Tag Archives: boating

The Sirens of Summer

4 Jul

Although we would go up to the Catskills for Memorial Day Weekend to get our bungalow ready for the summer, we would not begin our true summer stay until Fourth of July weekend. On the east coast, school usually did not finish until the end of June, making the beginning of July the true start of summer.

What a great time it was to be finally up in the Catskills. The weather in the City was already getting too warm, especially without air conditioning. All we could think about were the cool mornings and evenings of the mountains; the endless days of outdoor fun, swimming, boating, and just having fun with friends and cousins.

But there was one sound of summer that we all dreaded. The sirens of summer were a portent of something bad happening.   Whenever we heard the sirens go off from Kauneonga Lake, and saw the cars and pick up trucks carrying the volunteer firemen rush to the station, we knew something horrible had happened.   It was not usually a fire. It was usually a boating accident or a drowning.


My nephew waterskiing in a boat driven by cousins. Kauneonga Lake 2013.

I remember the look on my mother’s face whenever the sirens went off. It was a mask of anguish. When I became old enough to go out on a boat with friends, she always told me to wear my life jacket; to be careful; and not to fool around.

Every teen who drove a boat was supposed to take lessons and pass a driving test. The office was near the fire station.   I remember going with friends as they went for the test.   But I also know that many times, knowing the rules and following the rules were not the same.

For instance, several of us were canoeing one day, when friends came by in their motor boat. They thought it was great fun to swamp us and make our canoe overturn and fill with water. Luckily we were not too far from the edge of the lake where we could touch bottom. I still remember lifting the canoe over our heads and walking it out of the lake.

But honestly, the young adults I hung out with were usually very careful when out on the lake. We never had an accident or caused one. We might have done a few foolish things in our time, but we also knew that safety was important on the lake.  They never cut off a person who was water skiing or got too close to another boat, unless we were going very slowly and met to meet up.  Yes, we went fast sometimes, but in our day during the week, there were not that many boats on the lake.

Unfortunately, not everyone follows the rules.   And each summer, the sirens would go off.   We knew that someone was in trouble. Eventually we would hear about a drowning or near drowning.  We were thankful for the volunteers who took the time and effort to try a water rescue.  Many of them were friends of my grandfather and father.  So we often heard the entire story of what stupid fooling around caused the tragedy.

With the Fourth of July here, I wish everyone a safe summer. Enjoy your time on the water. Boating is much fun.  I still love the thrill of riding around the lake in a boat.  I love the thrill of hitting the waves produced by other boats.  But I always have a life jacket near by. I know that my cousins will take no unsafe risks.

I pray that this year, no one has to hear the sirens of summer.

Come to the Firemen’s Festival! At Kauneonga Lake!

1 Jan

Anyone who stayed in White Lake and Kauneonga Lake in the 1950s, 1960s and early 70s remember the excitement that led up to the Fireman’s Festival. Even as I write these words I can hear the cry of the volunteer firemen as they drove up and down Route 55 and West Shore Road calling out: “Come to the Firemen’s Festival. This weekend! Come support the Firemen’s Festival.”

I still hear how they drew out the words “Fi- re- men’s – Fes-ti-val!” It was a lovely chant! And gave us so much joy when we heard it. The Firemen’s Festival was a highlight of the summer months.

Each year the volunteer firemen hosted a fundraiser on the empty lot in front of the elementary school that bordered the towns of Kauneonga Lake and White Lake. I was always so excited to go!

First were the signs around town telling us when the Firemen’s Festival would be held. Then the week before, the firemen on the truck would go through town letting us know exactly when. We all knew where.

It was an important fundraiser for these very important men (mainly men then) who helped so many!

At the Firemen’s Festival were all sorts of festival games like ring toss and hitting a weight to make it go to the top of the tower. There was a man who guessed your age.   There was food. There were prizes. There were so many people. It was a great time for all. I remember walking around with my parents and meeting up with friends, at which point we deserted our parents.   With a few dollars in your pocket you had enough money for activities to last the day.

The volunteer firemen had a significant role in the community. Now only did they fight fires, but they also came to the rescue of anyone who was in peril of drowning. At least once each summer the sirens would go off and the many trucks and cars of the volunteers headed toward the lake and the fire station. The volunteer firemen stopped whatever they were doing to help. They could not always save the person, but they tried.

They also had the firemen’s beach, which was located next to the ramp where people could put their boats in the lake on the Kauneonga Lake side. It was close to the fire station, just at the edge of the lake. It was where the firemen and their families could come to enjoy the lake.

The Firemen’s Festival was a way for them to raise the money to keep the station going and upgrade equipments as needed. They took no pay. It was just community members coming together to help. The way it is in many small towns.

Their coming together saved my father’s life in the early 1990s. There was no longer a Firemen’s Festival. The fairgrounds are now covered in knee-high weeds. But there is still a volunteer fire department.

In 1991 my Dad decided to cut some branches off the trees lining our driveway. At first my Mom and sister and her husband, Jerry, helped. But after a while, my Mom and sister decided to walk down the road to visit family. By that time the bungalow colony was closed, but people, including some family members had purchased all the bungalows. Jerry, who had poison ivy, took a nap.

