1968 was a deeply important year in history. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN, and a month later John F. Kennedy also assassinated in Los Angeles. Outside of politics, Star Trek aired its first interracial kiss on national television, and Apollo 8 orbited the moon, just to name a few monumental moments. Although before my time, 1968 would also mark a significant milestone for my life.
On a fall day, in the halls of a Bronx public school, PS 18 on Morris Avenue and 148 St, my father would meet his best friend. A man who would later be a surrogate God father and unofficially an Uncle to my brother and I, Salvatore Basilico. My father and Sal may have initially been considered unlikely friends, but they immediately shared an immense love for Brooklyn, the Metropolitans and traveling. From Atlantic City to Istanbul they shared one place that would quickly become a life long tradition affecting the lives of so many.
The next summer, the summer of ’69, my father, who worked as a maître d' at several resorts upstate over his summers before teaching and loved upstate, went to visit Sal and his parents, Don and Anna who were vacationing in a resort and hotel called Villa Roma in the Catskill mountains in Callicoon, NY. Fourteen years later, what can feel like a lifetime, they would be two of the first people to buy a time share at this property.
Villa Roma, built 60 years ago, is a Roman-themed resort in the Catskill mountains, 11 miles from Bethel (the infamous location of Woodstock) and 20 miles from Monticello Raceway. This immense resort offered - and still does - a multitude of activities and entertainment. Don and Anna, enamored with the Villa and all the enhancements Marty had been making to the grounds, were committed to traveling north from Brooklyn every Christmas week until they could no longer travel and also helped to make memories for so many.
Sal, who was deeply generous to my family, extended the invitation for the four of us to visit and stay during the 52nd week of 1982. As a result, and still in diapers, Villa Roma, 2 hours from our home in the Bronx, would become my first official vacation destination. As cold as it always was growing up, Villa Roma never disappointed and marked an important place in my adolescent years. Aside from all of the kid-friendly entertainment, it was during this same week every year that I would develop a crush, make life-long friends, practice my favorite sports.At the ripe age of 3 years old, I would step confidently, and independent of my family, onto a dance floor and discover that I was born to dance. At this moment, Dance became the greatest passion of my life - travel as a close second. The connection my father made with Sal on that brisk day in the Fall of ‘68 lead to one of the most influential experiences of my entire life.
After college, my hunger grew for more week 52 traditions. I began to create my own. I began my own Christmas traditions, heading to places like Hawaii and Alaska and other bucket list treks - the benefits of becoming a professional heavy traveler at my current employer. The monotony of Villa Roma never weared on my father and Sal, best friends until the end and devoted , dedicated to their Bocce ball tournaments, remained loyal and enthusiastic. Unwavering commitment to Villa Roma, provided reunions with the old crew and continued moments to reminisce.
After 44 years of trips to Callicoon and Villa Roma, on Friday, October 10th of 2014 Uncle Sal took his last breath, leaving my father without his number one travel buddy. The bocce courts do not solicit the same joy they once did, but the Villa will forever remind me of the Basilico’s immense generosity and willingness to share with me tradition, love and how our most significant travel experiences can be closer to home than we wish to believe.