New Jersey was surely the greatest place on earth, and in the summer of 1977 my Uncle George and Aunt Marge escorted me to the US for a visit I will never forget.
I got to stay with them in their modest, one story, brick home in Atco; a name that reminded me of those awesome contraptions they sold on the television for $9.99. Actually the name was derived from the Atlantic Transport Company which set up shop in that area in the early 1900s.
I watched a lot of American TV that summer : cartoons and talk shows, some creepy clown with huge shoes and a preacher who touched people and made them flop on the floor.
I couldn’t get enough.
My uncle and I would sit in his darkened, air conditioned TV room eating juicy watermelon off metal folding trays and laugh at all the shows. Sometimes he’d set up his movie projector and we’d watch old family films as well.
My uncle and I worked in his massive vegetable garden every single morning. He’d set up a table in his front yard near the road and pile the extra produce onto it. Neighbors would help themselves to this bounty throughout the day. I spent the entire summer eating bushels of fresh, sweet corn and warm, red beefsteak tomatoes that I’d tug right off the vine. Nothing in my life has ever tasted as good.
My uncle and aunt had three, tall, good-looking sons constantly going in and out of the house. Once, when they were all home together, they got into the SEARS above ground pool and started walking clockwise in the water to create a huge whirlpool. I was invited to jump into the middle right as it was at ‘peak swirl.’ It was awesome!
I was the cousin from far away that nobody ever got to see, so I was treated kinda special.
Elvis died that that summer. I heard it announced on the radio as I sat at the kitchen table counting the fruit on Aunt Marge’s wallpaper. I was surprised how much she cried.
I really didn’t know much about Elvis. The only big, sweaty, singing man in a jumpsuit that I cared about was the one I could see through the sunny window that morning; the small town guy with the huge heart who shared his love of “growing things” with all who slowed down enough to receive it.