When my friend Gayle said she was coming into town to try on wedding dresses, I knew I had to see her. After all, we used to pass by the Vera Wang wedding dress shop in D.C. back in college. Now, she’s planning for the real deal. Talking to her about wedding planning has me getting nostalgic for Antonio and my wedding in Italy and vow renewal in the United States. I never did get tired of trying on wedding dresses or choosing floral centerpieces. But the cake tastings were probably my favorite. Gayle likes that, too. She brought some yummy cupcakes from Crumbs in the spirit of wedding planning. And the apple one was as perfectly light and moist as it looked. Still, I’ll have to try the M & M topped cupcake by day’s end. It’s the least I can do for the bride to be. I’m sure she’ll want a full report from me. This visit with Gayle would have only been better if we could have finished it off with a stop at Con-E-Island, the D.C. ice cream shop we used to frequent back in the day. Thanks for the visit and delicious trip down memory lane, Gayle! You are going to make a beautiful bride. I can’t wait.
My family made big contributions to the Class of 2010. Both my cousins Raffaele and Alexander recently graduated high school and will be going away to college in the fall. Over the summer, their parents each hosted a party in honor of their son. (To join the fun, visit the “Alexander’s Graduation” and “Raffaele’s Graduation” photo albums.) As I sat at their backyard bashes, I couldn’t help but think about my own experience going away to college way back in 1996. It is like a dream now. But I have proof it really happened. In between Raffaele’s and Alexander’s parties, I received the invitation to my class reunion at the George Washington University. Can you believe it’s been 10 years since I left GW?
What I loved about going away to college was how much it made me appreciate my family back home. They wouldn’t let me forget about them. My father locked himself in the bathroom at the hotel when he dropped me off at school for the first time. My mom could hear him crying. Then, his sisters — all three of them — called me during my first week of classes. They left messages that all pretty much sounded like this: “You eat-a? You sure-a you eat-a? You wanna sauce-a? I can make the sauce-a and then we mail it and you can freeze-a it? You betta eat-a!” After I packed on the freshman 15, they still swore I wasn’t eating without them. Despite those late night pizza and Chinese runs, my aunts insisted I was disappearing. There were care packages from cousins, visits from my parents, who would literally bring that sauce for freezing, and many trips home for the holidays.
Still, independence is the most beautiful part of going away to college. I felt like such a grown up paying for my own groceries, cooking for myself, keeping track of my bills, staying on budget, and doing the laundry. Plus, I got to keep my apartment just the way I liked it, at least during my junior and senior years when I lived alone. My roommates from the previous years weren’t always as neat as I am (but they were lovable just the same).
To be honest, I find myself jealous of Raffaele and Alexander. Freshman year of college is a clean slate. The labels from high school fall off as soon as that high school diploma is in your grasp. The kids at college won’t know anything about you or what happened in high school. When you enter college, you will take new classes in subjects you barely (or never) touched in high school. Every corner you turn, you’ll find a new person who has the potential to be your new best friend, lab partner, frenemy, entertainer, or love. That newness — the idea that everyday is a surprise and could influence your future in such profound ways — never gets old. You will miss it greatly when you hit sophomore year and even moreso when you graduate.
Friends you make in the dorms will feel more like family, and some of them will be just that to you for many many more years. Others will be close to you in college, and you might lose touch down the road. But you’ll never forget each other or the memories you’ll be making because it’s one of the most important transitions in your life. Consider yourself a sculptor, Alexander and Raffaele. Your work of art is your own life. Begin building a strong foundation and mold it well.
My family is like its own United Nations. We have relatives in the United States, Italy, Canada, Australia, France, and Argentina. I have friends who barely know their cousins who live a few towns over, meanwhile I can say that I know a lot of the relatives in these other countries — and I know many of them pretty well. We’ve visited each other’s countries, met up in Italy (the ancestral home base), and stay connected with letters, phone, e-mail, Facebook, and Skype. It’s pretty special if you ask me.
In the last week, some of our cousins from France made a stop in the States on their way to a Quebec vacation. Since I work from home during the week, they were kind enough to travel from Long Island to New Jersey to see me. They brought my grandmother — and a GPS — to boot. They made their way here despite the inevitable traffic and without getting lost. I was able to have lunch and catch up with them despite the work week. For this, I’m grateful.
Having relatives from all over the world is a lesson in culture. I’m always having to keep track of how to kiss the relative in question. The Americans want one kiss on the cheek, and men never kiss each other; they give each other handshakes. The Italians demand two kisses, one on each cheek, and the men kiss each other, too. The French expect three kisses, alternating cheeks as you go. Men kiss each other in France, too. I’m always fumbling and giving the Italians three kisses or pulling away after one. I guess they just all think I’m a kissing fool.
I’m excited to be celebrating America’s birthday in the United States for the first time in four years. I hope you and yours are stuffing yourselves with hot dogs and hamburgers, taking in the sun, and getting ready to view some fireworks. We just finished off a plate of grilled corn on the cob, onions, sliders, dogs, and ribs. The cupcakes with strawberries and blueberries on top are now calling my name. If you’d like to join me and my parents at our table or at the George Washington Bride, where the flag is flying high, you can visit the “Fourth of July 2010” photo album.