The Bauman House — an elegy
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OPINION

The Bauman House — an elegy

The Bauman House was really a collection of three buildings that today exist only in my remembrance of things long gone. They are only recreated at quiet times, when my mind conjures them up, often triggered by some sight or sound.

I am not, alas, rebuilding them. I am only reimaging them. No, not reimagining. I am picturing them exactly as they were, with their Edwardian and Victorian flourishes, and some more modern adaptations, improvements made throughout the years. This I can do, although, as an admittedly old lady, I often cannot remember much more recent events. But to be clear, my reporting about those times and places definitely is not imagination. It is the image of what was so dear to me and to so many others who share my memories, reimaging structures that today would be over 150 years old — if only they were still with us.

Yes, I know that compared to sites in Jerusalem, 150 years is a mere tiny fragment, a hiccup in time, something new and modern, contemporary. But yet, when the iceboxes were removed and replaced with real electric refrigerators, there was an enormous demarcation between new and old. And when a place was found to hang that brilliant invention, the telephone, there was a singular rush felt by all of us. For sure we all knew about telephones, but in our primitive Parksville quarters, we didn’t think we would actually see one accessible to all (at least to all who had exact change!). Imagine, we didn’t need to mail postcards if something momentous happened, like Bobby being diagnosed with polio, or Rita and Jacky eloping. Of course we would never dream of using the telephone for anything less than urgent, would we? Thus, in our generations, 150 years is a long span.

And so it was for the three structures that comprised the Bauman House. And to the grammarians, of whom Mom surely was one of the best, I leave the lingering question of whether it should have been called the Bauman Houses. In actuality the place was named by Peshka and Pop, two literate Yiddishists with no training in English grammar at all.

The Jewish component of the Borscht Belt is huge. If the goyim had allowed our people to enter their resorts, our Catskills might never have evolved. At least this is the political history that I read! It’s debatable whether this is or is not true. Jews traditionally chose to live amongst other Jews, even when they had choices. This is indisputable — I think! Today’s liberalism makes this an intriguing discussion for another day. Dayenu.

A lot of the recreating comes from feverish attempts to figure out the provenance of the place from bits and pieces, and of course, from the old clock, all that was left by the wealthy family who had lived in the Big House, a clock that no doubt was left behind because it was broken. It was still beautiful, but it could no longer fulfill its purpose, which was, of course, to tell time.

I don’t need it to tell time. My phone does that much more reliably. Hence, for aesthetics alone, that clock adorns our New Jersey living room, sitting on the fireplace mantel and preening in her beauty. Sometimes I fantasize that she shares a ping or a bong, but it is usually due to Lucinda, the cleaning woman, carefully wiping away bits of dust.

The buildings themselves sat on a street-facing level plot of land, then known in Parksville as Fifth Avenue, although there were never streets named First, Second, Third, or Fourth Avenues, eked out from the actual seven acres of the property. Almost all of the undeveloped property consisted of rolling hills, never mountains, some adorned with giant rocks, which we kids would climb and name. There was the piano rock, shaped like a grand piano, and there was look-out-below, a rocky muddy slide. There was the third hill, with an enormous rock with sitting space for at least 12 of us. That’s where the wonderful Uncle Dave would take us to watch as he created bonfires in which we roasted such delicious potatoes that I’ve never since ever eaten a potato that tastes as good. And there were all the paths we formed in our constant comings and goings to get to our favorite places, most notably the first hill where softball was played, but only by the boys, as we girls cheered for our Bauman House team against opponents from neighboring kuch aleins and bungalow colonies.

In a recent visit we sadly observed that the weeds had taken over again, and most of our special places were no longer visible. Tall trees gracefully draped the piano rock. The lines of demarcation between the hills had disappeared. First base could not be distinguished from the bonfires on the third hill. Our history had yielded to time.

The developed land, where the buildings sat, probably measured less than an acre, so the buildings were not very far apart. When Mrs. Levine called for Louie, or Razel bellowed for her five boys, they didn’t have to yell very loud. Everyone heard, and knew that it was time for lunch at the kuch alein. Fragrant aromas enticed hungry kids to drop their paddles, or bats, or balls, or games, and run to their respective moms and kitchens to refuel.

And then we would start our afternoons.

