Tag Archives: bungalows

My Favorite Catskills Photo of Me

16 Oct

Summer 1957

There are many reasons why I have always Loved this photo. First it was taken in the Catskills when I was 2 1/2. I am blissfully happy sitting in the grass. I love seeing the old wooden outdoor furniture.  I know that bench is Blue. I spent many hours on it over the years. 

I love seeing the women on the bench. The one to the far left is my maternal grandmother. She and my grandfather owned the bungalow colony. And with many family members there, I was surrounded by love. To be honest I am not sure who the other woman is, but I think it is my aunt.  I love that bench as my paternal grandmother taught me to knit and crochet as we sat on it when I was about seven or eight. 

I love that my aunt’s feet are resting on that single chair, as I know she is really relaxing. They mothers only put their feet up when they were settled in for a rest.  There is another chair to my side. It indicates to me that there is a square table to my side as well … the table where my grandmothers, great aunt and their friend spent endless hours playing canasta. 

Further on I see some of the white painted bungalows. This was the original colony. Eventually my grandparents purchased more land and moved some of the buildings. Only two of the original bungalows still exist. The land has been sold off and newer homes were erected. Two of my cousins purchased some of the land, so I am fortunate that I can still walk this property. 

I love how I look in this photo. I remember my Dad telling me that this was his favorite picture of me as a child because in this photo he could finally see how I would look as an adult. But I also love it for the curl in the middle of my forehead. I had and still have thick, curly hair. I cannot tell how often one of my parents would recite this poem to me: “There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good But when she was bad she was horrid.” 

I know that hat and outfit. It was red and white. Because of my black hair my mom often dressed me in red. I rarely wear red now. Blue is my favorite color. But when I envision myself as a child I am often in red or pink. But that hat I specifically remember. I must have worn it for several years before my younger sister was born and she have the chance to wear it. 

I wish I knew what was in the box I am holding. I am sure it is crackers or cereal. But I wish the front of the box was facing out. It would add to the memory. I guess it does not matter.  Whenever I see this photo, I am filled with joy. I am in my happy place. Our home in Kauneonga Lake, in the Catskills where summers were always delightful.  

I Want My Sandy Back: Our Short Duration of Dog Ownership in 1961

6 Mar

When I was about six years old my father got us a dog. Sandy, a beautiful Cocker Spaniel, was so wonderful   We were in the Catskills for the summer when Dad brought the dog to the bungalow. My brother and I were ecstatic.

My sister was just a toddler, so I am not sure how she felt, but she seemed to love the dog as well. Her favorite game was to ride Sandy like a horse. Since she was so little, and Sandy so active, they both had a good time.   My sister seems to remember that the horse riding was my idea. That could have been, I loved horses!

We got to name him, because the dog’s given name was Harry, which was my grandfather’s name. So the first thing we did was have a family conference to name the dog. His name matched his color, a beautiful golden brown.

We often let Sandy run free on the fenced in front lawn of the bungalow colony, right outside our front door. My other grandfather would stand and laugh at the dog running crazy circles. He would scratch his head and say in Yiddish, “Look at that meshuggahan hundt (crazy dog)!”

The summer was wonderful. It was easy to take Sandy on walks, and he had space to run around in the bungalow colony. But then Labor Day came and it was time to return to North Bergen.

We lived in the second floor apartment of a three-story home on Third Avenue.   Sandy was not as happy there as he had been in the Catskills, even though my brother, sister and I showered love on our dog. His adventures became mainly indoor adventuress; not great for an outdoor dog.

In fact, my brother remembers that my parents would put Sandy in the bathroom at night, so he would not roam the apartment. One Sunday morning, my brother got up early and went to the bathroom. He found my young sister wrapping the dog in all the toilet paper!

“What a mess to clean up as he ran around the apartment trailing toilet paper!” My brother remembered.

Actually, overall, having a dog in our apartment was not going very well.

My parents and my brother were usually the ones to walk him. It was a hassle to get him down the stairs and out to the street several times a day. My brother and I were in school. And my Mom was home with my sister, who was still sleeping in a crib. I think my Mom was getting very tired of dog ownership.

Then one day I offered to take Sandy for a walk. I bundled up and took him downstairs. As we were walking, he pulled me into the street. Someone helped me get Sandy back on the sidewalk. I was not going to tell my MOM. But one of the neighbors did. (In those days, every neighbor was like another parent!)

