In August 1972 three young couples living in a three-family home on Cranston’s Princess Avenue decided to beat the Labor Day heat and have a joint cookout. They dragged out the kiddie pool and …
In August 1972 three young couples living in a three-family home on Cranston’s Princess Avenue decided to beat the Labor Day heat and have a joint cookout. They dragged out the kiddie pool and fired up the grill. They were young, newly married, and only one of the three couples had a child so far.
Fast forward 38 years, and those same three couples still get together every Labor Day weekend.
None of the couples have lived on Princess Avenue for some time, but nowadays they have far more guests at their annual tradition. The Moretti, Germanowski and Cerbo clans have expanded. There are now three generations of family present each year at the cookout.
The original three couples (all still married) each had two children, totaling five boys and one girl. Five of those children are married and there are nine grandchildren so far, with one more on the way this fall.
"When I think about that first year, it was so hot. It was about 102 degrees and we were all sitting in that little yellow pool to cool off. We had a cookout that afternoon, and that's how it all started," said Vincent Cerbo, one of the original six. "I just think that if the six of us hadn't become friends, none of these kids would be friends.”
Many years have passed, but not many things about the cookout have changed. Each year, a group photo is taken with a banner showing what year it is. The banner has gone from hand drawn to computer generated, complete with digital photos from the previous year's cookout.
The photos from each year are put into an album, which is passed around so everyone can see what has changed, especially the people and the fashion trends.
The menu, however, remains virtually untouched from the seafood starters and the spaghetti with tuna sauce to the hamburgers and hot dogs and, of course, strawberry shortcake for dessert.
This cookout is about tradition. One year, when Ann Germanowski made peach shortcake instead of strawberry shortcake, it didn't go over well. Ann, one of the original six, was welcomed back – her peach shortcake was not.
"When I tell my friends about this cookout, they are amazed that this has gone on for 39 years and we've gone on and remained friends, our children have gone on and remained friends and it'll just continue," said original neighbor Stephen Moretti. "It's a good feeling to know that we started this and that the kids will keep it going.”
The location of the cookout has changed from Cranston to North Kingstown and currently to Warwick, depending on who has the best space to host the event. A big backyard is key, both to accommodate the number of people and host the annual bocce tournament. Each year, a trophy goes to the most valuable player on the winning team: the Old Guys team or the Young Guys team. This year's trophy went to Beth Moretti, wife of Steven Moretti, the youngest child in the second generation.
"It's nice to have something that generations before you have done and you are continuing it for generations to come," Beth said. "There's history here and I love to hear the stories. You're only going to get those stories with good friends.”
She and Steven gave birth to the youngest baby of the third generation, Phoebe, just three months ago.
When the six original adults reflect on the fact that the cookout has lasted as long as it has, they are surprised and pleased.
"We honestly thought it would start and end with the six of us, we never thought the kids would all love it the way they do, and we're so glad," said Rosemarie Moretti, wife of Stephen.
Stephen and Rosemarie, along with their son Matthew and his wife, Kerry, are the current hosts of the cookout in Warwick each summer.
The second generation of children has made it a point to be at that Labor Day cookout, no matter what they had to do to get there, even if it meant crossing the country. Christopher Cerbo, son of Vincent and Patricia Cerbo and the first boy born to the clan, flies in from California with his wife, Nina, and their two children specifically for the cookout. Daughter Maya is 2 years old and son James is seven months old, the next youngest baby of the third generation.
Why keep coming back?
"Because it seems like it's something that everyone is going to do and you don't want to miss out. It's a unique thing that not everybody has, so it's a different sort of thing to come back for," said Christopher. "We don't come back for Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, Mother's Day, Father's Day or Fourth of July, but we come back for this.”
Although the original six adults were not related, it seems to all of them as if they are. They've attended each other’s children’s bridal showers, weddings and baby showers. They've been present to support each other at the funerals of their parents. To the youngest children in the group, it comes as a surprise that they aren't related
"I like the cookout because I get to play with and hang out with all my family. I never get to see these cousins that come here, I only get to see them once a year," said Jillian Moretti, age 7. She's the daughter of Matthew and Kerry Moretti.
Kerry Moretti enjoys seeing her daughters play with the other little girls each summer.
"They look forward to this as much as we do," Kerry Moretti said.
Her younger daughter, Rachael, agrees.
"My favorite thing about the cookout is to play with my family members because I only see them one time a year," she said.
“It's like a family tree that just keeps growing,” explains Patricia Cerbo, who brings the secret-recipe stuffies to the table each year. In a flash, it seems, they're gone.
"We usually don't see each other but this one time a year, but when the year passes it seems like it was just last month," she said. "It's neat to see the families grow and see the parents become grandparents and the children become parents."
New to the cookout and also from the west coast are Nina Cerbo's parents, Dinesh and Marianne Tandon. They, too, make a special trip east just for this event and take comfort in knowing some things never change.
"Our lives are so changing all the time, it is so great to be able to count on something so consistently that gives so much pleasure that will be happening every year," Marianne said.
Next year will be the 40th anniversary of the Princess Avenue Cookout. There will be one more new baby to add to the group photo, and after two years of Labor Day weddings keeping the Germanowski family from being able to attend, they, too, will be there, with the elder Germanowskis joining the ranks as first-time grandparents.
Steven Moretti will be shipping off for his second tour of duty with the National Guard in November 2012, so it's the last time the entire group will be together until his return a year later. At his last homecoming from his tour of duty in Iraq, many members of the Princess Avenue Cookout were at the Quonset Air Force Base to welcome him home.
Being the 40th year next year, one might think that there are big plans in the works for something bigger, something different for the next year party. But, as any member of the group will tell you, that's not what's important to them.
"There is nothing more important than family and friends,” Rosemarie Moretti said.