Tag Archives: summer activities

The Sirens of Summer

4 Jul

Although we would go up to the Catskills for Memorial Day Weekend to get our bungalow ready for the summer, we would not begin our true summer stay until Fourth of July weekend. On the east coast, school usually did not finish until the end of June, making the beginning of July the true start of summer.

What a great time it was to be finally up in the Catskills. The weather in the City was already getting too warm, especially without air conditioning. All we could think about were the cool mornings and evenings of the mountains; the endless days of outdoor fun, swimming, boating, and just having fun with friends and cousins.

But there was one sound of summer that we all dreaded. The sirens of summer were a portent of something bad happening.   Whenever we heard the sirens go off from Kauneonga Lake, and saw the cars and pick up trucks carrying the volunteer firemen rush to the station, we knew something horrible had happened.   It was not usually a fire. It was usually a boating accident or a drowning.

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My nephew waterskiing in a boat driven by cousins. Kauneonga Lake 2013.

I remember the look on my mother’s face whenever the sirens went off. It was a mask of anguish. When I became old enough to go out on a boat with friends, she always told me to wear my life jacket; to be careful; and not to fool around.

Every teen who drove a boat was supposed to take lessons and pass a driving test. The office was near the fire station.   I remember going with friends as they went for the test.   But I also know that many times, knowing the rules and following the rules were not the same.

For instance, several of us were canoeing one day, when friends came by in their motor boat. They thought it was great fun to swamp us and make our canoe overturn and fill with water. Luckily we were not too far from the edge of the lake where we could touch bottom. I still remember lifting the canoe over our heads and walking it out of the lake.

But honestly, the young adults I hung out with were usually very careful when out on the lake. We never had an accident or caused one. We might have done a few foolish things in our time, but we also knew that safety was important on the lake.  They never cut off a person who was water skiing or got too close to another boat, unless we were going very slowly and met to meet up.  Yes, we went fast sometimes, but in our day during the week, there were not that many boats on the lake.

Unfortunately, not everyone follows the rules.   And each summer, the sirens would go off.   We knew that someone was in trouble. Eventually we would hear about a drowning or near drowning.  We were thankful for the volunteers who took the time and effort to try a water rescue.  Many of them were friends of my grandfather and father.  So we often heard the entire story of what stupid fooling around caused the tragedy.

With the Fourth of July here, I wish everyone a safe summer. Enjoy your time on the water. Boating is much fun.  I still love the thrill of riding around the lake in a boat.  I love the thrill of hitting the waves produced by other boats.  But I always have a life jacket near by. I know that my cousins will take no unsafe risks.

I pray that this year, no one has to hear the sirens of summer.

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I Want My Sandy Back: Our Short Duration of Dog Ownership in 1961

6 Mar

When I was about six years old my father got us a dog. Sandy, a beautiful Cocker Spaniel, was so wonderful   We were in the Catskills for the summer when Dad brought the dog to the bungalow. My brother and I were ecstatic.

My sister was just a toddler, so I am not sure how she felt, but she seemed to love the dog as well. Her favorite game was to ride Sandy like a horse. Since she was so little, and Sandy so active, they both had a good time.   My sister seems to remember that the horse riding was my idea. That could have been, I loved horses!

We got to name him, because the dog’s given name was Harry, which was my grandfather’s name. So the first thing we did was have a family conference to name the dog. His name matched his color, a beautiful golden brown.

We often let Sandy run free on the fenced in front lawn of the bungalow colony, right outside our front door. My other grandfather would stand and laugh at the dog running crazy circles. He would scratch his head and say in Yiddish, “Look at that meshuggahan hundt (crazy dog)!”

The summer was wonderful. It was easy to take Sandy on walks, and he had space to run around in the bungalow colony. But then Labor Day came and it was time to return to North Bergen.

We lived in the second floor apartment of a three-story home on Third Avenue.   Sandy was not as happy there as he had been in the Catskills, even though my brother, sister and I showered love on our dog. His adventures became mainly indoor adventuress; not great for an outdoor dog.