That was the final straw for my Mom. Sandy had to go. “It was not safe to have a dog in the city. It was not fair to Sandy to be locked up in an apartment,” was what my parents told us.

My brother tried to talk them out of giving Sandy away. He promised to walk him every day, if they let us keep our dog. But it did not help.

Soon after that, my Dad found someone who had plenty of land to take Sandy. I still remember the day he came to take our pet. I hid Sandy under my sister’s crib and put the sides down. I put pillows all around to hide him. But it did not work. Sandy followed me out and left our lives forever.

I remember crying for days, “I Want MY Sandy back! I want my Sandy BACK!” I am sure my crying and whining drove my parents crazy. But they were patient and explained over and over how this was better for the dog.

Nothing worked. I never saw Sandy again. However, my parents did report back at least once, that he was loving his life on a farm.

To this day, I cannot watch Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp” without thinking of my Sandy. This was my daughter’s favorite movie when she was a child. I watched it almost every day. Each time I watched I would think of my cocker spaniel.

I have never owned a dog after Sandy. My husband and I always had cats. I think part of the reason for me, was that I never wanted a dog to pull someone in the street and be sent away. Cats stay indoors and care for themselves in many ways.

It was just about five months that Sandy was in our family. He arrived in the early summer while we were in the Catskills and was gone by Hanukkah in North Bergen.

Many times I wished I lived in the Catskills throughout the year so that we could have kept Sandy.

Autumn Memories of the Great Fire

26 Sep

This is a memory of a Catskills event that could have been a disaster. It is about the day my brother and I almost set the entire forest on fire. I still get a cringe in my stomach when I think about it. But to be absolutely truthful, I also have to tell the not so happy stories as well.

My grandparents had purchased the ‘big house,’ about 1/3 of a mile up the road from their bungalow colony in Kauneonga Lake. When the purchase was made, the house and the bungalow behind it were a bit neglected. They were still livable, but there was much maintenance that had to be done to bring the property back to life.

Among the issues was that the brush and trees had grown up around the bungalow. This had to be cleared out … eventually.

It was September, probably around 1963, the year after they had bought the property. We had spent our first summer there, living in the bungalow, instead of at the colony.

My brother believes it happened in the spring. All I remember was the grey. 

That summer one of the boys, who lived in the house next to the ‘big house,’ shown my brother and I how he made fire circles in the forest behind our homes and set fires. He was a few years older than us and seemed very sure of what he was doing.  We were intrigued. It was fascinating and scary at the same time. We never made the fires, we just watched him.
That fall, when we went back up to the Catskills for my Dad to help my Grandfather close up the bungalows, my brother and I went into the woods behind the bungalow at the big house and made a fire circle.

I hate to even say what happened next. But compulsion for the truth is making me.

We were young. I was 8 and my brother was 9. ( My brother thinks we were a bit older.) We did not make a very good fire circle. The rocks did not completely form a circle. The leaves were all around. It was now autumn and the leaves and brush were dry. Even though we had water with us, we did not have enough. And, yes, the fire escaped from the circle.

My brother said the problem was the wind. When Billy taught him to make the fires there was no wind. He had started two or three that were no problem. He had me come out to see the last one, which escaped. 

My brother and I were frantic. We tried to put it out. We threw water on it. We stomped on it. But it would not go out and it was getting bigger.  We got our sister out of the bungalow. 

We ran to the house and told Grandma and Mom that there was a FIRE. We had no phone and no car there. They told us to run to the bungalows and tell Dad and Grandpa. I don’t think we ever ran as fast in our lives. My brother was ahead of me.   We screamed when we got to the bungalows, “There’s a fire at the house! A fire!”

Grandpa and Dad came running!

I honestly do not remember how they called the fire department. Except there was a phone in the laundry house, perhaps it was still connected. Or perhaps one of them drove into town. It is a blur in my mind.

My brother said that Grandma ran to Finks and they called to report the fire. 

They drove back to the house. I think my brother and I walked back. As we walked, we could hear the loud noise as the volunteer fire department sirens went off. When we arrived at the house , Grandpa and Dad were already at the bungalow. It seemed as if dozens of cars were their with all the volunteer firemen. Then the fire engine arrived and drove up the long driveway to the bungalow.

