The trip had not begun well. My Mother called about 10 minutes before their supposed arrival time and asked desperately if I could get driving directions. I told her, "sure, but my printer is dead."
"So is ours," she cried.
So I called work, and asked one of the guys there to get a Mapquest of the route from here to Buffalo and print it out for me. I planned on surprising them with nice directions when they came.
My mother called again about 10 minutes after they were to have arrived and told me that my sister was copying the directions down by hand, and could I please do the same, so I informed her I was having it done, and please just come get me so we could beat at least a little of the Memorial Day traffic.
40 minutes later, having given my frustration sufficient time to ripen, they pulled into the drive. I was to ride with my youngest sister, her hubby, and their great-niece, a 3 year old who has a sure-fire strategy for control. She screams. At this point the only way to stop her that they could think of (Heaven knows we mustn't discipline the poor child) was to play, continuously, a kids CD called "Silly Songs." John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt was probably the least offensive of the selections.
Anyway, we drove to my workplace. I went in to get the directions, and Xerox a couple of extra copies, just in case. I was not wearing my glasses. I thought I punched for 2 copies. The machine refused to cancel. So, a few minutes and 22 copies of mapquest directions from DuBois, PA to Buffalo, NY later, I was ready. That's when they told me we were going to Niagara Falls. My Mother swore that she had told me Niagara. She told me Buffalo.
I refused to go back into the store.
But, luckily, Buffalo is only a few miles from Niagara, so most of the directions were still correct. Only at the very end would we be flying blind. It was something I would have looked forward to, had I known what the rest of the trip was going to be like.
Except for the music, and the fact it kept adult converstion outside the realm of possibility, the first part of the trip went fine, though I did contemplate, after the 4th or 5th playing of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, throwing open the car door and leaping to freedom, or my death, whichever came first.
We stopped at a service station on the New York Seneca Nation lands and had a little pre-packed picnic from the cooler in the back of the car I was trapped in. There was a very cute young Seneca girl giving away free packs of Indian's Revenge (cheap cigarettes) in the parking lot. I considered asking her if American Indians ever took white men hostage any more, but decided against it.
The other too-young-to-go-along child, my niece's now almost two year old son, whose premature birth I announced here, was also along. He was the opposite of his cousin, being smiley, quiet except for play and laughter, and very well behaved. Unless I looked at him. For some reason he was deathly afraid of me. So, naturally, after we chased these kids all over this busy parking lot for 30 minutes it was decided we would take the boy with us, and Shrieker would ride in the other car.
Of course each time I turned to attempt to engage my sister in conversation, he shrunk back in his car seat and started to tear up, while each time I looked toward the front of the car, my brother-in-law, who single-handedly I think, brought the Pennsylvania average in the National Driving Test down to a state record low of 77% was doing something else dangerous. He followed far too closely. He changed lanes abruptly, without benefit of signal. His speed varied between 50 and 70 with no apparent relationship to the posted limit. but he did do very well at pointing out cows to distract both himself and the baby in back from the actual roadway.
I closed my eyes, finally, and leaned back in my seat. Figuring at least that way, I would not see my imminent death coming.
So, we arrived, anyway, having gotten lost only a couple of times, since my other sister did write down the directions from Mapquest.
It was a completely non-smoking hotel, that threatened a $100 "cleaning" fee if anyone dared to light up in one of the rooms. Having not had any nicotine since the picnic stop outside Salamanca, I stood outside and inhaled two in a row.
That left us with about 2 hours to prep ourselves for the party.
The Como Restaurant in Niagara Falls is apparently a pretty well-known eatery, judging from the autographed celebrity pics that hang in the entryway, most with little notes praising the food. The decor and atmosphere are also quite nice, blond wood, deep carpets, beautifully cast renaissance-style dryads holding up the plaster columns in the bar.
Our party, however, was in a basement annex around to the side.
The first thing I noticed upon entering, was the noise. The second thing was over 200 semi-recognized people, all of them obviously born into my strange clan, or foolish enough to have married in. The third was a smiling man standing behind an open bar.
Two strong vodka & tonics (no gin, sigh) later I was feeling much better about the whole situation.
At this point, one of my cousins announced that the "Couple of Honor" would be arriving in about 5 more minutes, so everyone be ready to surprise them.
I turned to my Mom. "This is a surprise party?"
"Yes," she answered.
"For a 75 year old man with congestive heart failure?"
"It wasn't my idea."
"So, do we shout, Surprise! Happy Anniversary! or Oh My God, Call 911!?"
Hey, at least it got a laugh from others at the table.
Actually, it turned out to be a very nice party.
The food was very good, there was a slide show of 75 years of photographs, including many of my mother, grandmother and grandfather, as well as seemingly thousands of cousins that I still half-recognized.
Also, the bar was free. I think I have gained a real appreciation for vodka & tonic.
Anyway, I had a nice time, my aunt and uncle were suitably surprised, (and lived through it) and I got to talk to a lot of folks I did recognize, but had not seen for quite a while.
I even got a laugh from my mom for a semi-risque joke. As the evening was winding down, and she had enjoyed chattering away to the much larger group that she knows by sight (and history) she mentioned to me that she did not know what to do at this kind of party, after she had talked to everyone. I told her, "Well, if we were in West Virginia, we could spend the night hitting on cousins." She actually laughed.
While this had been going on, one sister had taken the two too-young-to-be-there kids back to the hotel, to let them swim in the pool and hopefully relax enough to sleep.
So, when the rest of us arrived, at about 10:30, the kids were ready. The little girl was screaming that they had to take her back to the pool (which was now closed) and the little boy was crying because she was screaming.
All of us were in two connecting rooms.
My brother-in-law who can drive and I went for a walk. When we got back, the kids were quiet, but the adults were not. At least my youngest sisters husband was doing a very passable imitation of a World War One fighter plane movie soundtrack. Since we had only the two connecting double rooms, and the hotel was full, I had my choice of "Dawn Patrol" or sleeping in the car.
I finally collapsed into a fitful sleep sometime after midnight, and awoke slightly before 5 am. The serenade was still sounding, and my body was craving nicotine, but I bit back on my addiction, and took a shower before inflicting my presence on the outside world.
There was a family breakfast at the Como for those of us traveling, and the restaurant did a fine job, once again, including a potato dish that I am going to attempt to duplicate, or at least approach, in the near future.
After, we packed ouselves all into the cars and headed for the Falls.
But, Day Two should really really be a second story, tentatively titled "Gorillas In The Mist." Maybe soon I will be over the jitters enough to write that one.
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