The grandmothers are gone. So are the aunts who wore the house dresses (called house coats when they ventured outside). Gone are the grandfathers whose homemade wines completed the Sunday family dinner.
Gone are the neighborhoods of lower Main Street and the laughter of all who ran through its side streets and climbed its cliffs. From the bait shop to the Five and Dime, little is left that is recognizable of the little town called Fort Lee, whose tallest steeples were once Madonna Church and the George Washington Bridge.
What survives is memory. A memory so strong that each year it draws more and more of its past to return to the Feast of St. Rocco--a lower Main Street tradition since 1929. Now in its 83rd year, St. Rocco continues to draw upon the memories of its past, and in the process keeps the tradition going into the future.
An informal survey of the Facebook group "I Grew Up In Fort Lee" revealed the feast as a touchstone of memory in the hearts of those who grew up in the midst of this annual event. What stands out as most memorable are the sausage and peppers sandwiches followed by the zeppoles--those crispy on the outside sweet little puffs of fried dough tossed steaming into a paper bag and sugared to perfection. In the common thread of memory, the zeppoles were made to order, flying so fast from the deep sizzle of the oil drum into the paper bag that none were left to sit idle on a tray.
To the children, the feast was mobile--the place to run and roam without fear or trepidation; but to the adults it was a place to stop, open your lawn chair and catch up with old friends and family. Whether that place was in the gas station lot next to the Yellow Front Saloon, next to the band, on the side of the steps of St. Rocco's church, or Firehouse #1, didn't matter--every family had their gathering spot.
And then there was the band. Who could forget the band? Some remember the tradition of throwing apples at the singers with the beehives (allegedly) but that's just rumor and innuendo. Although, there is no statute of limitations should those (alleged) offenders ever reveal themselves, so we are told.
Prevalent above all was the statue of St. Rocco being paraded throughout lower Main Street and then winding it's way to John Street and the Hollow before making its way back to be run by the young men down Main Street to the church as everyone looked on and cannons blasted.
The 83rd annual Feast of St. Rocco has come to a close. But it will be back next August to celebrate its 84th year. For although the town has shed every remnant of its 1929 self, the old gal still beats strong in the heart of tradition.