The other day I found out an old family friend was diagnosed with cancer, and I have to tell you, this news bummed me out.

Growing up, my parents were good friends with Dan & Tina Morielli – and our families spent a good amount of time together, and I always looked forward to our outings…whether it was a trip to the Poconos or just a Saturday night hanging out at home, it was always a good time.

Dan & Tina had two kids, and we had four, and the six of us always managed to have a blast. A lot of our chuckles originated from the fights our parents used to get into over politics or whatever. I’ll tell you one thing, the visits were never dull.

We lost Danny years back, and now, Tina has cancer. I wrote this post years ago as part of a private collection I keep, but I feel the need to share it now. Because these people were such a big part of my childhood, and all the times with them were the best.

The Morielli’s Condo in Miami Beach – A Summer Playground

The summer we went to Miami Beach with the Moriellis was one of the best vacations of my entire life. It was  1973, which must have made me 8 1/2 – wow, I can’t believe I was that young. I remember so much from that trip, perhaps because it was made of the stuff that makes family legends. We retold these stories among us over and over during car trips and holidays growing up because we had a full week of hilarity and hi-jinx.

The Moriellis were, in my opinion, our closest and coolest family friends growing up. I have no clue how our families met – I’ll have to ask Dad about that one – but when we were getting together with The Moriellis you were in for a fun time. Parents: Danny & Tina. Kids: Anthony and Antoinette. Neither kids were close to me in age. They were about the age of my older siblings, but it didn’t seem to matter. I never recall being shunned or ousted from the action because I was a little runt.

A Car-Full of Yankees Heading South
The Moriellis bought a condo in Miami Beach, and our summer vacation that year, rather than heading to Martha’s Vineyard, was the long drive from New Jersey to Miami. I remember a few little things from the trip down. I recall our absolute glee upon reaching Florida (yay!), only to be told that Miami was still like 6 hours away (boo!). I also remember stopping at a “Welcome to Florida!” rest stop which had a machine that would cast a little figurine out of wax, I think. One of my siblings (can’t recall which) decided to use some of their money to buy a figurine, which was exciting as I would get to see this machine in action at no cost to myself.

Money was inserted and the machine did its magic and out popped a light blue statue of a dolphin jumping in the waves. We all “oohed” and “aahed” and whoever bought it decided it would be best displayed on the window ledge of the side back window in our station wagon. This proved to be a big mistake in the hot Florida sun. I don’t think that little statue made it to Miami before it melted and folded in on itself.

Mom, Dad (complete with belly flab) and Tina Morielli at the pool

Six Kids Run Amok
Once we arrived in Miami the fun began. the Moriellis condo was small and meant only for a family of four, not a hoard of 10. A bunch of us had to sleep on sleeping bags in the walk-in closet, which to a small kid was a blast. The condo had a pool, elevators, a gym and card rooms all waiting for us to explore.

We soon found out that this condo catered to much older, child-less clientele, and we were loose and on the prowl. When we weren’t at the pool, the beach or eating, we didn’t have all that much to do, so off we would go in search of adventures in a 15-story condominium.

One of our favorite games was elevator races. You would start in the lobby and the object was to race in 2 different elevator cars to the penthouse and back. The fun of the game was you never knew when the elevator was going to stop to pick up people, thus slowing your trip. I recall being amazed at how the hallway in the penthouse was wide and lavishly decorated with plants and statues, and that one floor always smelled of chicken soup.

The gym had some kooky machines!

We would also amuse ourselves by whipping bottles and other garbage down the garbage chute, which made quite a noise and was probably very bothersome to those who could hear it. We would often try to sneak into the gym which had a whole bunch of old-timey exercise machines, and medicine balls to goof around with, but eventually some grown-up would come along and yell at us to hit the bricks.

We were allowed in the card rooms only if no adults needed it. The card rooms were small rooms with felt-covered card tables designated for Men & Ladies.I recall one girl came along to play with us. She was a bit older and her name was Doralee, and I think she was a little slow. I used to make faces behind her back to make Antoinette and Wendy laugh, which I realize now was mean, but at the time I was young and doing what I could to get a laugh.