Most of our own family’s nights were spent at the Little House, which was born a farmhouse although what was actually farmed remains a mystery to me. I never saw vast fields of vegetables, fruit trees, or dairy animals, in or around the town. A few locals lived among chickens, and that was all. The only chickens in the Little House were dead in the water of Mom’s soup. The Little House was, however, home, where we ate and slept.

There was also the Big House and the Apartments, which were hollowed out of what had once been a casino for entertaining the hotel’s guests. Without the designation of hotel, the casino had deteriorated into a huge storage area. Someone, but not Peshka, who was long since gone — either Mom, or one of the uncles, or Pop — had decided that three apartments, tiny apartments of one bedroom and one kitchen/all-purpose room, each with a private bath, could be a good investment. And so one summer the place became a construction site and the three apartments were forever more, or until everything was torn down, rented to guests who could afford the higher rental rate and the prestige of living in the penthouses.

We were pretty much regulars in the Little House. Since Mom, who had been designated as manager, had her choice of lodging, she would spend time during the winter figuring out which of the options she preferred. Usually, but not always, she chose the two adjoining rooms upstairs, near the tiny lavatory, in which some of my boy cousins spent an inexplicable amount of time. Our rooms had miserable cranky mattresses, which often woke us in the middle of the night to suggest we move a bit, or a lot, and old-fashioned metal beds, a small sink featuring an unlimited supply of only cold water, and shabbily constructed dressers that today would qualify as antiques. Our closets were hooks on the walls. For heat on those cold Parksville nights, we had space heaters, which never caused a fire. The building itself was a true firetrap, with an open staircase and many kitchens used by cooks of varying standards and levels of caution. Nonetheless we miraculously didn’t burn the place down although it was certainly quite possible, even probable, that we could have.

My mother’s only indulgence was that the windows were all carefully screened. She had no tolerance for flies or mosquitoes feasting on her sleeping children!

The Little House had eight bedrooms and shared kitchens, and even two toilets, but no living room. Those uncountable summers were the reason I fell in love with porches. There was a big wraparound porch, with benches on the perimeter, and ample green rocking chairs facing the street. Rocking was one of the favorite activities of guests and management, especially the elderly. I know that at my present ancient stage of life I would have been one of those sitting on that porch, typifying Pop’s own coined word, mrocketz. You didn’t have to do an activity if you merely wanted mrocketz. Of course, there were other activities. In addition to the domestic chores of cleaning your rooms or cooking for your family there usually was a mahjong game going on, or, for the men on Sundays, a gin rummy or poker match.

My father could usually be found reading one of his non-fiction library books, his books that taught him everything that his lack of a college education did not. I don’t remember the adults engaging in any sports at all. That was for the kids.

The most delicious days were the ones with heavy rain. We would all perch on the porch and remain dry while the thunder pounded and the foundation of the fragile building would quake. In a concession to the weather, we would push our rocking chairs away from the porch edge and await the arrival of the rainbow. Strangely, this personified cozy.

We all loved being part of the storm from our sanctuary. And the fragrance at storm’s end was akin to the finest perfume. Heavenly.

I became a mean ping pong player in Parksville, and even though the years have flown by, I can still hold my own with a paddle. We also played handball. But, unlike today, we never considered walking a physical activity. It was merely a way to get to where we wanted to be. We walked a lot up and down the hilly roads. How else could we get to the village or the falls? Today we count steps and measure our speed as if our very lives depend on it. In those days we walked because it was the way to reach a destination. When Mom went to the village to shop it was to buy chicken from Labi Kaplan and milk from Julius Fradin, not to get exercise. The only person I knew who walked because he loved to was Dad. He walked and walked and walked and reached a lifespan of almost 100 years.

Maybe walking was a good thing to do after all.

This elegy to the Bauman House is because the other day I was jarred by a familiar old sound, a sound that brought the memories pouring in, a sound that I hardly ever hear any more but that instantly put me squarely back in those days. It was simply the sound of a screen door closing. It didn’t glide as it would have today. It squealed and then ended its movement with a bang, not a whimper. I used to hear that sound countless times a day. Someone was always entering or leaving the Little House. There was only this one door all summer long. The real door, the door etched in solid heavy wood, was only ever used at season’s end, when Mom locked up until the following summer. During the summer, only the screen door was our entrance and exit. It had no lock and there was no need for one. We all lived there, together, mostly in peace.

And eventually when the buildings, including the Little House, were knocked down and replaced with a post office, there was no longer a need for a screen door. Or anything else.

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!

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