When January arrived, with its brisk cold weather embracing Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Newark in a deep cold hug, my mother’s thoughts and plans would turn to summer.
It was time for the postcards, time to remind the regular tenants that they had to book their spots for the coming Parksville season. Every January, Mom mailed a pile of postcards that she had had printed, extolling the virtues of the Bauman House. It didn’t have very many attributes, but she was talented in creative writing. It was the only advertising she did and it sufficed. I hardly ever remember a room being available when summer rolled around, and just about everyone stayed for the entire summer.
Things would quiet down once we had finished helping her address the postcards. And then, in late May, activity would resume in a frenzy. The Bauman House, a seasonal place, soon would be ready to open its doors.
My sister and I are the only survivors who actually can remember the annual treks to Parksville. Mom and Dad and Pop are long since gone, as is our beloved dog Phoebe. Certain bits and pieces escape even me. For instance, where did Phoebe find a place to lie in the cramped car, with our feet and seemingly tons of baggage taking up every inch of available space?
I thought about that the other day on a flight to Florida. I was sitting in the economy section on a United plane, the window seat was taken by a passenger with a large German shepherd — an ESA, emotional service animal — and next to her was another passenger and then there, on the aisle, wallowing in self-pity, was me. There were four of us, in a space hardly roomy enough for two.
Every year in mid June, Mom would send a note to our teachers to please excuse us. We had to leave school before semester’s end. We were the envy of our classmates! Mom truly had lots to do in those last two weeks of June, when home would transition to the Bauman House. She had to get the three old buildings of the kuch-alein — literally, that means cook alone — in the Sullivan County, New York, Borscht Belt, ready for the summer tenants who would soon arrive and then do their own cooking and cleaning.
There were jobs to do. Mom had mice to kill, a chore she performed with admiral bravery, matter of factly, with no squeamishness. She and Pop would remove the wooden window shutters, water and electricity had to be turned on, and there was the undoing of all the other numerous preparations that had been done the previous Labor Day. It was a constant cycle of closing and opening. Close on Labor Day and reopen two weeks after Memorial Day, then known as Decoration Day.
The trip up was, naturally, uncomfortable and often miserable. We all crowded into Dad’s old car. It was always an old Buick or Oldsmobile, with Dad’s typical bald tires often forcing us to stop while he jacked up the car and changed the flat. Even Phoebe knew the routine of perching her old fat round body on a patch of grass and waiting until Dad announced that his work was done and we could continue the trip.
The journey in those days was something much more major than it would be today. There was no wonderful Garden State Parkway leading us to the then non-existent New York State Thruway and on to Route 17. Express highways were unknown. We rode through town after town, stopping for uncountable lights, chugging up hills and down valleys into villages named Suffern and Wurtsboro and Monticello, or often an alternate route via Port Jervis on scenic Route 23, which became New York Route 42. Sometimes the car would overheat and require water. Sometimes a girl, usually me, would become carsick and also require water. There was always a huge container of water for just such events.
At the beginning of the trip we would all feel that we were on the way when we reached Wyoming Avenue in South Orange. We were out of Newark, and the landscape was already more picturesque as we wound through hilly West Orange. When we finally arrived in Liberty, more than three hours later, one of the grownups would always announce that there were only five miles to go and thus we would all excitedly look for the landmarks that we knew so well. We would pass the Youngs Gap Hotel on the left, before the Grand and Kleins Hillside. On the right we would see the castle, a storybook structure standing isolated on a barren high hilltop, seemingly unreachable; it was rumored to have been built by German spies. A collection of small hotels followed and then, finally, we would arrive in Parksville village, passing the tiny post office and turning right at Russell Fiddle’s Bar. We could see our destination and rejoice. We had arrived.
Dad, of course, would return to Newark on Sunday, and would then rejoin our family every Friday afternoon. This was the pattern at all the bungalow colonies and kuch-aleins. Sometime around late July, he would take his two-week vacation.
Arrival meant unloading the car and bundling up for the night ahead, which, in June, was always very cold in the unheated bedrooms. Quilts and flannel pajamas accompanied our shivers, which were tempered with the absolute joy of being there, where we all wanted to be. The next morning the adventures would begin, as if they had never ended.
Truthfully, the place, the facility itself, left enormous amounts to be desired. It never needed air conditioning, but heat often was called for and unavailable. Bathrooms were a total euphemism. We had toilets, but not enough of them. None were en suite, a phrase I never knew until adulthood. The room I shared with my sister was on the second floor of the Little House. There was but one tiny toilet for over a dozen of us. Showers were in little outdoor shower houses, a walk away, behind the Big House.
Pop worked hard to ensure there was sufficient hot water. He had a large fierce coal-eating stove that he engaged with very early every morning and kept watch on throughout the day. This was no simple job.
The buildings were clearly fire-traps and the fact that they never burned down is a miracle of biblical proportions. Women cooked. Candles were lit. Smokers were everywhere, including in bedrooms. Why shouldn’t such a place burn down? The wood construction was perfect kindling. In my nightmares I can see the entire place aflame. It never happened. All of us kids reached old age with no terrifying memories of fire haunting us. We were lucky indeed.
And our days and nights during those magical summers were also lucky. We were surrounded by forever friends, that kindred Jewish gang who grew up together, whose habits and family relationships were known to all of us and who would, eventually, disappear from our lives, in that strange way that summer friends often do. Not forever after all! It’s a common, enduring, strange phenomenon of summers. Love together, live together, and then disappear from each other’s lives.
Today, in cold January, I, an old woman, yearn for those summer adventures in Parksville with the friends of bygone years. I would like to share with them how much I miss our days, our nights, our love stories, and our sitting on the Adirondack chairs under the giant pine tree that my grandmother Peshka planted and that towered over us and protected us. It too has disappeared.
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!