Summer makes me nostalgic. I guess there are fond memories attached to school days, but it’s the summer, when I was free to be me, that brings on the nostalgia.
I remember 30 years ago, commuting to Manhattan, pre-Gamara car and smartphones. There were the men in the multi-seaters facing each other, spreading out newspapers to play pinnacle.
There were the white-haired ladies going to the garment district. One of them, was able to do the New York Times crossword puzzle in the 45 minutes it took to travel from Inwood to Manhattan. She was fascinating. In those days, there was no internet cheat…
Long gone are the sun reflectors, baby oil and for the fancy, Bans de Soleil, that smelled like coconut and bananas, yeah like a pina colada. When we burned as lifeguards, we put Desitin on our noses. There was no Gatorade or Powerade, so the camp gave us potato chips all afternoon, so the saltiness would help us retain water and stave off heat exhaustion.
When we were younger, we wore matching Danskin short sets. Made my mother’s life easier.
My mother was the program director at Camp Avnet. Our family went with Hy and Sheila Shapiro and their kids, Alan, Mark and Shuey to the Avnet pool on Sundays. If we behaved, at about 3/4pm, we had the privilege of raiding the camp ice cream freezer for leftover ice cream and ices snacks from Friday afternoon. Do the camps still give a daily afternoon snack of ice cream and ices. They melted all over our faces and shirts, and parents knew we had fun.
In those days, there was an amusement park on the Long Beach boardwalk, where we went for rides and the arcade. With the tickets from skeet ball, we purchased punk sticks, they call them diffuser sticks now and put them in expensive smelling oils. In those days, you lit them with a match, and they would smell up the room for one minute.
When we outgrew day camp, we were fortunate to have the North Woodmere pool open up. Boy was it packed!!! I met a family there casually, who I assumed was Italian. Every day of every summer, this family was at the pool. There children grew up and became lifeguards at the pool. I grew up and was starting Stern College in the year that Rosh Hashanah came out on Labor Day. I asked Carol if she was closing up the pool on Labor Day. She replied, “I can’t, I have to go to Temple, it’s Rosh Hashanah.” And that is how I learned that she was not Italian, but Jewish. The Glucks and we remain friends, and on Shabbos and Yom Tov she, her husband Philip and their children and grandchild, come to enliven my table as guests.
Then we went off to sleep away camp. Tagola, Raleigh, Seneca, Morasha. We had no refrigerator per child. We had no air conditioner in the bunks. You inevitably hit your head on the bunk bed if you were below. The food was disgusting, but there were the snacks that we went up to camp with, and the canteen. Every Friday afternoon, we could go to the canteen to make Shabbos phone calls to our parents via “collect calls.” We prayed our parents were home and would permit the operator to connect us with our parents. Nowadays, parents were hiring caterers to bring $100+ packages to their children’s camps for Shabbos: chicken, poppers, cholent, kugel, there was fierce competition about who had the better catered meals. I hear the camps have put an abrupt halt to the practice. We learned how to “make do” in camp, how to adjust and cope and be part of a team. No one has to adjust these days, everyone needs to be accommodated.
Last week, my neighbor shared with me some fresh herring he received from the Netherlands, the kind we used to get from the Five Towns diamond dealers who went to Belgium every month. Fresh, with the heads chopped off and the tails in tact. It reminded me of my days in my bubby and zaidy’s home in Monticello. It was not part of a bungalow colony or, as we say now, a gated community. Every morning Zaidy went to shul and came back with fresh herring, pumpernickel and rye bread. He would take the herring some times and saute it in a frying pan with onions, add eggs and make a herring omelet. I kid you not. I would be davening in the patch of sun across the street, the only warm place in the mountains early morning, and I quickly finished up when I smelled the herring omelet, which I ate with the pumpernickel and butter. By that time, it was my second breakfast. I ate it together with the fresh percolator coffee…that was m’en olam habah/a taste of the world to come.
De hoyos park was down the block and it had a lake. Zaidy said that there was fish in the lake. So he would take a branch and tie a string, bend a nail to make a hook and had us spend all morning catching worms. After lunch, inevitably macaroni and ketchup, we went down to the lake to catch fish…except we never did…not ever…and we were there for decades…but we believed we could…so we tried.
Inevitably the end of the summer came. It was time to drain the water in the boiler for the winter. We gathered the ripe huckleberries that were in the back yard, and Zaidy would take a used gallon Kedem Concord Malaga bottle, put the berries in and pour alcohol over it, and close it. It would sit there all winter long infusing, so by the time he arrived next season, he would have his own schmutzvasser/moonshine to drink as an aperitif.
We experienced life disconnected from our electronics. Such a shame, it is so darn hard to extricate our kids from theirs.
My friends tell me I have to color my gray, and shoot botox into my forehead, get new glasses etc etc, but I am not a Barbie Doll, nor do I aspire to look like one. G-d created me in His image, and I am thrilled with the way His image is reflected in my gray hair and “wrinkles,” I earned those laugh lines, happily.
Glad we’re aging together, come join me in my rocking chair and we’ll share a glass of schmutzvasser and toast a l’chaim to life…