We were lucky. The firemen put out the flames before they reached the bungalow or any other buildings. The fire never made it to the woods. The forest was safe as was the bungalow colony (Top Hill) that backed up to the side of our woods.

The brush and small trees to the sides and behind the bungalow were brunt and now filled with water.

The fire chief and my Dad and Grandpa talked for a while. My brother and I were scared. We knew we were in BIG trouble.

They came to talk to us. “We think it was spontaneous combustion,” they told us. “There were lots of bottles and rags hidden in the brush. We think that is what caused the fire.”

“What is spontaneous combustion?” I wanted to know but I kept quiet. They think that is what started the fire? I felt a sense of immense relief. We were not going to go to jail!!!

My brother and I nodded our heads. Of course they all knew the truth. But that is what the volunteer fire chief was going to put in his report. He knew us and our parents and our grandparents.

The firemen cleaned up, packed up their gear and left our property. They told my Dad to keep a hose near the scene of the fire, and keep checking it to make sure there were no flare ups. I think he watched it through out the night.  But there were no problems. The fire was OUT!

My brother and I walked back with our parents and grandparents to see what had happened. Grandpa and Dad sort of smiled at each other. “Well at least you cleared out the brush,” we were told. “But do not ever light a fire again. You could have set the entire woods on fire!!!’

We were told not to ever touch fire again. This was said to us multiple times for the rest of the weekend.  I think because we were so scared, they decided our fear was punishment enough.  Our only punishment: my brother and I had to help clean out the brunt brush, grass, small trees and junk that was left behind the bungalow under the watchful eye of my grandfather.

My brother says he had to dig out all the burnt blueberry bushes and clean out all the brush and plant the new grass. I did not have to do as much. 

We never, ever set another fire!

I have been scared of fire ever since. I always worry that it will get out of control. I don’t own a fire pit. I never light my fireplaces. I keep fire away from me. The memories of the Great Fire have stayed with me forever.

 

The Legacy of Woodstock

17 Aug

The view toward the stage and West Shore Road.

The view toward the stage and West Shore Road.

It is amazing to me that an event that divided a community; created havoc and orderly chaos; memories that lasted a life time, both bitter and joyful, is now the reason why the Town of BethEl, White Lake and Kauneonga Lake in Sullivan County, NY, might actually survive.

It was the Woodstock Festival that put these small towns in the eyes of the nation. I remember that weekend and the weeks that follow so well. My grandparents owned a small bungalow colony in Kauneonga Lake and we spent each summer there for my life. My grandparents had made Kauneonga Lake their year-round residence. They knew everyone. They were active in the community and the synagogue.

And I remember the hostilities and disruption that came after the festival was over and most of the people had left.   I say most because a small group stayed behind and never left the area.

I see my Dad trying to direct traffic in front our home. And letting a few vehicles park on our long driveway and front lawn.   I remember the people who came to ask if my grandfather would let helicopters land on our lawn. (That would be a NO.)

I remember the police on horseback trying to ride up the hill to the Woodstock site.

And I remember the mess afterwards. The days upon days to clean up the debris left behind.

The symbol used throughout the town of Kauneonga Lake.

The symbol used throughout the town of Kauneonga Lake.

But now that same event that caused pain for many, especial the Yasgurs, is now the reason for renewal.  It so amazes me now that the sign of a bird on a guitar that was so hated by some of the townspeople, is now redone as a bird on a leaf and is  symbol used in the town. And even a horse stable uses a take off of the iconic sign as its symbol. Wow! How the attitudes have changed.

Even a stable uses a sign to remember Woodstock.

Even a stable uses a sign to remember Woodstock.

At first the site of the Woodstock Festival became a legend and people would come up each summer on a pilgrimage to see it and talk about it. There was no monument. A group of people, the remains of the Hog Farmers who had helped at the concert, who hung out there to tell the story. Over time a monument was built, and the field was left empty.

Those who love the area owe thanks to one family’s vision, Alan Gerry and the Gerry Foundation. I believe it is thanks to him that the area is surviving the loss of income from the bungalow colonies. As the colonies closed or came under the ownership of orthodox Jewish communities, the area became desolate. But then in 1997 the Gerry family began it’s interest in the Woodstock site.

