There are nights that I dream of Parksville.
Those dreams bring me comfort when I am stressed, even though it is honest and fair to say that most of my dreams are of memories, of people and places, almost all completely gone. A few stragglers still roam the earth, and a few places, like archeological digs, still leave a shallow footprint.
The Tanzville Hotel, scene of pivotal moments in my life, is reduced to its lake and a few pieces of scattered and shattered concrete. The Bauman House is now a United States post office, with the huge pine tree planted by my grandmother Peshka almost 100 years ago, which sheltered us when we were adolescents looking for romance or camaraderie, transformed into a parking lot. The overgrowth of new wild trees and plants covers the sites that were so important to us as kids, so much so that it is only the still-erect homes across the street, strangely known as Fifth Avenue, that anchors me and lets me know that, yes, this is the place. It really is. Or perhaps I should say was.
What is missing is us, all of us, and the places where we gathered. Whither we have gone is not the point. The point is that we are not there, where we thrived for so long. Only one of our haunts remains unchanged, where it will remain forever.
The village is skeletal. Its buildings are mainly intact but the shops and customers who breathed life into them are gone, if not forgotten. Mr. Fried’s hardware store, with its unique hardware store fragrance of paint and varnish and wood and wax, a smell not found in Lowe’s or Home Depot, is still the largest building, is deafening in its silence. Next door is Jerry ‘n’ Lil’s Luncheonette, where my sister worked for many summers. Its sign is a sign that it was there, once, but not now, and never again. The deserted building in the deserted town, its vibrant owners long dead, will not rise again. No more malteds at Jerry ‘n’ Lil’s. No more Jerry and no more Lil.
I spent one summer working at another village luncheonette, Frosty’s. Have I told you that Mr. Frost, the eponymous owner, made me re-use the paper plates on which the sandwiches were served? When I resisted he reassured me that the patrons would never know. Certainly they did not. But my taking part in this abuse still haunts me 65 years later.
There were kosher butchers, the one my mother went to and the one she didn’t. A surfeit of bars for the locals who came from deep into the countryside, never patronized by the Jews.
And a shul that is cared for by a guardian angel. Someone, I cannot imagine who, still keeps the paint immaculate and mows the lawn. No one, however, davens or enters on Shabbatot or chaggim. The Jews have gone away. Only this maintenance miracle still survives.
And the cemetery of course. Those Jews remain.
Parksville keeps trying for comebacks but there are no prospective customers and no shopkeepers. A return to its glory days would be a steep climb that doubtless will never happen.
But now, I ask you to follow me to a place in Parksville that I love deeply and that always will be there. It is permanent. It is not far from my father’s huckleberry patch, which I think of this August day, for this is the season when Dad, carrying pails for each of us, would lead us to his secret spot, where we could pick — and eat — huckleberries, succulent, tart, ripe and delicious, to our hearts’ content. We would come back to the Bauman House with faces painted purple and many more berries than Mom could swirl into snowy white sour cream. Alas, I am unable to find that patch now. It is covered by nature, unpassable, and Dad took its coordinates to his grave with him.
But near the missing patch is our breathtaking magnificent destination. I am afraid to share it because if too many know about it, it may become too crowded to enjoy. But, perhaps to make expiation for the tuna sandwiches on secondhand paper plates I will direct you to this paradise, this remarkable and perfect beauty spot.
You have probably been to Niagara, or the even more spectacular Iguazu in the jungle where Argentina meets Brazil, or the iconic Banyas in northern Israel. Like me, you are awed by the beauty of these waterfalls, even though tranquility does not reign at any of them. Like us, those hordes of tourists seeking a beauty spot gather to be impressed and dazzled by the pounding water crashing into the boulders beneath. It is not the visitors we come to see, but nonetheless, we must share our space with them.
Now I will lead you to the Parksville Falls, a place known to a relative few, where entry is free and the water races across its path in a pure, chilled, and incredibly clear continuous flow, its power determined by the winter snow, until a precipitous drop as the water cascades down to the giant rocks below. A long snowy winter empowers the falls to mighty strength and amazing beauty. A lesser winter produces a less energized but still powerful fall.
This is a secret spot, known to a few cognoscenti but not to masses of people, like those other touristy destinations.
Luckily for my friend Rosalie, her dog Poochy went over that falls the summer after a relatively mild snow season. My heart stopped as I witnessed Poochy go to the edge and then suddenly into the very falls itself, threatened by the danger below. It resumed beating when Poochy swam a few feet to the shore to rest from his ordeal. With sun beating down on him, he quickly recovered, and I am sure vowed never to go so near the edge again. I am certain that dogs do have memories, and that Poochy could make such a vow.
For me this was, and is, a place of solace.
And so it was that when I was a middle-aged woman and my Parksville was already only a wonderful memory, I was given a life-threatening diagnosis from a doctor. I knew of only one place to sit quietly and peacefully and watch the continuous life of the waterfalls, a life that never hesitates, never stops, with power and majesty and succor, at least for me.
So as soon as we could we drove to Parksville, passed the site of the Bauman House, and continued until the road forked. We took the left fork and went down the little hill and then up to the peak. Then we parked on the side of the road and went down the slippery slope to the top of the falls. There, among the babbling creek that would soon abruptly descend, I found my familiar seat on the moss-covered rock submerged in the water. I sat down and let the water embrace me and calm me and bring me peace and tranquility.
The water represents life eternal. It will always be there. It will never have an alarming diagnosis. It is the essence of hope.
We stayed for about an hour and then returned to New Jersey, refreshed, reinvigorated, and recharged. How gratifying it is to know that the falls continues its journey, and that it will continue forever.
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!