In fact, my brother remembers that my parents would put Sandy in the bathroom at night, so he would not roam the apartment. One Sunday morning, my brother got up early and went to the bathroom. He found my young sister wrapping the dog in all the toilet paper!

“What a mess to clean up as he ran around the apartment trailing toilet paper!” My brother remembered.

Actually, overall, having a dog in our apartment was not going very well.

My parents and my brother were usually the ones to walk him. It was a hassle to get him down the stairs and out to the street several times a day. My brother and I were in school. And my Mom was home with my sister, who was still sleeping in a crib. I think my Mom was getting very tired of dog ownership.

Then one day I offered to take Sandy for a walk. I bundled up and took him downstairs. As we were walking, he pulled me into the street. Someone helped me get Sandy back on the sidewalk. I was not going to tell my MOM. But one of the neighbors did. (In those days, every neighbor was like another parent!)

That was the final straw for my Mom. Sandy had to go. “It was not safe to have a dog in the city. It was not fair to Sandy to be locked up in an apartment,” was what my parents told us.

My brother tried to talk them out of giving Sandy away. He promised to walk him every day, if they let us keep our dog. But it did not help.

Soon after that, my Dad found someone who had plenty of land to take Sandy. I still remember the day he came to take our pet. I hid Sandy under my sister’s crib and put the sides down. I put pillows all around to hide him. But it did not work. Sandy followed me out and left our lives forever.

I remember crying for days, “I Want MY Sandy back! I want my Sandy BACK!” I am sure my crying and whining drove my parents crazy. But they were patient and explained over and over how this was better for the dog.

Nothing worked. I never saw Sandy again. However, my parents did report back at least once, that he was loving his life on a farm.

To this day, I cannot watch Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp” without thinking of my Sandy. This was my daughter’s favorite movie when she was a child. I watched it almost every day. Each time I watched I would think of my cocker spaniel.

I have never owned a dog after Sandy. My husband and I always had cats. I think part of the reason for me, was that I never wanted a dog to pull someone in the street and be sent away. Cats stay indoors and care for themselves in many ways.

It was just about five months that Sandy was in our family. He arrived in the early summer while we were in the Catskills and was gone by Hanukkah in North Bergen.

Many times I wished I lived in the Catskills throughout the year so that we could have kept Sandy.

My Doll Survived Because of the Catskills Attic

19 Dec
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In the Catskills Betsy, my doll, with my cousin who has finally made friends with her.

I only have one toy left from my childhood. It is not that I purposely saved it because I loved it the best. I actually had other toys that I loved more. But this toy survived because of her journey to the Catskills.

When my sister was born, I was gifted a large standing doll. The doll is over two and half feet tall. I did love her. And I believe I named her Betty or Betsy or perhaps Becky, which was what my Dad called my Mom, even though that was not her name. I kept her in my bedroom and I loved her!

I remember when the doll arrived. She had a pink dress, light brown hair, pink shoes and socks. My Grandma Esther knitted her another beautiful pink dress. I enjoyed playing with her, but there was a problem. She was so big , I really could not cuddle with her. She was best for tea parties, playing school and perhaps discussing an issue. She seemed so real. And that was her biggest problem.

Betsy was so real looking. During the day she was not a problem, but if you woke up in the middle of the night, she would be standing there staring at you with her big eyes open! My sister and I were used to her, but one of my cousins lived in fear of her. She was afraid to sleep when the doll was in the room.

She really was too big for the apartment we lived in during the winters in New Jersey. So Betsy the doll moved up to our Catskill’s bungalow in Kauneonga Lake to be used only in the summer time. In the Catskills we had much more room to play. And she loved being up there.

Eventually I outgrew playing with the doll. But my sister grew to love her. She says, “I loved to play with her and thought of her as mine, since you had outgrown her.”

In time, Betsy moved from our bungalow to my maternal grandparent’s house, until one summer when she was gone. That is what happened with toys. They just disappeared when you outgrew them. I assumed she was given away.

