Farewell to the Past

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    SPARTA-In the middle of what was sometimes used as a dance floor, Louise Nazzaro quietly pushed a white, wrought-iron baby's crib back and forth. Nobody paid much attention to her; not any of the visitors who were mulling around the items on display; not anyone except for an elderly woman with a welcoming smile and fond memory sitting at the far end of the room. Jenny Paladini knew all about the crib, and she wasn't too shy to admit it. The crib was where she slept as an infant, she said, some 88 years ago, or just before 1920 when her parents, Sam and Suzie Nazzaro, opened the Central, a Sparta landmark hotel and restaurant that closed its doors for the final time earlier this month. Louise and her husband, Louis Nazzaro, along with his sisters, Jenny and Rose, are bidding goodbye to the Italian restaurant that had been a part of their family and the greater Sparta community for more than 80 years. Countless customers n some from afar, most nearby -- have come and gone through its doors with hungry stomachs and leftover memories. The Central will change ownership in a few weeks, when Louis and Louise close on the property where they have worked and lived above. Developers plan to build a commercial town center at the site along Main Street, which will include an age-restricted housing district that the longtime Sparta residents will have no part of when they soon begin their retirement. Nazzaro family members and close friends have spent a couple of weekends auctioning to the public items from their restaurant, memorabilia from their lives, pages from their past. Things were priced to sell, an auctioneer holding a clipboard said one Saturday, not to hold onto. There was no longer any room to store so many years after all, everyone in the family had agreed. All that remained was the space left in their hearts. "Everything that I want, I have. What would I do with all those glasses?" said Louise, looking out at the assorted champagne glasses and bar stools where customers once toasted each other to better days or tables where families just a few nights earlier had debated the merits of pizza instead of pasta. Jenny remembered some more, pointing to the large chandelier in the middle of the dining room, where couples young and old had danced many a night beneath the shining crystals. Jenny spoke of the glass figurines, how her nephew, DJ n Louise and Louis' kid -- used to be the only one who could reach high enough on top of a table to clean them. Jenny remembered some more, pointing to the ribbons still tied to the branches of the hanging jewelry. DJ had put them there one Christmas 13 years ago, and no one had bothered to take them down, not after he passed away just four months later, and not since. Jenny said DJ was no older than "30-something." Memories, both happy and sad, tend to die hard at the Central. The auctioneer sold the chandelier to a woman from Parsippany; a "package deal" Louis would later say with a hint of hidden sadness in his voice. He said the woman took the chandelier away. A friend of the family, he said, made sure she did not take the ribbons with her. "I wasn't there when they took the chandelier down," said Louis; neither was his wife. So many years; too much to keep; too much to let go. Jennifer McDuff had found out about the Central closing from her mother, Edwina, of Jefferson, who works at the flower shop a few buildings down the road. There were toys, antiques, linen table clothes and napkins, and more books than could be counted for everyone to look through. The moving out sale proved to be a good place to buy some collectable shot glasses for Jennifer's fiancé. "His guy friends" were coming over the next day and nine for $4.50 was a bargain, she said. Jenny Paladini kept remembering, reaching around the chair toward the back of the building where her father, a former shoemaker from Newton, used to plant vineyards and the local ladies n in those days out of necessity -- would hide behind the stems to sneak a smoke of tobacco. "Life goes on," said Louis Nazzaro, taking a break from helping his grandchildren upstairs clean out an old cedar chest, where they discovered the old football jersey grandpa wore as a player at Newton High School. "A lot of things have gone on in my life here."