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Since so many people have asked about her during the past few weeks, I think a clarification is in order. That little angel on my lap in the back of my brother’s convertible in the Pittston Tomato Festival parade was my great-niece, Coco, visiting with her family from Roanoke, Virginia.

I’ve written about Coco before. She is the daughter of our niece and nephew, Sarah and Adrian Wilson. Sarah’s mom, and Coco’s grandma, is my wife’s sister, Betty Ann, who goes by Liz ever since she moved to the South. I suspect however, she’ll be Betty Ann again for a few days about a year from now when her high school graduating class, the Pittston Area Class of 1969, reunites on their 50th anniversary.

Coco’s dad is a pharmacist and her mom a dentist, which is significant, as you shall soon see.

When Coco, who is now 4, was 3 weeks old, her mom told my wife on the phone that she would be starting day care because Sarah had to go back to work. “No she won’t,” Mary Kay said emphatically. ‘I’ll be there tomorrow.” And with that, Mary Kay and Betty Ann/Liz became Coco’s live-in nannies, alternating every two weeks.

Because of this arrangement, I spent a lot of time in Roanoke, reading books to Coco, rocking her to sleep, and falling in love with her. A photo of baby Coco is still the screensaver on the computer on which I am writing.

Coco is nothing if not precocious. I was buckling the belt on her high chair one day and she said, “Don’t pinch your fingers, Eddie.” She was 2-and-a-half. We were with her not long after when she had her first ice cream cone. You could tell she was searching for the right words to describe it. “Ice cream make me happy,” is what she came up with.

During most of our visits, Coco wants me to play songs on my phone. I introduced her to three and she’d ask for them by name. “Play Rhapsody.” That’s Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, the Muppets version. “Play Hold Your Hand.” Yes, I’ve turned her into a Beatles fan. “Play Sugar Sugar.” That’s by the Archies from a ‘60s cartoon.

One day I added “Lollipop, Lollipop,” by the 1950s girl group The Chordettes. The one I found was from the Andy Williams Show. During the song, Andy puts his finger inside his cheek and makes a “pop.” This happens to be one of the few musical skills I have. Coco was mighty impressed whenever I did it.

To add to the experience, I went out one day and came back with a few lollipops. Which Sarah promptly confiscated. She’s a dentist, remember?

Coco’s mom and dad decided it was high time they took in a Pittston Tomato Festival, so they tackled the six-hour drive, which turned into more like eight. Guess I should mention Coco has twin brothers, just over 2 years old. They wisely brought along their babysitter, Morgan, a 22-year-old college student. Still, rest stops, they said, were a circus.

They rented a cabin at Split Rock Lodge and when they arrived Thursday, Mary Kay and I showed up with a ton of Tomato Festival food. Sarah immediately acquired a taste for broccoli and shells. And Adrian ate a Sabatelle’s soppressata sandwich the next morning for breakfast.

As we sat around outside, the kids enjoying their first ever s’mores, Coco pranced about with a toy magic wand. The rest weren’t paying much attention to her, but much to my dismay, I was. She waved the magic wand at her mom and said, “A golden necklace.” Then she waved it at me and said, “More hair.”

Sarah agreed to let Coco ride with me in the parade and made her the cutest tomato-adorned bonnet. Perhaps you saw it. At the last minute, Sarah and Adrian decided to run in the Tomato Festival 5K and did so pushing the twins in their double stroller. Yes, they had second thoughts when they hit the hills of the Oregon section.

As is my wont, I went to Dick Yaniello’s Pittston Candy Store on Broad Street the day before and bought three boxes of individually wrapped Swedish fish to toss out along the parade route. I call them “the Cadillac of parade candy.” There are 240 in a box, so I was well-heeled.

“What are these?” Coco, the daughter of the dentist, asked as soon as she saw them.

Need I say more? Everybody knows, even dentists, I’d wager, that no one eats just one Swedish fish. So, Coco had two. Or 10.

Know what else she had? Shhhh. A lollipop.

It was given to her by Congressman Matt Cartwright. How could she say no?

I was prepared to confess to Sarah as soon as we caught up with the family following the parade when Morgan, the babysitter, asked, “Can you get a beer around here?”

“Come with me,” I said.

Inside the firehouse, which doubled as the beer “tent,” Morgan was only too happy to support the firefighters.

We ran into my good friend, Fred Lokuta, at the bar and he took an immediate liking to Morgan. Especially when she was up for sampling tripe, which she had never even heard of. Fred dashed off to the Marianacci’s booth and came back with a piping hot bowl. Morgan ate it all, not batting an eyelash when Fred told her what it was. Fred was suitably impressed.

All in all, it was another memorable Pittston Tomato Festival, with the visit by the Wilson family of Roanoke making it even more so. Sarah and Adrian got their fill of homemade Italian food, Morgan got to experience tripe, and Coco got a lollipop.

As for me. Well, I’m still waiting for that “more hair” magic to kick in.

NOTE: My friend Mary Kay Jones emailed regarding last week’s column about the Pittston Area Pep Squad at the PA-Nanticoke football game. She commended the students for wearing green shirts in memory of North Pocono student Patrick Luptak, recently killed in a car crash. Mary Kay’s granddaughters are cheerleaders at North Pocono. She said they wore green because Patrick was a Philadelphia Eagles fan. She concluded with: “Go Eagles … for Patrick!”

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online at