A 50 year tradition…and counting

Annual Labor Day Weekend cookout holds special place in families’ hearts

Posted 9/6/22

Clam cakes, chowder, fruit salad and watermelon lined the back porch’s table at Matthew and Christine Moretti’s house on Sunday. With kids trailing one another in and out of the house and …

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A 50 year tradition…and counting

Annual Labor Day Weekend cookout holds special place in families’ hearts


Clam cakes, chowder, fruit salad and watermelon lined the back porch’s table at Matthew and Christine Moretti’s house on Sunday. With kids trailing one another in and out of the house and adults catching up around a table of the Natick Avenue residence, from an outsider’s perspective, the gathering looked like a regular Labor Day party – but it was so much more.

For the past 50 years, three separate families have gathered for an annual cookout. The Moretti, Cerbo and Germanowski clans started this tradition when they lived in a three-family home on Princess Avenue in 1972. At the time, the couples were all newly weds – one of which had a child.

Stephen Moretti (of the original group) remembers the first cookout being on a hot day. The families fired up the grill, set up a kiddie pool and let the water run as they dangled their feet in the water – they never expected that this would become an annual event and that the following two generations would gather to celebrate.

As time moved forward and kids got older, each family said goodbye to the Princess Avenue house and moved to other homes in Warwick, Cranston and North Kingstown. One of the families’ annual traditions is taking a group photo while holding a banner showing what year it is. Back in the day, the second generation kids were in charge of creating the cookout banner but it has now gone from hand drawn to digitally produced.  Jen (Cerbo) Cowart of the second generation tries to keep the banners from each year. She and her husband, Don, are in charge of creating the banner and often they’ll pull photos from the prior year’s celebration to feature on the sign. Additionally, Jen has two photo albums filled with pictures from each celebration. While individuals can slowly watch the families grow older and the change in fashion, you can see the change of when people started bringing significant others, college roommates and eventually their spouses to the yearly gathering.

During the gathering the families engage in a competitive game of bocce – they have their tape measures at the ready. Whoever is dubbed the bocce MVP receives a trophy that they keep for the year and bring to next year’s annual gathering. The trophy, which was introduced in 2011, most recently spent the year out in California with Christopher Cerbo’s family.

Focused on tradition, the cookout’s menu is the same each year, and the food is eaten in the same order. The options include stuffies, chowder, corn, spaghetti and tuna, hamburgers, hot dogs and strawberry shortcake for dessert. Due to allergies, the menu has expanded from what it originally was, but for the most part it remains identical.

To show how dedicated the families are to their menu, they spoke about the infamous year when Ann Germanowski made peach shortcake instead of strawberry shortcake. All that could be said was that Ann was welcomed back, but her peach shortcake wasn’t.

Once the second generation grew up and started going off to college, the families made paper plate faces representing those who couldn’t attend and would hold them up in that year’s group photo. The 2010 cookout was filled with paper plate faces – being dubbed the year of Labor Day weddings. This year, Brian Germanowski, his wife Lisa, and their kids live in Illinois and weren’t able to make it but had enlarged photos of their faces taped to sticks which were included in the photo.

There have only been a couple of times when the event had to be held inside due to rain. There were also two combined cookout years – one due to a family death and the other due to Covid. While most of the families remain local, there are some who make the yearly trek to Rhode Island from Illinois, California and Vermont. The families have tried gathering for other events – like their fondue dinner in 1985 – but nothing has stuck quite like the Labor Day Weekend cookout.

But what keeps them coming back? The camaraderie and food.

Christopher said the event is unique because no one is related, yet they’ve managed to get this group together for so many years even when they sometimes don’t even see their own families regularly for other holidays.

From the oldest 76-year-old family member to the youngest at age four, everyone looks forward to the annual Princess Avenue cookout. Caroline Cowart, who is part of the third generation, is a community director at Bryant College, and said this was the one day she asked to have off.

There have also been some interesting stories over the years of how individuals got the cookouts. When the cookout was held at the Cerbo’s house in North Kingstown, Paul Germanowski would ride his bike to the cookouts and looked forward to the ride. One year when Jen and Don were living in New Jersey, they drove up and back in one day to attend the event.

Since the original generation of six people – Ann and Paul Germanowski, Patricia and Vincent Cerbo and Stephen and Rosemarie Moretti – the celebration has expanded to 25 individuals. Rosemarie Moretti has since passed.

With the evolution of technology the families now have a Facebook group and Google album where they post photos from the various cookouts. Jen said the kids in the third generation would ask how they were all related – resulting in the explanation of how the gathering started.

This year, in celebration of the 50th, the families received a citation from Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins. The first generation is happy to see that the second generation has taken over the tradition and, if you want to know where they’ll be next Labor Day Weekend, just follow the smell of clam cakes and stuffies to the Moretti’s house in Cranston.

Princess, cookout


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