To be honest I don’t think I even looked for her. There is so much to do in the summer time. And Betsy was no longer an important part of my life. She lived in my memories.

But my sister still had a relationship with Betsy. The doll was moved to the attic bedrooms of my grandparent’s Catskills winter home. My sister would play with her and see her when she went to visit in the winters. I was four years older, so while I was away at college, my sister was still spending time in the Catskills in the fall and winter. “Remember,” she told me, ”we did not go into the attic that much in the summer. ” Of course not…it was HOT up therein the summer, but wonderful in the winter.

After my sister went away to college, the doll was put into a closet and eventually forgotten. At some point my grandparents moved her from a closet to one of the hidden nooks.

But Betsy was not totally forgotten. We often talked about my big doll and how scary she was at night, or when you weren’t expecting to see her. We would remember the people who came in and were frightened the first time they saw her thinking she was a real toddler.

Years later, when I was in my early 30s, after both my grandparents had passed away,  my parents inherited the house in the Catskills. They started the process of cleaning it out. We all helped. I was assigned the two bedrooms in the attic, cleaning out the nooks that were hidden in the crawlspace walls of the bedrooms.

Usually the doors into these spaces were covered by the beds. But we moved the beds away and went in to clean them out.   I was surprised to find one perfectly clean except there, lying on the floor, was Betsy! She was a little ragged. Her clothes were gone. Her hair was a little messy. But she had survived, alone in that hidden space for years!

I was excited. I now had a toddler daughter, and I thought she would love Betsy.

I brought the doll downstairs. My mom, sister and I washed and cleaned her up.   She needed clothing!   My daughter wanted to give her some of her clothes, but we decided to buy her something just for her.

The women (Mom, my sister, my daughter and I) went to the Apollo Mall in Monticello and we purchased a 2 Toddler dress. I also found her a beautiful pink straw hat. She looked refreshed and wonderful.  Eventually the granddaughters gave her some lovely bracelets as well!

It took us a while to decide where she would stay. No one wanted her in a bedroom. TOO scary. My parents decided to put her in the stone room, where new generation of girls began to play with her…the granddaughters. But she would not disturb anyone’s sleep.

To this day, 25 years later, Betsy still stands in the stone room by the back door, which is the door that welcomes our guests. She has a purse; she has the same dress; she does not always wear her hat. She guards the door! Some people are startled when they first walk in. But she does not look so real anymore.

However, my cousin, who was afraid of her as a child, still had a little fright when she entered the stone room and saw her for the first time as an adult. She had to share her scary Betsy stories. I think after the sharing, she was able to become friends with Betsy.

My parents have both passed away. My siblings and I own the Catskills house. Betsy stands guard. She is a wonderful reminder of my childhood.

 
It seems Betsy is a Patty Play Pal doll. Thanks to Maxene for the information. 

Saving the Monarch Butterflies

24 Aug

Excitement rules our home.   Our milkweed plantings were successful. We have monarch butterfly caterpillars munching on the leaves. And thousands of eggs deposited among our milkweeds. We are doing our part to save the Monarch butterflies.

We live in the path of the great Monarch migration. Each year millions of butterflies come through Kansas. When we see them, we celebrate. Our children, when they were young, would have such joy pointing to them and running to see the butterflies on our flowers.

Our concern started because we noticed fewer and fewer butterflies making their way through our property.   And then we watched a documentary on NOVA, “Journey of the Butterflies,” about the migration of the butterflies and how their natural habitat is diminishing. What could we do?

The docent at the Butterfly Farm in St. Maarten showing us a giant milkweed and a Monarch butterfly caterpillar. This got us started!

The docent at the Butterfly Farm in St. Maarten showing us a giant milkweed and a Monarch butterfly caterpillar. This got us started!

Then we went to a butterfly farm and conservation center on St. Maarten in the Caribbean. The tour guide/docent was very clear in his message. “PLANT Milkweed. This could save the butterflies.”