With the development of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel and White Lake and Kauneonga Lake have had a small rebirth. Each summer I come up and I see new restaurants, new stores, new houses even. On the weekends I hear the sounds of cars whizzing by our home before and after concerts.

People come to hear the music and to visit the Bethel Woods Museum. Every summer I take a journey the almost two miles to visit the Woodstock site and take a photo. I remember the blocked roads, the multitudes of people. I remember my grandfather’s reactions to all the young adults walking by our home. “Where are their mothers?” He kept asking as he shook his head.

But along with the memories of 46 years ago, I also see the new site. I have to tell you, it is wonderful!

 

My Grandma Always Won At Solitaire

11 Aug

Grandma Thelma was not a good loser. In fact, I would have to say that she hated to lose, especially at cards. It did not matter who she played with, a solitary game or against one of her grandchildren. Losing was not an option for grandma.

She loved to play solitaire. And her endless days in the Catskills during the winter months gave her plenty of time to play. But she played even in the summer when there were many people up for the summer.

Grandma would eagerly deal out her seven piles of cards and start a game. But if it wasn’t going well, she might add an eighth pile. Or perhaps count out her three cards in a slightly different manner. Or maybe check the cards that were turned over to see where the card was that she needed.  She would then work to get that card uncovered.

We would protest! “Grandma, That is cheating!”  She always denied it. To her it was winning. Why play a game by yourself if you were going to lose?  She said she was not cheating, she was just changing the rules.  But rules are meant to be followed.  Not to Grandma, if she had followed the rules, she once told me, she would not be here. She would have died in the Shoah.  So you make the rules so that you win. To some degree I could not argue with that.

However, there were times she would never make up her own rules. During the summertime daily canasta games with three longtime friends (including my other grandma), she played honestly.  Doing anything else would have been a disaster. And when you play with a partner, it is much more difficult to make your own rules, since you both have to play as a team.  But to be honest team work was not my Grandma’s strong point.

She also never cheated during the weekly gin rummy game that the women of the colony played when the husbands were in the City. It was for money! A penny or two per point depending on the win. When she played for money, she always followed the official rules.

But with her grandchildren, the three of us who spent the summers in the Catskills, she would often follow her own rules.   Sometimes is was as simple as taking a peek at our hands.  I admit we were a little lax on holding our cards close to our chest.  But when playing gin rummy with Grandma, we learned quickly to keep our cards hidden. She would warn us once if we held our cards where she could see them. But if we made that mistake again, forget about it, she looked.

On rainy days, when we were stuck inside for the entire day, my Mom would often ‘kick’ us out of the bungalow and send us across the lawn to our Grandparent’s house.  They lived there throughout the year and had a television.  But that was not our true reason for going.  With our Grandparents we played cards or baked or just visited.  The card games, however, were epic battles.  They could go on for hours as we played gin rummy for points.  Or perhaps a canasta game, the three grandchildren and Grandma.  Or perhaps a canasta game for two.  Hours of entertainment,  And my Mom would get a break.

My brother believes (and it is true) that she would rearrange the deck, stacking it in her favor, if you had to leave the room for a minute. I remember often calling for someone to watch Grandma while I ran to the bathroom.I would bring my cards with me,  I knew that if I left my hand unattended, I would not win.  Sometimes, if my brother or sister were around,  I just asked one of them to play out the hand.

You might think that she not a good role model by all this ‘cheating.’  But she really was so obvious about it, and never sneaky, that I am a little adverse to calling it cheating.  We knew exactly what was happening.  We knew she just did not like to lose, but at the same time she knew that she was not really winning.

It became a running joke.  I remember once telling a friend that my Grandma always won at cards.  She was amazed. “How did she do that?” My friend asked.  “She must have been really lucky.”

“Well, luck had nothing to do with it,” I admitted.  “She created her own rules.  And in her rulebook, my Grandma always won.”

Watermelon Helps Make Summers Wonderful

28 Jul

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I love watermelon.

In the summer, on a hot day, it is the MOST refreshing of all fruits.

I love eating it cut up in chunks. I love eating it in wedges.

I love it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I eat watermelon for snacks.

Buying me a watermelon is buying me joy.

