Tag Archives: Kauneonga Lake

Lake Swimming is the Best!

1 Feb

I did not swim in a swimming pool till I was in college.  We always had the lake: Kauneonga Lake.  I learned to swim and spent many summer hours perfecting this skill in our lake.  As I spent many hours relaxing on our dock with my family and friends.

Kauneonga Lake

My family and friends in Kauneonga Lake.

I never swam laps, I just swam as fast as I could to get away from my brother and my boy cousins who tried to push me into the mushy gush…the yucky seaweeds that lined the bottom of the lake in the areas where we did not swim as much.

Sometimes we swam back and forth between our dock and the dock that the people in Cooper Drive used.  But that meant keeping our legs up.  The gush was thick between the two docks.  And it wasn’t just the gush, there were also fish and turtles that would snap and nibble at your toes if you got too close.

I could stay afloat for hours.  We did not have life jackets.  When we were little we had brightly colored tubes. But eventually I out grew those and just swam.  If we stayed within the area designated by the adults, then the water was not over our heads.  It was when we tried to swim too far that danger lurked.  But we knew how to tread water and make it back to the sandy area with no effort.

Lake water swimming was the best.  The water was cool and fresh.  There were very few boats on the water when I was a child, except for canoes and rowboats.  It was not until I was in my teens that speed boats in large numbers showed up on the lake.

The only negative about lake swimming?  We always knew when someone went to the bathroom in the lake!  If you hit a warm spot, you knew that was disgusting.  Warm spots were sure signs of accidental lake peeing.

There was a pool at the bungalow colony up the road from us, where my grandparents’ friends owned, Kauneonga Park.  But I never swam there.  I know my brother swam there when he worked at the colony’s camp during the summer. But I never went into the pool.  It seemed odd to get into a cement box filled with water and chlorine.  I did go and look at it.  But I never got in.

When I got to college, I had to go into a pool for the first time.  We had to pass a swimming test and show that we could swim four laps and jump into the pool.  I was not happy. But to get my college degree from Drew University, in New Jersey, that was a requirement.

Ugh.  I did not own water goggles.  In the lake, I just opened my eyes to look around.  In a pool, this is much more difficult.  Your eyes burn from the chlorine. Ouch.  So, during my test, I had to close my eyes.  Swimming laps with your eyes closed is very difficult.  I could not stay in my lane.  In any case, I never swam in a lane in my life.  Lake swimming is much more haphazard. Not being able to see made it worse.

I did go four laps, but they were not pretty.  The coach called me out several times for crossing into someone’s lane.  She told me to go buy a pair of goggles for my next pool experience.  But I never had one.  I passed the lap test.

I passed the jumping in test: arms across your chest, feet first into the pool.  “Why?” I asked.  In case you are ever in a cruise ship and need to abandon ship was the answer.  I never thought I would need that talent, but I will admit I have been on many a cruise and I have thought about learning to jump!

To this day, I do not love pool swimming.  I do not like the chlorine or the feel of concrete.  However, I have learned to enjoy the beauty of water aerobics in a pool and the ease of floating on noodles.

To be honest, I much rather go to the lake in the Catskills, and slowly walk in.  First testing the water with my toes to feel the temperature and finally sinking to my neck.  I do not do it very often, but when I do I feel great.  Lake swimming will always be the best!

 

Identities and Connections: Solving Some Photo Mysteries

7 Jan

For my Mother’s yahrzeit, I decided to tackle the photo albums again.  But this time, I went to a album of photos I put together of loose photos that I found after she passed away. They were not in an album, just in a large manila envelope. This time I had some success!

There were two groups of photos labeled Summer 1944 and Summer 1946.  I knew the photos had to be taken in Kauneonga Lake, Sullivan County, New York, as that is where my grandparents had a small bungalow colony when I was a growing up.  But these photos are from before the area was built up.

So I have to back track a bit.  You know when you are a child, you really do not think about your grandparents and parents as people who have friends.  They are your parents and grandparents, and they take care of you.  I never analyze who was their friends or why.  Or even how long they had been friends.  It just was.  And that leads to my discovery.

