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Memories of Main Street's Feast

"I Grew Up In Fort Lee" shares memories of St. Rocco.

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.  

Fort Lee Truth August 14, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Cool photos. Late 1960's?
Baba O'Riley August 14, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Nice pictures.
Ann Piccirillo August 14, 2012 at 10:31 PM
I believe the photos are either late 60's or very early 70's.
Joes August 15, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Ms. Piccirillo, thank you for the wonderful article. The San Rocco feast and society has been intergal part of life in Fort Lee for at least three generations . I am very proud of our heritage and history, my grandfather Joseph Mariano was president of the society for over 40 years. My father Vincent has been a member for over 50 yrs and I am going on my 26 year. But I also want the residents of Fort Lee and the surrounding to know of all the charitable work that is done by the society. We donate to student scholarships, orphanges, victims of natural disasters, needy individuals , local and national community based charitable organizations. The annual feast that we hold allows us to raise the funds needed to keep this good work up. The feast is very important to the community on so many levels. Please continue to come out and support the society. Enjoy the fun, food , rides , games and especially the freinds we meet Joe Sciglitano Vice President of the San Rocco feast committee
Alba August 18, 2012 at 02:46 PM
I took those pictures of my niece and nephew on August 24, 1974.

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