This week, with the temperatures and heat index going above 100, I knew I had to get one.   So I went to Costco, walked to the giant bins of bright green watermelons and searched for the best. I picked a few up and thumped. And finally I heard the noise I liked the best. I had found my perfect watermelon. Total Joy!

When I was little my brother and sister taunted me by singing, “Ellen, Ellen Watermelon.” I actually remember all the cousins and other children at the bungalows singing it as well. It was my Catskills nickname as a child. In fact, there are a couple of adult friends of mine who still call me Ellen Ellen Watermelon. It might have bothered me a little bit when I was younger. But truth be told, I love watermelon. So now I do not care at all.

I always got a thrill when I saw my Dad bring a watermelon into the bungalow. He would be the one to cut it up, not my Mom. He would usually cut it into quarters and then make triangular strips. That meant it was really just for us.

If he cut it out of the rind and made chunks, that usually meant he was making it for lots of people and it might be part of a fruit salad. My Dad would make one side of the watermelon into a giant bowl and put the fruit salad back into it. I never do that. But I always helped him by making the cantaloupe and honeydew balls with a special scoop.

I learned to make fruit salad from my Dad. Now, I love to make fruit salad. I like chopping up fruit to make the best combination of fruit flavors. It brings me memories of Dad, and for some reason chopping fruit relaxes me. Whenever I go to a pot-luck dinner, I bring the fruit salad.

Personally, for me just watermelon would be fine.   I like it best cut up into inch to two-inch chunks. Then I fill up a bowl and just snack away. I usually like it on its own, not mixed into a salad. Why mess up the best fruit ever, well except for blueberries, by mixing it with other melons. Yes some like cantaloupe and honeydew. But for me, only the watermelon is enough to make me happy. Although I have been known to mix blueberries and watermelon together for a special treat.

Watermelon has other uses as well.   There have been many a watermelon seed spitting contests at our home in the Catskills. And it is not just for children. I have seen many a grown man and woman spit out their seeds to see whose goes the furthest.

What other fruit gives you the joy of eating and the ability to play with it without anyone yelling, “Stop playing with your food.” Even my Dad would spit watermelon seeds. I remember one contest in particular that included my husband, brother, brother-in-law, Dad and a first cousin.   We were all adults. And we cheer them on.

Best fruit ever, watermelon always helps to make summers wonderful.

Getting Ready for The Catskills

23 Jul

Next week my son and I are going to New Jersey/New York for 11 days. It is the first time in five years that I am going back east without a purpose. I have no ailing parents anymore, as, sadly, they passed away. I do not have to clean out an apartment or a house. This is not the unveiling. I do not have any meetings plan. We are just going for fun. I have not gone back home just for fun for a long time.

We are staying with my sister for a night and then my son and I and my sister and my niece are driving up to the Catskills to stay in our family home. My brother, and perhaps his wife and/or daughter will meet us up there.   We do not have to clean the attic, basement or house out. We do not have to fill up a dumpster. We do not have to do anything but enjoy the house, the grounds and relax.

Wow. We will see our cousins. We can walk into town. We can eat at a restaurant. Perhaps we will go to Bethel Woods? Who knows? We have no plans. It will be like old times…. Sort of.

My parents will not be there. The annuals my grandparents and then parents planted so lovingly will not be planted. There is no food awaiting our arrival. No special treats hidden away in the special cookie tin. We have to buy all the food ourselves.

There will be no one to welcome us when we drive up the long driveway to the house and no one to stand outside and wave as we drive away.  We will miss their smiles and their welcome.  But I know that they will be so happy to know that we are there, and that the house is alive again.

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Our home in Kauneonga Lake is our happy place. There are so many wonderful memories. SO many stories embedded in the essence of the house. So much laughter, and some tears. So much of my being was formed by events that occurred in that house. I would not be who I am if I had not spent my summers there.

I close my eyes and see the many outside activities that reside in my mind’s eye: croquet, bocce, baseball, running in the rain, watching the stars.   Each memory is a delight. My grandfather was colorblind, each year we never knew what color the furniture would be: a crazy quilt of chairs and tables. Sitting around on brightly painted wooden lawn furniture discussing whatever topic we decided.

My grandparents’ laughter; my parents’ commands; my brother’s and sister’s voices; the house resonates in sounds of love.