Among the photos from 1944 was one small one labeled Mr. Fink, in my mother’s handwriting.  This was a good clue.  Up in the Catskills was another bungalow colony, much bigger, called Fink’s Kauneonga Park Bungalows, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Fink.  I knew they were good friends of my grandparents. But I guess I never realized they knew each other in 1944, when my grandmother was just 38 years old and grandfather was 44.  This means they were long-term good friends.  It sort of shocked me.

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My Mom on the left, Carolyn next to her.

However, there were many other photos in the piles.  My Mom was in many of them, as was my grandparents and several other young adults, including a girl named Carolyn and boy named, Bob. Carolyn and my Mom were together in many photos. Who was she? I did not know that name. But obviously they were good friends. They were even holding hands in one photo.

Luckily, I am Facebook friends with one granddaughter of the Finks, and I have contact with another granddaughter.  I took some photos of the photos and sent them through messenger to the granddaughters.

PAY DIRT:  Carolyn and Bob were brother and sister and the younger children of Mr. and Mrs. Fink.  Carolyn and my Mom were the same age: obviously friends.  To be able to identify two unknowns made me so happy!!!

But there was more.  Because once I knew who they were and how long they knew each other, other connections made sense.  Mr. and Mrs. Fink!  My grandmother would walk to visit her at least once a week.  My sister or I often went along.  When I was older and needed a job, Mrs. Fink got me a job as a mothers’ helper at her bungalow colony.  My brother worked at their day camp.  And my sister, also worked there answering the telephone! Then she became a mothers’ helper.
The concession stand, that was close to our house, was a place where I often went to get a few items for my Mom.  Whenever we went in, my Mom would have a long conversation with the woman working there.  I found out that was Mrs. Fink’s other daughter, the mother of my Facebook friends.  Wow.  That made sense.  I remember one time Mom was sick and she sent me over there to get something without money.  I was so embarrassed. But they were fine. They said Mom could take care of it later.

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My sister and I think Blacky was Mrs. Fink’s dog.  My grandparents never had one.

But the biggest mystery solved was Carolyn.  Why did I not know of this girl, who was my Mom’s friend.   I asked, Did she marry?  What was her name?  Maybe I knew her by her married name.  And I found out she had medical issues and lived away from home in Arizona!  BINGO.  Whenever my Mom walked over to see Mrs. Fink, there was always a conversation about someone who lived far away. That must have been her!

For me the photos from my mother and father are mysteries that need to be solved.   Whenever a mystery is solved I am elated.  I am thankful I have a connection with Mr. and Mrs. Fink’s granddaughters and for their help solving the puzzle.

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.  

Are There The Ghosts At Holiday Celebrations?

21 Sep

Another holiday.  A festive meal. Visits with family and close friends. Celebrating. But as I entered the room for dinner, for a moment I saw my Dad the last time he celebrated a holiday at my friend’s home. And next to him was their mother.  Both passed away years ago. But I saw them smiling and talking. 

This is not the first time I saw a vision of a loved one who has passed at a holiday table or at a special event. I am sure some think it is just my imagination or a vivid memory.  Perhaps it is both. 

But I am not so sure. 

How can a vivid memory describe the moment at my daughter’s wedding when, for a brief moment, I saw my parents standing to the side smiling. Was it something I wanted to see so badly, that my brain produced the image for me? Perhaps. 

But what about those times when I can still hear my mother’s voice as I am preparing a holiday meal. I do not use recipes, I just listen to that inner voice telling me what to do next. But that voice is always my Mom or one of my Grandma’s.  So are they there?

Or when I went to purchase holiday challah. At first I thought I would just get one round raisen challah.  We really do not need two challah. But then there was My grandfather’s image pointing to the plain challah as well. Yes I purchased both. Grandpa was a baker, so I had to follow his advice. 