That spring when we returned home, we had a mission. Years ago we had milkweed growing. And we pulled it all out. Now we knew that was a wrong decision. We needed milkweed.

It was too late to start from seed. But we learned that the University of Kansas was selling milkweed in Lawrence. So I messaged my nephew, who was in school there, to please buy us some milkweed plants.

He arrived the next day with five plants, one of each variety being sold at the event to save the butterflies.

Planting the milkweed we got from the University of Kansas sale in 2014.

Planting the milkweed we got from the University of Kansas sale in 2014.

My husband cheerfully and carefully planted them.   But we made one error. We forgot to tell the gardener who weeded our gardens for us. A few days later we came home, and I said, “Oh, Donny must have been here.” My husband went running to the front. And then he started yelling, “He pulled out my milkweed. It is all gone!!!”

But it wasn’t all gone. There was still one plant. But it was not enough. We never had any caterpillars last year.

This year was different. My husband ordered 2,500 seeds on line. Yes, I said 2,500 milkweed seeds of five different varieties. I agree, a little over kill. I bought him seedling planters with 100 individual biodegradable cups. He planted over 200 seeds. And he waited. Soon they were sprouting.

100s of milkweed seedlings watched over by our kitten.

100s of milkweed seedlings watched over by our kitten.

First we kept them on our kitchen table in the sunlight. But our kitten was a bit too interested in them. So we moved them to a bright spot where the kitten could not get to them.

Over 100 seedlings survived. My husband pulled some out so that there was only one plant in each cup.   And eventually he had 50 good plants to put into the ground. It was not easy to keep them alive. The animals loved to eat them, especially the bunnies. And the squirrels kept digging them up. He put the plants in our flower boxes with wire screens above them.   Slowly he planted the surviving milkweed in the ground. He put up wire screens around his milkweed plantsto keep them safe.

He also gave seeds away to our neighbors so they also could plant milkweed. His aim was sincere. Everyone should plant milkweed!

Slowly the plants grew all summer. They did not flower, something was eating the flowers. And now the mature plants started to look badly. Something was eating his milkweed.

He went out to investigate. And came back with a big smile on his face.

Two of the four Monarch butterfly caterpillars eating our milkweed. Seen the wire screening we used to protect them in the background.

Two of the four Monarch butterfly caterpillars eating our milkweed. Seen the wire screening we used to protect them in the background.

Four caterpillars were eating the largest of our milkweed. We had done it! We had done a wonderful good deed! We had provided a home for the Monarch butterflies. Excitement and joy!

I expect next year we will have many more surviving milkweed plants and many more caterpillars because now we are experienced in the ways of saving the Monarch butterfly!

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/journey-butterflies

http://www.journeynorth.org/

My Grandma Always Won At Solitaire

11 Aug

Grandma Thelma was not a good loser. In fact, I would have to say that she hated to lose, especially at cards. It did not matter who she played with, a solitary game or against one of her grandchildren. Losing was not an option for grandma.

She loved to play solitaire. And her endless days in the Catskills during the winter months gave her plenty of time to play. But she played even in the summer when there were many people up for the summer.

Grandma would eagerly deal out her seven piles of cards and start a game. But if it wasn’t going well, she might add an eighth pile. Or perhaps count out her three cards in a slightly different manner. Or maybe check the cards that were turned over to see where the card was that she needed.  She would then work to get that card uncovered.

We would protest! “Grandma, That is cheating!”  She always denied it. To her it was winning. Why play a game by yourself if you were going to lose?  She said she was not cheating, she was just changing the rules.  But rules are meant to be followed.  Not to Grandma, if she had followed the rules, she once told me, she would not be here. She would have died in the Shoah.  So you make the rules so that you win. To some degree I could not argue with that.

However, there were times she would never make up her own rules. During the summertime daily canasta games with three longtime friends (including my other grandma), she played honestly.  Doing anything else would have been a disaster. And when you play with a partner, it is much more difficult to make your own rules, since you both have to play as a team.  But to be honest team work was not my Grandma’s strong point.