And then we walk down West Shore Road to where my grandparents’ bungalow colony once stood, we do not miss out on memories. We pass what used to be Kauneonga Park, the Fink’s bungalow colony, home to our grandparent’s good friends, Sidney and Bertha. The colony has changed now, but in my mind I see them and the way it was when I was a child or a teen. We also pass the White Lake Homes. If we walk through the streets there we can pass the home of Nan, a friend of my grandmother’s who was always embroidering tablecloths.

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Further along was the house of a friend of mine. His house abutted the Lake. Now there are giant homes there. But in my mind I still see the little homes.

We pass Cooper Drive…so many memories there as well, with friends who stayed there over the years. Then we walk on to the area where our bungalow colony once stood.   Now two of our cousins have homes there. Although some of the original bungalows no longer exist, houses stand in their places.

Our cousins are part of our childhood. We had so many adventures together. We grew up in the heyday of the Catskills: the 50s, 60s and 70s.   No one can take that joy away from us. We are more than just cousins. Our summers in the Catskills made us so close. We were more like siblings. And sometimes we bicker like siblings. But we share the joy of being in the Catskills.

We will share meals and memories with our cousins. We will sit by the beach and perhaps go out on a boat. The children, not us, but our adult children, will go boating and jet skiing and waterskiing. And now there are grandchildren to watch as they learn to love the Lake and the Catskills.

I CAN NOT Wait!

This time next week I will be getting ready to drive up to the Catskills. My heart is already singing with joy.

A Blueberry Patch Was the Site of My First Kiss

29 Apr

The summer of 1969 was famous for many reasons; the July walk on the moon of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the Woodstock concert in August. But for me, even though I remember those events vividly, and lived just 1 ½ miles from Yasgur’s farm, for me the summer of 1969 was the summer of my first kiss!

It happened near my grandparent’s bungalow colony in town of Kauneonga Lake. It happened on the path between the two sections of the blueberry patch that covered the ground between the bungalow colony and Cooper Drive.

Why it happened there, I do not know. But I remember it as if it was yesterday. My first kiss was very shy. I was 14, I think he was as well. Perhaps 15, but no more than that. Looking back, I realize that kissing on that path was a very poor choice. I had lots of boy cousins, a brother and friends who could have seen us. But they did not. We kissed in the middle of the path, then went our separate ways back to our respective homes.

To be honest, the kiss did not lead to dating. We were just friends. I have no contact with him, although I remember his name and what he looked like.

We, of course continued to see each other. But it was a one-time event.

There were other boys I dated in the Catskills over the years. But not one was ever serious. Usually they became my friends.

One Catskill friend took me to my high school senior prom. He was a freshman in college, so it was a big deal. Another boy I met while working at Daitch Shopwell was beloved by my grandparents. He and I remained friends for years. We both married others — not people we met at the Catskills.

The boy I loved the most in the Catskills, never really took me seriously. I think it was the age difference. I was 16 and he was 22. I was smitten. I also met him when working at Daitch. He had a great voice and would sing and play the guitar during our breaks. To this day when I hear the song, “You’ve Got a Friend,” I think of him. But to be honest, although I remember what he looked like and the sound of his voice, I cannot remember his name!

Not all Catskill summer romances end. Two of my cousins married the girls they met in the Catskills. Both have been married over 30 years and are grandparents. They and their families still come up to Kauneonga Lake every summer.  And there are many others I know who also married the love of their lives that they met while teens in the Catskills.

Although for me, the Catskills was not the place I met my husband, it was the place I brought I children to visit every summer. A place of great fun and memories.  My children got to spend wonderful times with their many cousins at the lake and in the house where I spent my summers.

As for the walk and kiss in the blueberry patch; it was not unwelcome. I still hold it in my heart. I am sure I picked some blueberries on the way back and ate them.   Although my love for that boy did not last, my love for blueberries has lasted forever.

Bungalow Life was Ruptured When the Water Heater Blew Up!

26 Feb

Bungalow colony life in the Catskills was peaceful. Each day we knew some of the basics of what would happen.

The mothers played cards and mah jonng on a set schedule. The grandmas played canasta. All the women knitted and crocheted during the day. We went swimming. We played. We picked blueberries. We rode our bicycles. We just had fun. On the weekends, the dads came up. It was simple and quiet, except for the sounds of childhood and the sometimes yells of the moms.

