Once a landfill, Overpeck Park in Bergen County, New Jersey is now one of my happy places. And before we left fair New Jersey for Italy in April, we took Baby Boy for a stroll there. The charming wooden bridge for walking and autos is now a lovely symbol of the land. Englewood, Leonia, Palisades Park, Ridgefield Park, and Teaneck donated hundreds of acres of land surrounding Overpeck Creek about 50 years ago to create this park. It features walking paths, a dog park, tennis courts, baseball fields, and even an equestrian area with horses for riding. There are tracks, a canoe/kayak launch, and a fishing area, not to mention a playground for kids.
An oasis in the middle of a county that often seems more city than suburb, Overpeck has even recently attracted a pair of American eagles. (I, along with the rest of New Jersey, am hoping the eagles make it.) Bergen County announced May 10 that more improvements are coming to the park. The County is receiving a $500,000 grant to complete a missing link of pedestrian paths traversing the park and will connect all the venues within it, according to the announcement.
There’s so much you can do at Overpeck. But I have to admit my favorite pastime at the park is simple walking. I especially enjoy a visit in the spring, when it is still not too hot and all the flowers and plants are in bloom. I take photos by the pretty trees dressed in pink or white flowers, people watch, encounter the many dogs and babies, and take a deep breath. Bet those who knew the land as a landfill never imagined it could be a place of such peace and beauty.
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Chapter Nineteen – Alessio, Our Best Friend
The next week my mom took Tony and Roberto shopping at the outlets, a favorite Italian pastime. They insisted on trying on every Ralph Lauren Polo shirt they could get their hands on. With the U.S. dollar in the dumps compared to their euro, they were bent on buying a whole new wardrobe before heading back to Ischia, where all anyone can purchase are designer duds. Needless to say, there are no outlets on Ischia and certainly not the monster ones of New Jersey and New York.
While the boys were off making my mother crazy, I was home working with Alessio, our nine-year-old beagle as my only company. The night before he had wowed the family by stealing an entire Cornish hen off my mother’s plate. This is a dog that once ate 9 pounds of raw sausage and stole an entire roast beef from under the nose of my Zio Luigi.
But his acrobatics for the Cornish hen were particularly noteworthy. He had been wheezing and coughing ever since Tony and Roberto arrived. The vet thought he might have puppy pneumonia. None of the medication was clearing up his troubles. And he was having a hard time getting up and down stairs, which used to be a strength of his. Granted, the dog started to look like the rest of my family, including my father, with skinny little legs and a bowl-full-of-jelly belly. My cousins had taken to calling him “Salsicce,” which means “sausage” in Italian.
Graceful as a prima ballerina, Alessio hoisted his front paws onto the bench under my mother’s plate, lifted and turned his head quickly and cunningly, and snatched that Cornish hen with his teeth in 30 seconds flat. In another 30 seconds, he had inhaled the whole thing. There was not even a single bone left. We feared for him, but he waddled over to the couch, managed to get himself on top of one of the pillows, and drifted off to dream land, clearly proud of his accomplishment. “If only we had the video camera rolling,” Tony shouted.
The next morning, while I worked, I noticed a difference in Alessio. He was simply not himself. Barely able to move, he did not want me to leave him alone. He whimpered and forced himself up the stairs to my office, a room he rarely entered. I helped him back down, and worked in the kitchen. He never left my side, and he could not breathe. The dog who ate everything would eat and drink nothing.
When my father returned from work, Tony, Roberto, and my mom were still in outlet heaven (or hell, depending on whether you spoke to Tony and Roberto or my mom). Papa’ and I decided to call the vet, who suggested we take Alessio to the Animal Hospital. Obviously, this was something more than a bad cold or pneumonia. We carried Salsicce into my father’s landscaping truck. He sat on my lap all the way. At the hospital, they told us we’d have to leave him overnight for observation.
My father and I both had tears in our eyes as they wrapped Alessio in a blanket and he cried. We turned away as the doctor and an assistant walked him into a doggie hospital room. By the next morning, we got word from the doctor that it was a miracle Alessio had made it through the night. He was full of cancer and on the verge of dying. The doctor believed he was waiting to say good-bye to us. We all rushed to the hospital to say one last ciao to our Salsicce. My parents and I couldn’t stop crying. And Tony insisted on coming with us for moral support even though he had only known Alessio for a little more than a week.
At the hospital, the doctors put us in a room and brought Alessio, who had been given medication, to us. For a moment, he looked like his old self. He walked in a circle and sat a moment with each one of us. He rubbed his head against my hand and licked my arm one last time. When the doctor called to him and said, “Alessio, it’s time to go,” he turned toward my father – his best pal, the one who fed him and the one he began to look like – one more time as if he knew this was the last time he’d be seeing us.