Even though my Mom told my Dad to stop cutting while they were all busy, he did not listen. They are high trees. My Dad fell off the ladder and was knocked unconscious with a fractured skull.   When he did not show up to pick up my Mom and sister as planned, they called the house. They woke Jerry, who went outside and found Dad unconscious under a tree. He called 911.

The volunteered firemen responded. My sister said they saw cars flying past the bungalows and knew something was very wrong even before Jerry called them back. My Mom knew it was my Dad. My aunt or perhaps my cousins quickly drove them up to the house, where by this time many firemen and EMTs had gathered to stablize my Dad and get him to a hospital. Their cars lined our driveway.

Although he was first taken to the regional hospital in Harris, near Liberty, where he was further stabilized, his condition was so dire, he had to be taken to another hospital by ambulance. He was unconscious for a week. But he survived for another 18 years. Thanks to the firemen.

So whenever I think of the Firemen’s Festival, I always think of the firemen who years later were still helping those in need. I feel badly that the event to raise money for the firemen is no longer held. The Firemen’s Festival was a wonderful way to raise money and provide a wonderful summer activity. But with the changing nature of the bungalow colonies it was no longer feasible.

The work and the importance of the Volunteer Fire Department should never be undervalued. They deserve our thanks and high praise.

Boating on the Lake Always Brings Joy

6 Apr

Canoes and putt-putt motor boats that went no more than a few miles an hour were the only boats on Kauneonga Lake when I was a child. My friends and I loved to go canoeing. It was such fun. We did not wear life jackets then. We would just get a canoe and paddle. Our favorite spot was to skim over the water and enter the channel so we could canoe on Amber Lake. It was ever so peaceful there.

As times changed, boats got bigger. Sometimes when we canoed, friends would come by and purposely swamp us. There is nothing like sitting is a sinking canoe. We would jump out…abandon ship…then turn the canoe over and lift it over our heads as we headed to shore. I hated being swamped!!! Those boys!

But those boys with motorboats were my friends, and we often went out with them boating around the lake. Canoeing was disappearing. Water skiing was becoming a big deal. And, although I never skied, I was often the spotter, yelling when the skier fell into the water. This time on the late was still wonderful as only a few motorboats were out.

After I moved away from the New York area, my Dad decided that he needed a boat. My Mom was ambivalent on this purchase. But since a friend of theirs, my Dad’s best friend, sold them his old boat and trailer for all of $1.00, my mother could not say no.

It was a putt – putt boat. Yes, it had a motor… small. Yes, it could make it around the lake…. slowly. Yes, my Dad spent hours fixing it.. almost. But he was so happy. He loved to say to his grandchildren, ”Let’s go for a ride in the boat!”

Mom enjoying the breeze on the pontoon boat.

Mom enjoying the breeze on the pontoon boat.

Luckily our waterfront property and dock is and was very close to my cousins, both of whom are engineers, and very loving nephews. They, and later their sons, were my Dad’s support. I think they had special alert when my Dad took his little putt-putt boat out on the lake. Whenever we were out, within 15 minutes, one of my cousins would boat up to us and make sure everything was going well. And then they stayed out on the lake. Why? Because every once in a while, it felt like almost every time, my Dad’s boat would stall in the water.

One of my nieces believes she will carry the emotional scars from a water stranding rescue forever. She was so embarrassed that her cousins had to tow the boat back to the dock. For years later, whenever my Dad would say, “Let’s go for a ride in the boat,” she would try to hide.


My Dad’s dream boat was a pontoon boat.   And eventually he sold his little putt-putt boat and purchased an older pontoon boat. He worked on that boat for as long as he owned it, replacing so many parts and making it presentable. He just loved it. As did my Mom. They would go out on the Lake and slowly peruse the sites. They would watch the skiers and the tubers and the people on jetskis. They would wave to friends. In their pontoon boat, they would meander around the lake and enjoy the breeze of the lake.

They enjoyed taking their friends, children and grandchildren out. It held many more people than the little boat. And I do not remember it ever needing to be towed back to shore. But my cousins were always there when the motor would not start, or a plug came undone, or my Dad just could not get something to work. Thank goodness for my cousins!

We eventually told Dad that he should only go out on the Lake when my cousins were up. And we think when he was 80 he listened to us.


My Dad driving his pontoon boat on Kauneonga Lake.

My Dad driving his pontoon boat on Kauneonga Lake.

They were blissful days. I still see my parents’ smiles as they roamed Kauneonga and White Lakes in their pontoon boat. I hear the laughter and joy of the grandchildren. I see hats blown off into the water, and the exciting water rescues to get a hat back.

I have such joyful memories.

My Dad sold his boat the summer before my Mom died. It did not matter, he never spent another summer there.


My nephew waterskiing in a boat driven by cousins.  Kauneonga Lake 2013.

My nephew waterskiing in a boat driven by cousins. Kauneonga Lake 2013.

My cousins still have boats and jetskis on the Lake. When I go up I spend my sunny days with them by their beach and docks. We have not put our dock in since my parents passed away. But when I go on the lake with my cousins, part of me is looking for my Dad’s pontoon boat. Another part of me is laughing as we zoom around the lake and talk about all the changes that have occurred in the past year or so.

Most of all, when I am out on the Lake, I think of all of our happy memories. How lucky we were to spend our summers there. And how lucky we are to be able to share that time with our children. Summers at the lake are the best summers.