The brief description of the Catskill Mountain bungalow colony experience in my post last week prompted a euphoric wave of "ah, those were the days" responses.
Many of my social media contacts, ex-New Yorkers around the U.S., chimed in with their own remembrances of bungalow colony summers past, spent 100 or so miles north and west of New York City, in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
I've written a story or two set in the Catskills, in my recent collection, Home Front, and now, with the July 4th Holiday weekend here, I thought I'd share some of my favorite memories of those sweet, Catskills summers with you now.
Friends, do you remember:
• Hunting for little orange salamanders in the woods, after a gentle summer rain. We'd find them under ferns and fallen logs, the air cool and clean after the storm;
• Intra-bungalow colony softball games, where us kids saw -- sometimes for the very first time -- the athletic prowess of our dads;
• The post-prandial weekend walk down the country lane, with requisite burping, always with flashlights and on the left side of the road, for safety's sake;
• The crush of fressers at Kaplan's Deli in Monticello on weekend nights and the wall of college pennants in the front dining area;
• Rainy days playing Skee-Ball at the game room on the main drag in Monticello;
• Asking your dad if you could take a puff of his cigarette and then bragging to your friends how strong the smoke was;
• How cool the air got after dinner, once the sun dipped;
• Getting dressed in pajamas and going to the drive-in, and wondering years later what possessed your parents to take you and your four-year old brother to see such films as 12 Angry Men or, worse yet, Psycho;
• The slam of a screen door; the morning dew soaking your PF Flyers;
• Getting smashed in the face playing tetherball against a "big kid" and wondering what the fun part of the game could possibly be;
• The smell of wormy soil; the strangely sexual sounds from the pond, as bullfrogs groaned all night;
• Looking for coins under the wooden picnic tables after the grandparents' card game had broken up for the afternoon;
• Dripping neatsfoot oil on your baseball glove, putting a Clincher in it, wrapping it tightly with twine, and sleeping with it all night, tucked under your pillow;
• The Dugan's Bakery truck coming up the lane and selling cakes and cookies to the housewives;
• Wearing blue canvas "camp shoes";
• Reading your favorite comic books under the covers of your bed, by flashlight, late at night, and not caring a whit that you hadn't seen TV or listened to the radio for weeks;
• Whittling long sticks with your pocket knife (that your dad showed you how to use safely), for use in roasting hot dogs and marshmallows at the communal cookout;
• Listening to songs of the day (such as Hernando's Hideaway) over the colony-wide PA system, after which the proprietor would announce: "Hey kids, time to come to the concession, for a Mello Roll...");
• Running like wild Indians after dinner, playing ringalevio and catching fireflies;
• Picking blueberries, the sun burnishing the back of your neck; and filling kettle after kettle;
• Being tucked in, after an exhausting day of outdoor play, and kissed good night by your Nana;
• Dreading the weekend after Labor Day, when your parents would bicker while trying to fit all your possessions into the trunk and back seat of your car (with you and your siblings sitting atop the bedding) and falling asleep as you drove down the Quickway, only to awaken as you passed Yonkers Raceway, and disgustedly noting how hot and dirty the air was, after 10 weeks in kid heaven.
Of course, school would start the middle of September (unless our prayers worked, and there was a teachers' strike!). We'd meet our old friends and laugh about the times we had, get our new marble-covered notebooks and buckle down to our studies -- that is, until the following June.