When I was young and Memorial Day was approaching, I would constantly dial 828-1111 -- WHUC's local weather phone -- to see if the holiday would be warm and sunny. Hot and dry weather meant we could swim and play softball during our picnic at glorious Fatso's.
Yes, Fasto's. A small grassy grove that hugged the Claverack Creek about 10 miles from our house in Hudson. Not that we had any idea back then where it was; we just knew it was a picnicking paradise. Fatso's was where summer started for my family and friends.
It was the first real outdoor event of the year in which we got to run around in shorts, drink unreasonable amounts of ice-cold soda, and inhale the sweet smells of burning charcoal, hot dogs and hamburgers.
About 10 families descended on Fatso's for the picnic, and for a similar party on July 4th. As I remember, the men would arrive early to mow the grass and set up the picnic tables. They also put the beer kegs into barrels filled with ice so it wasn't foamy when the party started. The only way they could tell was to taste a few. Same with the raw clams they cleaned and iced. Yes, these men were selfless party preppers.
My father would return home after these "chores" to pick us up and seemingly load enough supplies for the Allied landing at Normandy into the car: lawn chairs, bug spray, sun tan lotion, water jugs, baseball gloves and bats, sweatshirts, sparklers, charcoal, lighter fluid, as well as cardboard boxes and squeaky styrofoam coolers filled with potato chips, potato salad, watermelons, mustard, ketchup, napkins, plastic cutlery, soda cans, paper cups, and everything else needed for 10 hours outdoors.
All of this had to be unloaded and moved to your family's table, which we covered with a paper tablecloth. On windy days, soda cans, jars of pickles, and other items had to be placed strategically on the table to keep the tablecloth from blowing into the creek.
When that work was done, the kids were free to roam the grove and return only when lunch was ready. We quickly raided the Shop Rite sodas -- grape was great -- then tossed the empty cans in the creek and threw rocks at them as the current carried them away. It's okay, this was before the first Earth Day.
Then we headed to the bridge that carried State Route 9H/23 over the creek. The fun there usually consisted of throwing rocks at the underside of the bridge. It made a great sonar-like ping sound. Then there were games of "run the bases," Jarts (before they were outlawed), and swimming.
The biggest game was bocce, the perfect game for the grove. The men roamed the grounds as they played. There were shouts of "red's in, red's in" "that's two for the good guys." and, from my father, "hey, Gary, get me a beer." If it was hard to tell by eye whose ball was closer to the pallino, Lee Brady would say "let's get a meas" -- meaning measurement -- and someone would produce a tape measure to resolve the dispute. I have vivid memories of Nucci Pierro with a big cigar in his mouth tossing a bocce ball -- he was a high arc guy and the heavy bocce balls landed like incoming artillery.
As much fun as the kids had, I think the adults had more. These were life-long friends and a day at Fatso's was care-free fun. It was the American dream in many ways, to enjoy a beautiful place, a cookout, clams, beer, and lots of laughter. When they were together, these people knew how to have a good time.
Dinner, as I remember, was less of an event than lunch. My mom would say to my father, "Red, put some hot dogs on the grill" if one of us kids expressed any hunger. I never knew how the day was planned -- who knew who was bringing what food or drinks. It just seemed to happen.
In reality, it was the women who put it all together. They took care of the kids and the food, and spent their free time chatting and laughing, sometimes at the men.
Near dusk, we played softball, with the men batting left-handed. Sweatshirts came on, bug spray was applied, and, when it got dark, there were a few fireworks over the creek and many sparklers (with someone usually ending up with a burned finger). Marshmallows were browned and blackened over a fire.
Tired and sun-reddened, we were sad when we had to pack the car and head home. But we had the whole summer ahead of us and another trip to Fatso's in just over a month.
Before I end, a request about Fatso, the man. His tavern -- Fatso's -- sat just south of the grove and creek. Today, it is the Coyote Flaco restaurant. He was was a mysterious and somewhat scary figure to me because I never met him.
Being at Fatso’s was something both kids and parents enjoyed together and agreed it was a good thing. That kind of harmony is rare. So thank you Fatso, and perhaps someone reading this can tell me who you were.