The moms had several important needs. One was hot water.

We needed to shower and the moms needed to do laundry. Without hot water, life at the bungalows would come to a standstill. Children got extremely dirty with all the outdoor activities in the summertime. We could wash off in the lake, but not our clothing. So the moms were always busy with laundry.

People did their laundry on certain days because there were only two washing machines in our colony. I think they might have had a schedule, but I cannot be sure. I do know that the laundry room often had loads of laundry waiting to be done. People would put their baskets in the laundry room, with their detergent on top of the clothes, and as one person finished her load, she would load up the next person’s laundry in the machine and start it.

The wet laundry had to be hung on lines. We did not have dryers at our colony. I am not even sure if clothes dryers were available when I was little. So the clotheslines were always in use. Clothespins were important. I still have some I saved from the Catskills!

This meant that rainy summers were a disaster for the moms. Children would sometimes have to wear the same dirty clothes for another day, if they could not be washed and dried. During rainy summers, we often had laundry hanging all over the bungalow during the week. And it really did not dry that well because it was all so damp. Sometimes my Mom would put the oven on to try to dry out the laundry.

We would visit our friends during rainy summers, and walk through layers of drying laundry! Clean clothes, clean linens, clean towels were important!

So imagine the aggravation it caused when the water heater went out. It did not happen very often. But once in a while the pilot light would go out and the heater would stop making hot water. Usually one of the men would go and light the heater. It usually was no problem. The heater lit easily.

Except for one time. The time my best friend, Vicki’s, Dad went to light the water heater. I cannot remember if someone tried to light it before him. I do not remember if he was the only dad up there, so he got to do it. I do know that usually my dad did all the chores since my grandparent’s own the colony. I do not know why it was Normie who had the job on this particular day. But he did.

Normie and his wife, Wini, in matching sweaters in the center. My grandfather stands behind my grandma.  Wini's parents are the women sitting on the left and the man standing on the right.  At the bungalows in the Catskills in the 1950s.

Normie and his wife, Wini, in matching sweaters in the center. My grandfather stands behind my grandma. Wini’s parents are the women sitting on the left and the man standing on the right. At the bungalows in the Catskills in the 1950s.

His in-laws and my grandparents were best friends. My Mom and his wife were best friends. (A friendship that continued till my Mom passed away.   And still continues with us.) And his daughter, Vicki, and I do not know life without each other. So it made some sense that Normie would take on this responsibility if my Dad or uncle was not there.

But we are not sure why it was Normie who went to light the water heater pilot.

I was just a little girl. But I remember what happened next.

Normie went to light the water heater, it was behind a bungalow.

A moment later there was a big “BOOM” explosion and a blast of fire shooting into the sky.

It was so scary!!! Everyone was momentarily stunned. Then there was chaotic movement.

I vaguely remember Normie walking out from behind the bungalow, dazed. Perhaps burning. Or maybe not! Maybe it was just people rushing towards him to get him away from the fire. There was a lot of screaming; a lot of running around. It is so confused in our memories. But there was good new, he was alive.

Then the Moms gathered the children and made us go inside. I am sure Vicki went with me. All I remember is that we were quickly moved out of the way.

Next thing came the fire engine and ambulance and the volunteer firemen and ambulance/EMT crew. It was amazing how quickly they got to the colony. The fire was soon extinguished. Normie was taken away. The children, me included, were terrified.

My friend Vicki remembers, “I remember going to see him in the hospital. He smelled like A & D ointment or some kind of burn cream he had on.

“I was so devastated that happened to him. I thought he would never come home!”

But Normie did come home. He had no eyebrows or eyelashes, but the fire did not reach his face. He had no chest hair; the fire singed that off. The main damage was to his legs. They were burned.

I remember before the explosion, he had large varicose veins on his legs, but after the fire, you would not really see them.

He often wore a bathing suit in the summer time. And we all got used to seeing his burned, scarred legs.

It was a summer event I cannot forget. To this day I hate when someone has to light a pilot light.   I know that it can explode because of my memories of the day the water heater blew up.

 

The Littlest Gambler: Learning about Horse Races in the Catskills

18 Feb

It started with a phone call. We were in the Catskills in our bungalow behind my grandparents’ home on West Shore Road. We no longer stayed in their bungalow colony, which was located down the road across from Kauneonga Lake. But my paternal grandparents and my aunt and uncle and cousins still stayed at the colony.

