With the world in unrest and the coronavirus still with us, I escaped to the ocean.
Being a Pisces, I have a great affinity to the water, and I grew up spending summers on Lake Oscawana in Putnam Valley. I have sweet memories spending time there with my cousins who had homes nearby.
My mother’s sisters lived within walking distance of mine, but everyone came over because we were on the lake. It was also the gathering place for my parents’ relatives, who were also our best friends.
My mom was always the hostess and I think I never wanted a summer house because our home became everybody’s vacation location.
Memories survive because I have the photos of my many family members who visited us. We grew up surrounded by relatives.
Being on the lake, one of my favorite activities was to go fishing from our little motorboat. We kids had to use oars because we weren’t allowed to go alone using the motor. We would row out to the nearby Lily Pond on one side of the lake to catch little fish, but for me the best part of the fishing day was catching the worms that we would put on the hooks of our rods.
There was a plot of land on the side of the house that was set aside to rake the leaves into every fall. The fertile ground was the best place to dig for worms! I was fascinated by how you can cut a worm and it still kept wiggling.
I was in charge of putting the worms on the hooks and I loved every second of it. I hated taking the fish off the hooks, so that job would go to one of my cousins. We would spend hours and hours fishing on the lake. Rarely were we able to eat the little fish we caught!
On the other side of the lake was a building called The Trading Post. It was the only place to shop — we always begged our parents for some money to buy a soda and we rowed very hard to get there — and it was always a great adventure.
On the front lawn of my house was a large picnic table where we would gather every afternoon. My mom would embroider tablecloths and my aunts would knit. Somehow, I never learned either skill but I did learn to love reading Nancy Drew mystery books.
We had a deck over the lake and I still picture my father sitting there reading his newspapers. Since we moved there when I was 3 years old, my dad had built a “crib” that was a safe place for us to learn to swim until we were strong enough to go out to the float that seemed to be so far away.
When we got a little older, there was a day camp nearby and we all were registered. I was never an athlete, but my favorite activity was theatre. They had a great theatre counselor and the play I remember most was “Guys and Dolls.” I didn’t get the star role, but I was thrilled to be one of the chorus girls named Pearl the Prostitute. I still remember twirling pearls on the stage and hamming it up.
We spent the rest of our summer days at the lake until I was 9 years old and I transitioned to sleepaway camp. My brother and I went together with my cousins from my dad’s family to Camp Pocono Ramona in the Pocono Mountains.
There were separate campuses for boys and girls. The bunks were quite a distance away from each other, but I got to see my brother and cousins at the flag-lowering ceremony every night. The flagpole was the midpoint between the campuses.
Even though I had family members around I was lonely and wrote to my mother daily. I remember handing in my mandatory letters at dinner before entering the cafeteria. Writing came easily to me, but I know my brother was tortured over it and somehow beat the system. At mid-summer visiting days, my mom complained that she rarely got letters from him!
Camp became a part of my summer life until I got married in my senior year of college. My husband Murray used to kid me that he didn’t know if he should take me to camp or on a honeymoon!
I had started as a camper and rose through the ranks to become a counselor and eventually a group leader.
I still remember my interview with the camp owner, who asked me how I could be a group leader in charge of all the counselors when I was so little, standing at 5’2”. When he challenged my ability to be taken seriously because of my size, I reminded him that Napoleon Bonaparte was also short and it never held him back from his victories! I got the job and happily led a group of 10-year-old girls.
I have wonderful memories of carefree days filled with organized activities and memorable friendships.
Since I wasn’t an athlete, just like at day camp, my favorite memory at sleepaway camp was musical theatre. The highlight of my summer camp days was when I was chosen to play the lead role of Anna in “The King and I.” I still have a photo of me with the “King,” and I think that’s why I remember it so well.
Do people still keep photo albums? I’m moving soon and the only quandary is what to do with pages of endless photo albums filled with memories of my parents’ lives and mine.
Fast forward to today, and I’m grateful to be back spending my summers at the waterfront — not at a lake, but rather a beach. Somehow it restores my soul to see the endless waves and crashing sounds of the ocean on the soft white sands of Long Island.