She also never cheated during the weekly gin rummy game that the women of the colony played when the husbands were in the City. It was for money! A penny or two per point depending on the win. When she played for money, she always followed the official rules.

But with her grandchildren, the three of us who spent the summers in the Catskills, she would often follow her own rules.   Sometimes is was as simple as taking a peek at our hands.  I admit we were a little lax on holding our cards close to our chest.  But when playing gin rummy with Grandma, we learned quickly to keep our cards hidden. She would warn us once if we held our cards where she could see them. But if we made that mistake again, forget about it, she looked.

On rainy days, when we were stuck inside for the entire day, my Mom would often ‘kick’ us out of the bungalow and send us across the lawn to our Grandparent’s house.  They lived there throughout the year and had a television.  But that was not our true reason for going.  With our Grandparents we played cards or baked or just visited.  The card games, however, were epic battles.  They could go on for hours as we played gin rummy for points.  Or perhaps a canasta game, the three grandchildren and Grandma.  Or perhaps a canasta game for two.  Hours of entertainment,  And my Mom would get a break.

My brother believes (and it is true) that she would rearrange the deck, stacking it in her favor, if you had to leave the room for a minute. I remember often calling for someone to watch Grandma while I ran to the bathroom.I would bring my cards with me,  I knew that if I left my hand unattended, I would not win.  Sometimes, if my brother or sister were around,  I just asked one of them to play out the hand.

You might think that she not a good role model by all this ‘cheating.’  But she really was so obvious about it, and never sneaky, that I am a little adverse to calling it cheating.  We knew exactly what was happening.  We knew she just did not like to lose, but at the same time she knew that she was not really winning.

It became a running joke.  I remember once telling a friend that my Grandma always won at cards.  She was amazed. “How did she do that?” My friend asked.  “She must have been really lucky.”

“Well, luck had nothing to do with it,” I admitted.  “She created her own rules.  And in her rulebook, my Grandma always won.”

Watermelon Helps Make Summers Wonderful

28 Jul

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I love watermelon.

In the summer, on a hot day, it is the MOST refreshing of all fruits.

I love eating it cut up in chunks. I love eating it in wedges.

I love it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I eat watermelon for snacks.

Buying me a watermelon is buying me joy.

This week, with the temperatures and heat index going above 100, I knew I had to get one.   So I went to Costco, walked to the giant bins of bright green watermelons and searched for the best. I picked a few up and thumped. And finally I heard the noise I liked the best. I had found my perfect watermelon. Total Joy!

When I was little my brother and sister taunted me by singing, “Ellen, Ellen Watermelon.” I actually remember all the cousins and other children at the bungalows singing it as well. It was my Catskills nickname as a child. In fact, there are a couple of adult friends of mine who still call me Ellen Ellen Watermelon. It might have bothered me a little bit when I was younger. But truth be told, I love watermelon. So now I do not care at all.

I always got a thrill when I saw my Dad bring a watermelon into the bungalow. He would be the one to cut it up, not my Mom. He would usually cut it into quarters and then make triangular strips. That meant it was really just for us.

If he cut it out of the rind and made chunks, that usually meant he was making it for lots of people and it might be part of a fruit salad. My Dad would make one side of the watermelon into a giant bowl and put the fruit salad back into it. I never do that. But I always helped him by making the cantaloupe and honeydew balls with a special scoop.

I learned to make fruit salad from my Dad. Now, I love to make fruit salad. I like chopping up fruit to make the best combination of fruit flavors. It brings me memories of Dad, and for some reason chopping fruit relaxes me. Whenever I go to a pot-luck dinner, I bring the fruit salad.

Personally, for me just watermelon would be fine.   I like it best cut up into inch to two-inch chunks. Then I fill up a bowl and just snack away. I usually like it on its own, not mixed into a salad. Why mess up the best fruit ever, well except for blueberries, by mixing it with other melons. Yes some like cantaloupe and honeydew. But for me, only the watermelon is enough to make me happy. Although I have been known to mix blueberries and watermelon together for a special treat.