At our Catskills home I have the most vivid images.  One day this summer, as my sister stood at the kitchen sink, I saw two images next to her.  Both my Mom and Grandma stood there and each was superimposed on the kitchen that existed in their time.  It was just an instant, but for a moment I was in a time warp. My sister, my Mom and my Grandma all standing at the sink speaking to me. (They were probably all giving me instructions!)

We have spent over fifty years in the house in Kauneonga Lake, and the memories are so strong there.  We spent many Rosh Hashannah holidays eating a festive meal and preparing for the new year. But there are also so many summer memories infused in the being of the house.  It is not difficult to imagine a loved one walking in the rooms along side me. 

There are ghosts of people I knew in my synagogue as well. Since I go regularly, I am used to people sitting in certain seats. They are not assigned. But people seem to find a place that is comfortable and so sit there every week. I have my seat and from my vantage point I can close my eyes and envision the room filled with those who passed. 

Recently a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor passed.  When I turn quickly I still see him smiling as he sits in his seat, his walker close by. Other survivors who passed fill the seats as well. When I see their children and grandchildren still coming to synagogue, I feel their spirit of joy in the congregation. 

But the most poignant for me happened about two months ago. I noticed a young man come in to shul with his wife and newborn son. They walked directly to the seat where his grandfather always sat. He sat in his grandfather’s seat holding his son, whose name was a memory for his grandfather. I really thought I could see Sol smiling at his grandson and great grandson filling his seat. It is one of my new favorite memories.  

I believe when someone dies they do not totally disappear.  A bit of them, an essence, stays behind. A smell, a sound, a place can bring their memory and their spirit/presence  back to us. I hope I always see and sense the ghosts of the ones I love at my holiday and other celebrations. 

Grandma’s Ceramic Strawberries Were Meant To Be Mine

13 Sep


My Grandma had two ceramic strawberry shaped jam jars that she never kept jam in.  They were filled with thumb tacks, safety pins, buttons and other little items that she needed to keep corralled in a safe place. She kept the jam jars on her kitchen window sill along side her plants. 

I remember them always being in her home. When she moved out of her West New York, New Jersey,  apartment up to her home in Kauneonga Lake in the Catskills, she took the two strawberries with her.  And they once again graced her window sill. Always there.  A beacon in the kitchen. 

I don’t know why I loved them, but I did. They were a shine of color that brightened up the kitchen. Perhaps I loved them because the red strawberries look like two hearts sending a hug of love. 

When my grandmother died, my grandfather left the house basically how Grandma had it. The knick knacks stayed where they were placed by her.  So even though Grandpa lived about eight years longer, the Catskill’s house still felt like Grandma.  And the strawberries stayed in their place in the kitchen. 

The house in the Catskills went to my parents. Mom and Dad remodeled the kitchen and packed up many of my grandmother’s  tchotchkes and placed the boxes in the garage. 

Eventually my Mom had us go through the boxes. She wanted us to take what we wanted before she donated the rest to charity. So my sister, my cousin and I searched the boxes. I focused on finding the two strawberries. I wanted them. I did not know it, but my cousin wanted them as well. 

“I remember seeing them at Grandma’s!” My cousin said…whined…pled. She knew when I wanted something I was one minded, so she made her case to have them as well. 

I was the older cousin, so I should have them was my first thought.  But there were two. And she really wanted one. So we did the right thing.  We each took one. We shared.  I always say, I gave one up for her because I love her. 

My strawberry returned with me to Kansas, where I put it on my kitchen window sill. It looked lonely without its mate. No matter, I knew my cousin deserved one as well. 

But I think Grandma was looking out for me. I think she knew that I really wanted to have two. I am sentimental. Having one was great, but two would be better. I should have known fate would intervene. 

About a year after I brought the strawberry jam jar home to Kansas, I went out to lunch with a work friend on a summer day. I do not remember the exact day, but Grandma’s birthday was in July. 

  We parked near a small antique/trinket store.  After lunch, since we still had time, we decided to browse in the shop. We had never been there before and honestly, I never went there again. But it ended up being a magical place! 

