Art Museum.  Four of the five homes were former DuPont homes, unfortunately we didn’t find them very decorated unlike the Pearl Buck home in Upper Bucks which we visited last year.

This year the Kwait’s were able to get to the Washington Crossing rehearsal.  Rob invited Eli’s scout troop.  It was clear and crisp morning and the volunteers crossed in the replica Durham boats.  After speeches and walking, the kids went to see the reproduction of the Emmanuel Leutze iconic painting.  Sadly in all the years we’ve lived close by, I’ve only done the Crossing about four times. Other local events are the light show at Shadybrook Farm and Yardley’s Tree Lighting and Santa parade.




Many years, we’ve had an outing to  New York City for Christmas shopping.  I remember my first time.  Diane was the guide, familiar with Fifth Avenve.  Some of the names I recognized, but had never been to, Tiffany, Cartier, Bergdorf Goodman, Barnes & Noble,  Rizolli, FAO Swartz, ond other classics shops.  This was the early 1970s.  The iconic toy store, FAO Swartz is gone now.   So  is Rizolli’s, although we still have two vinyl Renaissance music albums that we bought on the trip.  I still recall the salesman carefully taking the record from the sleeve and playing it for us.  Sold.  Of course we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center, although we never rented skates.  This trip or some variation, became fairly regular when Jenny was young and also when my sister, Vicky,  lived in Darien, CN.  Sometimes the trip shifted downtown to Times Square and Macy’s and the other department stores with their decorated windows.    Or Soho as it became hip.

In the 1970-80s, Peddler’s Village in Lahaska was a traditional Christmas shopping stop.  There was several shops we liked and it was a good trip to take with my parents. Bookstore, toy store, Scandinavian decor, crafts, garden center, historic documents, women’s clothes, cups of warm cider, gingerbread houses, holiday music and maybe a few snow flakes.  In recent years, our stops there are more focused — the Italian food store or chocolate shop that sells nut free.  Haven’t wandered in years.


Similarly New Hope and Lambertville have been holiday shopping destinations.  NH has had some excellent stores –Japan Artisans was a fantastic shop back in the 1970s,  Topeo Gallery was a favorite, Farley’s is still one of the best bookstores in the area, and there were others.  However we haven’t walked New Hope in years.  Certainly not for Christmas shopping.  Lambertville offers more today (years ago it was a nice working class town) after gentrification — many galleries and shoppes.

In recent  years Princeton is usually on our Christmas shopping trip list.  It’s less the specific shops and purchases and more the warm community, holiday spirit.  A great book store, shoe stores, record exchange, cheese, tea, oil,  soaps and bath oils, paper products, kitchen gadgets —  Princeton has a bit of everything. Like Mill Street in Bristol when I was growing up.  And we can always have lunch at a favorite — Theresa Cafe, Mediterra, Agricola, Blue Point Grill, and the classic Nassau Inn. Lots to choose from.  Many years this includes some performance at McCarter.

Surprisingly Philadelphia (a city I love) isn’t always on our current Christmas shopping trip list.  It seems the trendy commercial neighborhoods change.  There was South Street, a bit hip, years ago; special trips to the Italian Market; Chestnut Street had a few years in the sun; there was always several blocks of Walnut.  Market East was never an interest. As a kid the Wanamaker toy department, Christmas organ show, meet me at the eagle, Lit’s Christmas village; the spirit was fantastic.  When Jenny was young, downtown Phila was still a favorite attraction.  More recently the Christmas festival at City Hall and Olld City emerged in the 1990s. We still might spend a holiday afternoon in Philadelphia, usually associated with a theatre or music show.

We lived in Bristol and Yardley and there have been shops of interest in both towns.  Mignoni Jewelers is a mainstay in Bristol.  At least make a Christmas stop.  Yardley shops seem to come and go.  For several years there was a great doll shop and an interesting  craft store, I believe at different times in the same retail space.  In the 70s, there was JD Sacs, a sports outfitter.   Hometown shops were always great for that last minute Christmas Eve purchase. In the 1950s, I didn’t need to leave Mill Street.

Malls, Black Friday, Big Box Stores?  Neshaminy, Oxford Valley, Plymouth Meeting, Quaker Bridge, Princeton Market Fair, Toys r us, Staples, Home Depot, IKEA, the choices are endless.  We may shop for a specific item at a specific store but I wouldn’t call it a tradition and don’t have any fond memories.  We are small town -city.  And I’ll admit, now,  Amazon and other Internet sites.


A week ago, we brought down several boxes of Christmas decorations.  In one there are different style Christmas lights — most not fully working.  There will be table decorations and tree ornaments.  When first married in the 70s, Diane and I went to Snipes Nursery on Route 1.  In addition to a tree, we would purchase several German wooden decorations or  tree ornaments.  For about a decade, they had a great selection.  Frequently the tree ornament we purchased that year reflected something that happened in our lives — Jenny’s birth, buying a house, a new car, a dog, we would put the date on the ornament.  Today there are more ornaments than tree space but we still like to add a new one to the collection. They are no longer all wooden but made out of all types of material.  Some homemade, some gifts, some fragile, some dated, but each year we open the box and go through them one by one.  Oh, Diane bought this in France.  Tom Corley knitted this.  Memories.