Watermelon has other uses as well.   There have been many a watermelon seed spitting contests at our home in the Catskills. And it is not just for children. I have seen many a grown man and woman spit out their seeds to see whose goes the furthest.

What other fruit gives you the joy of eating and the ability to play with it without anyone yelling, “Stop playing with your food.” Even my Dad would spit watermelon seeds. I remember one contest in particular that included my husband, brother, brother-in-law, Dad and a first cousin.   We were all adults. And we cheer them on.

Best fruit ever, watermelon always helps to make summers wonderful.

Getting Ready for The Catskills

23 Jul

Next week my son and I are going to New Jersey/New York for 11 days. It is the first time in five years that I am going back east without a purpose. I have no ailing parents anymore, as, sadly, they passed away. I do not have to clean out an apartment or a house. This is not the unveiling. I do not have any meetings plan. We are just going for fun. I have not gone back home just for fun for a long time.

We are staying with my sister for a night and then my son and I and my sister and my niece are driving up to the Catskills to stay in our family home. My brother, and perhaps his wife and/or daughter will meet us up there.   We do not have to clean the attic, basement or house out. We do not have to fill up a dumpster. We do not have to do anything but enjoy the house, the grounds and relax.

Wow. We will see our cousins. We can walk into town. We can eat at a restaurant. Perhaps we will go to Bethel Woods? Who knows? We have no plans. It will be like old times…. Sort of.

My parents will not be there. The annuals my grandparents and then parents planted so lovingly will not be planted. There is no food awaiting our arrival. No special treats hidden away in the special cookie tin. We have to buy all the food ourselves.

There will be no one to welcome us when we drive up the long driveway to the house and no one to stand outside and wave as we drive away.  We will miss their smiles and their welcome.  But I know that they will be so happy to know that we are there, and that the house is alive again.

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Our home in Kauneonga Lake is our happy place. There are so many wonderful memories. SO many stories embedded in the essence of the house. So much laughter, and some tears. So much of my being was formed by events that occurred in that house. I would not be who I am if I had not spent my summers there.

I close my eyes and see the many outside activities that reside in my mind’s eye: croquet, bocce, baseball, running in the rain, watching the stars.   Each memory is a delight. My grandfather was colorblind, each year we never knew what color the furniture would be: a crazy quilt of chairs and tables. Sitting around on brightly painted wooden lawn furniture discussing whatever topic we decided.

My grandparents’ laughter; my parents’ commands; my brother’s and sister’s voices; the house resonates in sounds of love.

And then we walk down West Shore Road to where my grandparents’ bungalow colony once stood, we do not miss out on memories. We pass what used to be Kauneonga Park, the Fink’s bungalow colony, home to our grandparent’s good friends, Sidney and Bertha. The colony has changed now, but in my mind I see them and the way it was when I was a child or a teen. We also pass the White Lake Homes. If we walk through the streets there we can pass the home of Nan, a friend of my grandmother’s who was always embroidering tablecloths.

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Further along was the house of a friend of mine. His house abutted the Lake. Now there are giant homes there. But in my mind I still see the little homes.

We pass Cooper Drive…so many memories there as well, with friends who stayed there over the years. Then we walk on to the area where our bungalow colony once stood.   Now two of our cousins have homes there. Although some of the original bungalows no longer exist, houses stand in their places.

Our cousins are part of our childhood. We had so many adventures together. We grew up in the heyday of the Catskills: the 50s, 60s and 70s.   No one can take that joy away from us. We are more than just cousins. Our summers in the Catskills made us so close. We were more like siblings. And sometimes we bicker like siblings. But we share the joy of being in the Catskills.

We will share meals and memories with our cousins. We will sit by the beach and perhaps go out on a boat. The children, not us, but our adult children, will go boating and jet skiing and waterskiing. And now there are grandchildren to watch as they learn to love the Lake and the Catskills.

I CAN NOT Wait!

This time next week I will be getting ready to drive up to the Catskills. My heart is already singing with joy.