I still remember the moment I saw it: a small ceramic strawberry jam jar.  It seemed to be exactly like my Grandma’s strawberry. EXACTLY!  I knew I had to buy it.  

The owner wrapped it up in brown paper.  I carefully carried it to my friend’s car. I was so excited. She tried to calm me down a bit by telling me it might not be the same.  But in my heart I knew it was a match. 

Later that day, when I  put it next to my jam jar, I was not disappointed. It was a perfect match.  To this day I cannot tell which one I purchase and which one was Grandma’s!  

Do I believe Grandma had a hand in my finding it?  Is it even possible? I am not sure, but sometimes events happen that have no explanation. I think the jam jar falls into this category.  

As for my cousin, the strawberry jam jar she so wanted, she no longer has in her possession.  She told me that she moved so many times since Grandma died about 36 years ago. At some point the strawberry was lost.  I only moved twice across the country, always taking my strawberries with me. 

But it really does not matter whether she kept hers, for I have the two strawberry jam jars that were meant to be mine. 

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.

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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.

Memories of the Multi-Colored, Rainbow Fence

19 Jan

My son and I recently completed a project in my home. We stripped wallpaper off the walls of a bathroom and covered the vacant walls with a lovely sea foam-colored paint. I loved working on this project with my son over his winter break!

While we were painting, I kept flashing back to my Grandpa Nat, for whom my son is named. Grandpa would have loved that my son was taking on a painting project and successfully meeting my expectations.   It was my grandfather who taught me the skill of scrapping and painting and keeping a home in shape.

As the owner of a small Catskill’s bungalow colony in Kauneonga Lake, Grandpa did much of the maintenance on his own, with help from my Dad and us, his grandchildren.   The difficult plumbing and electrical work was done by professionals, the painting was a chore we could all do. And we did.

“IF you don’t Work, you don’t Eat,” Grandpa would intone. Of course we always ate, but he wanted us to know that it was important to have a good work ethic. In the real world, not working meant no money.

In the spring, that work ethic was obvious. We would go up to the Catskills before the season began for my Dad to help Grandpa get the bungalows ready. My brother and I were scrappers and painters. They would put us along the bottom of the bungalows that needed to be painted, where we scrapped off the peeling paint.

When that chore was completed to Grandpa’s satisfaction, my brother and I would be allowed to paint the bottom.   I actually loved it! It was my favorite chore, even though all the buildings were painted white. (I think my sister was too young to be part of the paint squard!)

Now I have to tell you that my Grandpa was colorblind. ALL colors looked the same for him. Whereas, my Grandma loved colors. So in a way what happened one spring is partly my grandmother’s fault.

Every other spring, my grandfather would paint the wooden fence that surrounded the colony. Our colony was located across from the lake along the side of West Shore Road.   During the week, the road was quiet with virtually no cars. But on the weekend, the road was zipping with cars.   The fence kept all the children safe.

I do not know why, but one spring Grandpa painted the fence when we were not there.   And instead of getting new paint cans, he decided to use all the old paint that was in storage: exterior and interior paint. Why waste it? He did not mix the cans together. That might have been better, as everything would have been grey.   However, that is not what he did!

Instead as he finished one can of paint, he opened another and continued painting where he left off, over and over again. It was rainbow like in its many colors, but not in any rainbow order. When we drove up to the Catskills and arrived at the colony, we were amazed to see, what I thought was lovely, a multi-colored fence surrounding the property. I cannot remember all the colors that covered the wood. But it was noticeable. My parents were stunned. And then they laughed.

My grandfather had no idea what the fuss was about. When they told him, he just roared in laughter. 

I think it stayed that way for two years, even though some of the tenants complained. Although my mother and grandmother were not fans of the multicolored fence, I was. It made me happy. We were the only bungalow colony with such a joyful fence. When he repainted it, he used just one color, grey. 

So as my son painted the walls in my bathroom, a joyful sea foam blue, I continually flashed back to the joyful multicolored, rainbow fence that surrounded our bungalows.