I am resurrecting an old piece of mine, because this happens to be the weekend of this festival. I envy my relatives who still live in the area, and can attend at will. Save some cheese puffs for me, guys! And thanks to Chris for helping me with a few of the details.
OUR LADY OF MT. CARMEL ANNUAL CHURCH FESTIVAL
I’m scorching hot. My clothes cling to me in the smothering humidity. Add to that the people-laden, sticky black tar church parking lot without a shade tree in sight. Ugh.
Yet, the air is saturated with inviting aromas: potent garlic; sweet onion; roasted peppers; spicy Italian sausage; yeast bread rolls; sweet dough twists with cinnamon sugar; cotton candy … and cheese puffs. My cousin Tom and I make a beeline for the deep-fried sweet dough filled with ooey gooey cheese. Yummmmm!
We race toward the Ferris wheel, dodging through the crammed masses and attractions. My nostrils are suddenly assaulted with the fishy stench of smelt. Eew. This booth boasts a line of cuffed pants; brimmed hats; men’s black shoes; and long-sleeved shirts soaked with sweat, each revealing the standard white muscle T beneath. These older Italian men puff cigars (again, eew!) and pass the time in line playing the loud, fast-paced game of Morra.
“Otto di fuoco!” (eights on fire!)
Roars of laughter rise with the cigar smoke above the cacophony of festival sounds.
From a game booth, a hoarse female voice hails, “Roll down, roll down! Six tries for a dollar!”
Various carnival rides summon as well: Creeeek … screeeeeech … tic, tic … whoooosh!
A button accordion pumps out a Polka, accompanied by the “oom pah” of a tuba. We pause to watch smiling couples bob as they step, quick-step, step, hold their way around a make-shift dance floor.
We spot Nonna at the Bingo Tent with an array of cards spread before her, fervently trying to win an “Infant of Prague.” This uniquely Catholic carnival prize is a plaster figure of the jewel-crowned infant Jesus, clothed magnificently in a robe of rich red, royal blue, or gold. Game booths and tents flaunt eye-catching displays of the satiny fabrics, glistening jewels, and outstretched arms of the holy infant. I feel the contrast of Nonna’s satiny cheeks and stiffly sprayed hair as she pulls us close, and presses a quarter into each of our palms.
Continuing to the Ferris wheel, a small stand topped with a six-foot twirling glass of yellow lemonade beckons. Soon soothing icy lemon slush slides down the back of my throat.
I nurse my treat while in line for our ride. Cold sweat drips off the cup into my sandals, and squishes between my toes. A silvery car grinds its way to the bottom of the giant spoked wheel. We hop on, my bare legs sticking to the hot metal seat. Tom slams the safety bar shut, and we rock precariously forward and back.
The car jerks and jolts as we inch up a notch so the one below us can load, and so on –
Stuck at the peak, we get a birds-eye view. The setting sun creates peach, mauve, and midnight blue hues. Glistening stringed lights of sapphire, emerald, ruby, and gold crisscross the grounds. Suddenly, my hair flies up and my stomach drops, then settles back in as it grows accustomed to the whirling sensation. For just a moment, I close my eyes and relish the breeze.