The phone call was either from my father’s sister, my Aunt Leona, or my Grandma Esther. But honestly, I think it was my Aunt, from the way my Dad was talking. His conversation went something like this.

“When did they show up? Did you know they were coming? Okay. Okay, as soon as I can.”

He hung up the phone and turned to my Mom. “My Aunt Hady and Uncle Lenny are at the bungalow colony. We have to go down.”

My Mom was quiet. “They are here? Now?”

Well obviously yes. They were here. But who exactly were they? And why was it a big surprise? I had never heard of an Aunt Hady and Uncle Lenny. But I would soon find out all about them.

Aunt Hady was my paternal grandfather’s sister.   It seems she is the reason that my parents met. Aunt Hady and Uncle Lenny lived across the street from my maternal grandparents in West New York, New Jersey. She often shopped in my grandparents’ bakery and she knew my Mom. She told my Dad that she had the perfect wife for him. And in this case, she was right. Aunt Hady and Uncle Lenny were responsible for my parent’s meeting.

But Aunt Hady and Uncle Lenny were sort of the family black sheep. It seems Uncle Lenny was a gambler. Not a good thing in my paternal grandmother’s eyes. She really did not want them around her grandchildren. I found that out.

You see, I loved Uncle Lenny from moment I met him. Just a few minutes later we went to the bungalow colony, and my siblings and I met our great aunt and uncle for the first time. For me it was joy!

I remember Uncle Lenny’s laughter. I remember sitting on his lap and over the next few weeks learning everything you need to know to bet on the horses at the Monticello Racetrack.

He had these special booklets printed on newsprint that listed all the horses running in each race. In the book were numbers and information about each horse and how much you would get back if you bet on whether they win, place or show (first, second and third place.)

I would sit with him and go through the book each day. He always had pencil in his hand to make marks in the booklets. We would choose the best horses for the night. There were a lot of issues to consider. Had the horse won before? How old was the horse? Had he won against the other horses in this race? Who was the driver (This was a harness racing track.)? All these statistics! I loved it.

We would sit outside at a wooden table on nice days. When it was raining we would sit at the kitchen table and go through the book for each race. Sometimes we forgot about the odds and chose a horse based on its name. Special names were important as well when selecting a winning horse! Each day he let me chose one horse for him to bet on.   If I won, he would give me a dollar.

I think it was the dollar that finally got to Grandma!

I thought it was absolutely wonderful.

My grandmother thought it was absolutely horrible.

Little did I know what was going on! I was only 9 or 10 years old. And I was have a great time. But behind the scenes a war was brewing.

One day I was happily going through the races’ guide with Uncle Lenny. The next day he would barely speak to me.   Soon they disappeared. They stopped coming to the colony.   Their visits diminished. No one would speak about them. I had no idea what happened. Only that they were gone for the summer

I did not know what was happening till years later. Uncle Lenny had passed away and Aunt Hady was living in Monticello. Dad was going to visit her. When I found out, I asked about that summer.

It seems my Grandma Esther was furious that Uncle Lenny was teaching me about gambling, about racing and the horses. It seems the horses and gambling destroyed Uncle Lenny, and there was no way Grandma was going to let him influence me. Enough was enough. Uncle Lenny and Aunt Hady were bad influences. And they would have to go. And go they did. Grandma Esther put her foot down.   And when Grandma got angry, you did what she said!

I never looked at a race schedule again. I did go to the races in Monticello one time with a friend after I turned 21. He spent a few minutes attempting to explain how the races worked to me. But I knew it all. Even 11 years later I still remembered everything that Uncle Lenny had taught me. To be honest, I can still see those listings.

My summer as a gambler ended sadly for me. I missed Uncle Lenny and my gambling lessons. As an adult, when I heard what had happened, I felt terrible. Aunt Hady and Uncle Lenny never had children. I believe Uncle Lenny really liked teaching me about the races and enjoyed our time together. I only ever felt love and joy from him.

I regret that my Grandma was so protective. Even though she demanded that my lessons end, I enjoyed being the littlest gambler for a summer. But I have never had the urge to gamble in my life, so perhaps my Grandma was right!