One of the best results of finding relatives is that they help you find more relatives and friends. Bob's cousin Marilyn accompanied us on a visit to New Jersey filled with Slovak and Polish relatives and customs. What a treat!
Marilyn's aunt greeted us at her door by remembering Marilyn's age and birthday. We sat in her cozy living room which is just down the street from Marilyn's childhood home. As confirmed travelers we are surprised to find how many people like to stay in one place; this street is still full of the same families who were there five decades earlier. The tiny front lawns are filled with flowers and trimmed hedges, and there are neighborhood stores on the corners.
Rutt's Hut was a required lunch stop, because both Bob and Marilyn have fond memories of their hot dogs. The restaurant is in two parts; we selected the part with a long counter and two big center stands and stand up counters all around the walls designed for workmen on their lunch break. All along the order counter were big stainless steel covered pans, some with brown mustard, others with chow chow relish. There were big wooden spoons to dish out the mustard and relish. The countermen, in tee shirts yelled out the orders to the cooks behind them who filled the orders.
Just as we entered, the lunch hour started. Men poured in from both doors, queuing up for their hot dogs. They were regulars, so the conversation was loud, friendly, and united in the hope that Arizona would take the Series.
In Rutt's Hut, they deep fry the hot dogs. The poor little wieners get shocked with a sudden bath in very hot oil which crisps and wrinkles the skin in a twinkling and then, just as fast they are plucked from the oil and into the bun and on the plate where the counterman picks it up and shovels it in front of you and hollers "next!" After a big dollop of mustard or relish with the wooden spoon you are in gustatory heaven. Probably cholesterol heaven, too, but at that precise moment you don't care.
A sign on the wall says, "Rutt's Hut recommends" followed by the usual restaurant fare of chicken tenders and soup and chili and wings and philly cheese steak, fried clams, calamari, etc., etc. We think it must be a big joke, because absolutely every single person had hot dogs, hamburgers, and fries, as did we.
After lunch we visited more relatives, uncles and cousins and an aunt to both Bob and Marilyn. After reminiscing about old times we settled in for a real feast, with a moist and yummy pineapple upside down cake and peanut butter brownies. A high point was an old picture of the two brothers, both in the Navy in World War II, who had happened to met on Okinawa!
New Jersey is famous for diners, and another cousin treated us to a scrumptious breakfast at the Elmwood Park Diner. We lingered around after breakfast enjoying pictures of his recent photo safari to Kenya.
We were instructed to skip luncheon for our next visit to more of Marilyn's Polish relatives, who had prepared a dinner beginning with chicken soup -- you take a big spoonful of noodles and add amazingly clear chicken broth -- then beef which melts on your tongue and salad and vegetables. We were perhaps a dozen around the table, all talking and laughing and telling stories and eating and drinking wine and vodka.
Dessert was three platters of Polish baked goods: donut-shaped pastries which are lighter than any donut and filled with prune preserves, apple cake fully four inches tall with top and bottom cake layers separated by sweet apple filling, and finally bowties which are pastry twists quickly fried and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Of course we tried them all, and still can't decide which was the very best!
Then our hostess brought out samples of kielbasa (which is pronounced kolbossy) and liverwurst which her local butcher makes in his shop. It is to packaged cold cuts what silver is to silverplate. They enjoyed hearing that we know and like liverwurst and eggs (fried up together), a breakfast dish not commonly available.
The conversation raged non-stop back and forth, in twos and threes and fours. One uncle regaled us with stories. One of his favorites was about the Secaucus farmer who fed restaurant swill to his pigs and got rich from all the silverware he found with the table scraps. This was in the good old days, of course, when restaurants still used silverware. Finally the party broke up and we exchanged hugs and were on our way back to the hotel.
Our memories of this weekend are filled with the happiness of hearing family stories and meeting people who are deeply involved in the political and civic activities of the neighborhoods where they have spent their lives, and the inner warmth that comes when good food is shared among friends. This was a very special weekend!