Hi-Jinx in the Florida Ocean

The Sparkler Affair
Another moment sealed in the memory vault was the great sparkler incident of ’73. My sister Wendy and Antoinette had gotten their hands on some sparklers and had decided to light them up on the balcony. Danny caught them out there and screamed at them to get the hell off the balcony. So, Wendy and Antoinette walked back into the living room and stood there with sparklers blazing, in the process dropping little bits of fire onto the new carpeting. It was funny because they had obeyed Danny, but were making matters worse by burning the carpet.

After being ushered into the kitchen, and sparklers doused in the sink, Danny proceeded to chase Antoinette around the condo, screaming, darting in and out of rooms trying to administer a few good cracks. I stood like a statue in awe taking the whole scene in. Danny walked back into the room shaking out his hand and muttering “that kid’s got an ass like a rock.” Repeating that phrase to family members is still good for a laugh today.

Tina, Judy, Antoinette and Anthony – Bathing caps were mandatory for women

Here I am with Judy in my halter and shorts in front of Cinderella’s Castle

The Clan Takes On Disney World
The highlight of the trip was our visit to Disney World. Orlando is quite a distance from Miami, so as an adult I’m impressed the adults dared to make this trek with 6 unruly and often wise-cracking children. Disney was going to be a one day trip; no hotel stay; just there and back. I imagine whoever had to do the driving was pretty tired at some point during the day because I know we left well before dawn and did not return till the wee hours of the following morning.

Disney Ticket Book – 7 whole adventures? Gee Mickey, where do I start!

Back in ’73, Disney operated a bit differently than it does today. Rather than fork over the equivalent of a mortgage payment to enter the park, and ride all you want for that once price, you purchased a ticket book. There were a certain amount of tickets for each park section (like Adventure Land, for example) and each ride in that section required a specific amount of tickets. This proved to be rather sucky, because there were sections of the park that had better rides than others, and you had to make hard choices as to which rides you wanted to spend your tickets on.

I remember the Grand Prix car racing being a very big deal, but I was too little to ride alone so I had to ride with somebody which sucked. I held onto my tickets for Fantasy Land because I wanted to ride the Dumbo ride something fierce. I also recall us all going to the Hall of Presidents. It was pretty cool for its time because they had animatronic robots portraying all the past presidents, and I could have sworn they were real people.

Space Mountain wasn’t open yet in 1973, so our favorite ride at Magic Kingdom was the Haunted Mansion. There was really nothing like it at that time, and we were amazed. The special effects were mind boggling, and we simply had to ride it more than once. But, the ticket book only had enough coupons for one ride. This would require the purchase of additional tickets. For four kids. Asking Dad was a crap-shoot at best because we were always on a budget with 4 kids to pay for. But dad came through and bought us the extra tickets. I guess even he realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience. As it is, I didn’t make it back to Disney World until I was an adult.

The Fire Drill
After the long drive back to Miami, the parents were exhausted and the kids were all asleep. It must have been a real chore to herd our group of zombies up to the condo, because they let us flop right down to bed in our clothes. The next thing we knew, we were up again with bells ringing. The building’s fire alarm went off, and we were required to evacuate to the lobby.

Once in the lobby we felt totally out of place – everyone else was standing in their pajamas and robes. Several woman had curlers in their hair with nets over them. But us kids were standing there fully dressed. I recall getting odd looks from people who were wondering why our folks would either (a) dress their kids before coming down to the fire drill, or (b) let their kids sleep in their clothes like a bunch of slobs.

It was a great trip, just as every adventure we had with the Moriellis was. It’s why I’m so sad about this news. I want to send Tina a card and let her know how much our family treasures the memories she helped to build…and that I’m thinking of her.

Because I know for sure, that until we are old and gray, my siblings and I will talk about our times with the Moriellis, and we will laugh.

 

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