From the Sky - Part XVI

The next year three restaurants had stands. Each paid cash to rent a spot under the tent and sell samples of their fare. The Tarentella brothers got a percentage of the sales, of course. As the years passed, more restaurants and eventually more tents were added to the picnic until the entire back lot was consumed by the size of the celebration. The once simple Saturday picnic became a much-anticipated Walnutwood event requiring year-round attention.

Grandfather and Uncle Gio started planning a new picnic on the heels of one just completed, meeting each Sunday evening in the bakery office over espresso and cookies. The first meeting was reserved for a post-mortem on the picnic they'd just hosted. What worked. What didn't. What needed a little tweaking. The Tarentella brothers paid intense attention to what did not go as planned; they weren't fond of repeating mistakes.

After the post-mortem, planning began for the next year. By Halloween the band was booked. In January all the physical plans were committed to paper: where the tents would go, where electricity would be needed, etcetera. The brothers were sticklers for details. While big changes on the picnic grounds were rare, there was always room to improve. Put a new stand here, remove one there, add more dance floor and rent more or less chairs …there was always something. In April all the restaurant stands were booked and cash-only deposits collected. In May the brothers planned the menu for the dining tent. It was an enormous amount of work, but disagreements between the brothers were rare. Heated arguments were unheard of. While the two brothers fought daily and passionately over how to run their bakery they were of like mind on the picnics, so much so that my aunts say the Tarentella brothers should have sold the bakery and gone into the picnic business.

As the date for the picnic loomed larger on the horizon, final preparations began. A month before the picnic the food and dry goods were ordered. Two weeks before the picnic the boys from the bakery spruced up the back lot and assembled the stands. They worked in the evenings after their shifts in the bakery. In return they got cash envelopes each night and were fed like kings after laying down their hammers. A week before the festivities the tents went up: a large one for the dining area, and varied-sized smaller ones to cover the stands that ringed the lot.

Picnic Saturday started at mid-morning as a private affair for the boys in back and their families. At four o'clock the grounds were opened up to the public. The Tarentella picnic was a big draw, and one reason was that everything in the dining tent was free. Zia is right: Grandfather and Uncle spent a fortune on what was under that tent. The stands they rented out to others made the picnic viable. Eventually nearly every restaurant in Walnutwood ponied up a fat cash envelope for a spot at the picnic. Other merchants bought sponsorships and had signs advertising their businesses plastered all around the grounds: Caruso's Garage, Mel's Hardware, Appleton's Tavern, Clancy & Son Funeral Home, to name a few.

Children received special attention at the picnic. There were free games and face-painting, all handled by my aunts, who made sure the children were entertained. Aunt Rae told me, "…the longer the children were happy, the longer the parents stayed and the more money they spent." And there were so many stands to spend money on in the later years! Games of skill, money wheels, even a tent for bingo: the simple Tarentella picnic had evolved into an enterprise.

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