What is the first family vacation you remember?
Roosevelt was the U.S. representative for the Italian Fiat Motor Company. There were 2 other college students there, also.The other boys were Ivy League–one attended Cornell University, and the other went to Princeton. One highlight I remember from that vacation was when we helped Mr. Roosevelt plan a picnic for some guests he was entertaining from Italy. The man was a ‘bigwig’ owner of the Fiat company coming to visit, and he wanted to see ‘Clove Creek’. His name was Gerabaldi…a famous Italian! The reason he wanted us to help him with the picnic was that Mister Gerabaldi was bringing his 16 year-old daughter with him, and Mr. ‘R’ thought we could help entertain her! This was the summer before my senior year in high school, and it is so hard to describe the anticipation we three boys had all that week. Wow! An Italian girl! We could just see a Gina Lollibrigida (Jimmy Durante used to call her Gina Lolibrigidigger) or a Sophia Loren! Both girls were Italian actresses (and luscious pin- up girls)! Remember, we were 17 and 18 year-old boys….anyway, after a week of anticipation, the day came, and their beautiful, long, luxurious limousine came rolling up to the farmhouse, and out stepped Mr Gerabaldi and our dream girl! She was a little, short, fat, Italian….the farthest from what we’d been expecting! I can’t tell you how fast those boys retreated and let me be the host for Miss Gerabaldi! We rode horses through the pasture, all the way up to the highest spot on Clove Creek, which was a beautiful view of the whole place. We (us boys) had gone up there earlier in the week and mowed out a spot for us to spread this very romantic picnic lunch! And here I am, with this little fat Italian girl whose feet don’t reach the stirrups, who’d never ridden a horse before. Can you imagine what I’m feeling? Disappointment is an understatement!
I’ve never been the greatest horseman myself, but that was a ride I’ll never forget. Mr Roosevelt was a giant man (about 6’7″ tall), and when he and Mr Gerabaldi came driving up to the picnic spot in his pickup, he had changed clothes and had on khaki pants and shirt. When he squatted down to where we had the checkered tablecloth spread for the beautiful picnic, his pants split, and one long, bony knee protruded, and the whole crowd was petrified…except Lanier…I fell out laughing! And guess what? Mr. Roosevelt did, too. He and I just ‘connected.’ I had no idea, really, what an important man he was, even though he was the son of a president, an international businessman, an influential politician in his own right…and me, a little nobody from Louisiana, sitting there laughing together about his split britches! He talked with me about my future, dad’s singing schools, and even had me sing some Southern Gospel music for him. The Italians and the other boys all were the audience for these two ‘new friends’! I suppose that’s why this vacation is one of my most memorable early vacations. Clove Creek was built by some movie actress from the early 1930s, and our ‘barn’ was originally a movie theatre with little twinkling lights in the oval ceiling (which also was painted to look like a night sky). Mr. R. told me that the actress who lived there hosted her Hollywood buddies there back in the ’30s. I checked the Internet, and Clove Creek still exists. I’m gonna have to do a little more research.
Anyway, also a part of that trip was a visit to Hyde Park (FDR’s residence), and I even got to see West Point. More importantly, our trip took us back through Kentucky and my mother’s birthplace…even the old single-walled house where MaMaw was born, up in the mountains near Nicholasville, Kentucky. We also visited the cemetery where both her parents (my maternal grandparents) are buried. We even got to visit with her Aunt Susan, who lived on a tobacco farm near the banks of the Kentucky River in one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen. Aunt Susan lived down in the river bottom, and mother’s family lived way up the mountain. I Also got to meet MaMaw’s double first cousin (brothers married sisters–a typical hillbilly practice). His name was Homer Benton. I had never been inside a tobacco barn until that day at Aunt Susan’s. I had seen pictures of them, but it’s a totally different experience to see how it’s cured and the smell…I’ll never forget! Even tried chewing tobacco after that trip!