Snipes is closed.  Now we drive an hour to Chester County, Route 1, Terrain at Styers (owned by Urban Outfitters).  For us, the ultimate “yuppie,” (hate the term), upscale garden center.  Terrain practices what I call “thematic marketing.”  A table displays honey (local, organic, specific flavors), pottery honey pots, books on honey and bees, aprons with buzzing bees.   They do still sell plants and garden supplies.  Several years ago, early December, we noticed a different Christmas tree.  Turned out it was a Silvertip Fir from the Sierra Nevada in California.  “Got to be kidding, buy local, and then we buy a tree grown 3,000 miles away.”   This year we trimmed our fourth Silver tip.  But we like the light color, spread out branches and needles that stay in place till March.  Terrain also has all kinds of Christmas decorations and plants.  Easy to run up the credit card.  But we do get 10% off as Pennsylvania Horticultural Society members.

Some years our drive to Chester County for Terrain, involves  a stop at the Brandywine River Museum and its special Christmas traditions including creative natural tree ornaments.    My mother always liked to go to the museum shop at Winthur.  One year my sisters and I all got beautiful wooden bowls turned on a lathe from a local tree that had gone down.  A few years we’ve visited Longwood Gardens.  Fantastic.  We should make the Chadds Ford/Delaware trip this year.


At home we address home traditions.  There are a stack of Children’s Christmas books we display on coffee tables.  There are CD disks and probably a few vinyl — must look for those Renaissance albums bought at Rizolli’s fifty years ago.  Our manager display is ultra simple — wooden figures bought at Snipes decades ago.  We usually surround them with cut evergreen.  Although we’ve done outside house lights a few years, it’s usually pretty limited.  This year Diane purchased a birch like tree with tiny lights (from Terrain and we saw them in two or three homes on the Delaware House tour).

We still send out Christmas cards — about 50 this year.  A few years we did the Christmas or New Year’s  letter with photographs.  I like sending cards, with a brief hand written note.  A way to keep in touch with family members we don’t see throughout the year, friends from college and former Yardley friends,  and a lot of former colleagues.


We usually watch some Christmas movies.  “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street.”   But two are almost mandatory.  Diane will pull out our VHS copies of Albert Finney’s 1970 “Scrooge” and 1968 “Lion in Winter.”  Maybe the tension-love between Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn) and Henry II (Peter O’Toole) provides a holiday catharsis.

Growing up and for many years of our early marriage, the Christmas tree went up on Christmas Eve.  Not sure but this may have been related to Father and Mother both working evenings leading up to Christmas.  Most years we went to midnight Mass at Saint Marks in Bristol.  I was an alter boy for years.  One year Father scaled the church nativity scene and made a smaller replica.  As Jenny got older, we decorated earlier. This year we decorated the week before.

Christmas has always been a time to visit with family.  Christmas Day around 11 a.m. always found my family at my Grandparent Profy’s house.  Diane similarly visited her grandparents.  My uncles, wives and kids all arrived at the same time.    Grandmom didn’t cook or entertain once her step children left the nest.   So Grandpop entertained at Christmas,  Manhattans for the adults, coke for the kids, there was usually a tray of cookies from Italian People’s Bakery in Trenton.  Good cheer shared, we were off.  In the next few hours we would visit the families of Uncle Frank Profy on Radcliffe, Uncle Tom in Levittown, Aunt Marie (Mom’s sister) in the Third Ward and finally Aunt Ellen and Uncle Frank Mignoni on Radcliffe.  All within a few hours; the cordination amazed me.  They also visited our house, usually as Mom prepared dinner.


Married in the 1970s, Diane and I made the stop at Grandpop Profy’s and then Mignoni’s.  Car packed we were off to a classic Christmas dinner with her family in Carmel.  Turnips and parsnips were new vegetables for me which are often on our Christmas table today.  It was about that time that all the morning visits to the Profy uncles stopped — except for  Grandpop’s Manhattans.  Mother and Father began hosting a Christmas breakfast at their house.  There were grandchildren and eventually great grand children.  My sisters and Diane helped to make a lavish spread.  My favorite was always the chipped beef on toast.  Gifts were exchanged.

Sometime, maybe in the 1980s, my sisters and brothers-in-law instituted a Christmas Pollyanna.  The idea was to shop for one nice gift.  We frequently found just the right Pollyanna at pre-Christmas craft show, like the Philadelphia Museum of Art show.  I do think some beautiful gifts were exchanged.  For a few years Ted spiced the pot with a frequent flyer miles ticket.  Very nice.  By 2000 or so, there were rumblings, let’s stop the Pollyanna.  And we did.

This year my nephew, Angelo, Heather and their three sons will host the Bristol and non-Bristol family for a brunch on the 26th.  Christmas is reserved for the immediate family.  We either host dinner for Jen, Bob, Viv and Eli and Diane’s brother, Hawley or they host us.  Sometimes they do breakfast; we do dinner.  In recent years Christmas Eve has been a quiet night for Diane and me.  But for quite a few years, it was an annual visit of John, Barbara and Libby Paglione and Susan and Jerry Taylor, our closest Yardley friends.    Paglione’s  were in from Ann Arbor visiting family and joined us for the evening. We have years of photographs of the adults, the girls, all of us sitting on the couch. This year we will probably do it on Face Time.


Suprisingly we don’t have any fixed food traditions.  We’ve done variations of seven fishes, my mother taught us smelts on Christmas Eve, dinner has been salmon (Jen’s  vegiterianism) or turkey.  One year I tried an expensive grilled heritage turkey — it left the coals too soon and well, didn’t turn out.  Homemade cookies, some years. But the menu seems to change annually.

At the Boys Choir concert in Princeton, Robert Kapilow commented that traditions were fluid — what’s been done in the past, is enewed by contact and interaction with the present.  We adapt, change, and enrich tradition.  2016 will probably be no different from past years — bits of the past; transformed by the present.  But always nice warm, peaceful, family and friends, Christmas spirit.