My parents picked up KFC for lunch because no one felt much like cooking; while Tony and I sat in the car, I could not contain my weeping. He just embraced me and we said nothing. That night, we were heading to Florida for our long awaited week at Disney World with my brother, who lived in Kissimmee, Fla. I sat between Roberto and Tony, who consoled me as the tears kept flowing. Yet, I had to pull myself together for we were heading to the happiest place on Earth…
Some names and identifying characteristics of the real people involved have been changed.
Tune into this Web site, Two Worlds, every Monday for the latest installment in my blog about my experiences in Ischia, and every other Monday to ItaliansRus.com for the latest Our Paesani column about all things Italian. Di Meglio is also the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com.
There was no way my parents, Zio Antonio, and I (Zia Francesca) would miss 8-month-old Maria’s first Christmas. Although we can’t be with her on Dec. 25, we threw a Christmas bash like no other six days ahead of schedule at Zia Rosaria’s pad in Florida. Zio Antonio and I spent the week having Maria warm up to us – both literally and figuratively — as we forced her and her parents to tour Disney World in the freezing temperatures (I mean even the Disney topiaries were covered in white blankets).
We learned a few things on this trip, among them that Maria looks so cute you could just eat her up whenever she wears any fuzzy outfits that have ears to make her look like a bunny and that she has quite a sense of humor, not to mention a huge appetite. There is also no question that she is related to us. Her belly tells the whole story. The kid can eat, and even when she shouldn’t eat, she does. The other day she ate a chunk of garlic off the floor where her papa’ had been cooking, and she didn’t even wince. But her mother confirms that she was stinky for pretty much the entire day. If she had cleaned the floor with a little bleach after the garlic, she might have smelled like her older zii.
Maria’s role models? Bella and Shilo, the family dogs, which might be why she thinks it’s natural to eat off the floor, sleep on a big cushion or even a tile in the middle of Zia Rosaria’s living room, and she begs for scraps from the table. Although I gest, she does have one helluva time getting into mischief with the dogs. They are her best friends for now, and she is especially cute with Shilo, who lets her pull his tail, jump on him, and chew toys and books with him.
The only way Maria could love them more is if they could feed her. That’s what she likes about all of us, I think. We overindulged her desire to eat more and more tiny morsels of apples, peaches, potatoes, pancakes, chicken, waffles, and yogurt. As a result, the child who never spits up or vomits threw up on us twice. All our fault! I’m actually honored she threw up on me.
Highlights of our time with Maria include Nonno Pasquale demanding that Tigger, who Maria followed all over the room with her eyes while at breakfast at 1900 Park Fare in Disney’s Grand Floridian, come to say hello to us and take a picture immediately, Maria and Donald Duck having matching sombreros in EPCOT’s Mexico pavillion, and the moments she shared with Babbo Natale (Santa Claus), who might have secretly been her Nonno Pasquale, and his reindeer, who might have been Nonna Regina. My personal best memory, however, was Maria curling up under my arm and falling asleep. So sweet!
To enjoy more photos of Nonno Pasquale as Babbo Natale and Maria with all the characters (and some of the rest of us, too), then check out “Maria’s 1st Christmas” photo album. Buon Natale a tutti!
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.
Bella is part beagle and part basset hound and all love. Shilo is pure beagle and pure joy. They are the dogs of my brother and sister respectively — and they are great additions to our family. After spending the weekend with them in Florida, I miss having a dog around the house. That’s why today I focused on the benefits of adopting a pet on the Newlyweds blog that I write for About.com. Check it out and leave a comment. Don’t those cute faces make you want a pet yesterday? (For more photos of Bella and Shilo, visit the “Family Dogs” photo album.)
Animals have been capturing my attention lately. Maybe spring is in the air. Maybe it is the nurturer in me, who has been longing to have a little creature on which I can dote. Maybe it’s my sister — the zookeeper — rubbing off on me. Whatever it is, animals have been winning my heart. A couple of weeks ago, Antonio and I brought a friend from Italy to Point Pleasant, N.J., where we spent part of the day at Jenkinson’s Aquarium with the fishies and their amphibian friends. (For photos, visit the “Jenkinson’s Aquarium” photo album.)
Over the weekend, my sister Rosaria adopted herself a beagle (yes, another beagle) named Shilo. I’m already in love with the little bugger, and I haven’t even met him yet. The photos are that adorable. Last night, Antonio and I watched March of the Penguins for the first time. (I know I’m a little behind the times.) Doggone it, that was a good flick. Those penguins are so disciplined and they make such sacrifices. I was blown away and humbled. The little baby penguins were friggin adorable. That’s why I was not at all surprised at myself when I chose a photo of a mama lamb and her babies for today’s Wordless Wednesday entry on About.com’s Newlywed site. Check it out, leave a comment (or better yet share your own baby story), and drown in the cuteness of these animals.