Parksville is a tiny hamlet in what the Jews always called the Catskill Mountains. Truthfully the Jewish Catskills are not Catskills at all, and not mountains either. They are a series of lovely rolling hills in southeastern New York State called the Shawangunks. And Parksville was never known as a hamlet in the old days. We called it a village, and I would go back there every summer, in an instant, if it still existed. If it still existed as it was. Now it’s a place frozen in time with a deserted main street that lacks its soul and the spirit that I long for. And I am not alone in my yearning. There are many many of us. Our children and grandchildren cannot understand. I’m not even sure that I understand it myself.
A bit of our family Parksville history.
My maternal grandparents were typical strivers. They came from Poland and struggled to raise three children, my mother their youngest. My grandmother had a not so simple dream that at least one of her children would go to college. Actually two of them did. My mother attended Brooklyn College and my Uncle Charlie became a dentist. Since my grandfather was a clothes presser in the Manhattan garment center this would not have been possible without another source of income.
The family legend was that my grandfather, Mr. Bauman, was on a subway heading back to Brooklyn when he met Mr. Tanzman, a real estate agent and landowner in Parksville. When the ride was over my grandfather had agreed to purchase a hotel on Fifth Avenue (a mysterious name since there was no First, Second, Third or Fourth Avenues) in the little town in Sullivan County. The unheard of sum was $5,000. And where, my grandmother shrieked upon hearing the news, would they get such an enormous amount of money. Well they did. They took a partner who would have his name on the sign and would share the profits. My grandparents would do all the work. The partner would lend them the $5,000.
I was born in September 1939. By then the hotel had been operating for at least 15 years, weathering the depression and hosting a loyal group of customers who returned year after year. The hard work, however, took its toll on my grandmother who exhausted herself and finally had to give up working. She died a few short years later when I was five.
It turned out that her children and husband were not business people. Things deteriorated and the Bauman House (the partner had long been repaid and his name removed from the sign) became a kuch alein, a phenomenon that was particular to the so-called Catskills, also known as the Borscht Belt. A kuch alein was literally a cook alone. Guests would rent rooms and have a shared kitchen, but they would do their own cooking. Imagine four or five families sharing a single kitchen with eating space. Shared stoves. Shared sinks. Shared refrigerators. “Who ate Mrs. Levine’s kugel.?” Whose turn was it to wash the floor that Friday, and for some unimaginable reason cover it with newspaper?. This was a unique and really strange summer vacation. Yet people came back every summer for decades. Unfathomably they loved it!
Primitive is too kind a word for the facilities. Outdoor showers. One toilet per about 15 people. Miserable mattresses. No heating or air conditioning (Parksville was famous for frigid nights, even in the depths of summer). And yet wonderful fabulous adventures. As a kid I lived for the summer. No homework. No responsibilities. Just hanging out with a chevrah of friends from similar backgrounds who knew each other all of their lives. We would organize our own sport activities. We would do everything together like a gang…..a very tame gang. We reached adolescence and started falling in love with each other. We would all sit under the stars every night in the Adirondack chairs and talk and talk and talk. What could we possibly have to talk about every night for hours and hours? Who remembers. But, it was magical. We never wanted to go to bed.
Of course, we were sexist in those days. So the boys would organize beauty contests, but they never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. I won for best nose (see, I still remember that!), my friend Myrna had best legs. Someone else had best hair, best complexion and so on. But every girl had best something or other. I know. My grandchildren would be furious with such a deviation from egalitarianism. We just didn’t know better and it was okay. Then. Not now.
One summer we adopted a stray dog who turned out to be a fox. We had named him Reddy but, as city kids, we really thought he was a dog. We fed him scraps from our meals. He was our pet and he never harmed any of us. Not so some of the farmed chickens. He would feast on them and one day he was shot to death. We mourned our friend.
We would go to the falls daily for swimming. The falls in Parksville is one of the really unknown and spectacularly beautiful spots of New York State and it was all ours. The water was chillingly cold but crystal clear. Was it dangerous! Very. But none of us was ever hurt by the enormous rocks and slippery slopes. To this day a trip to the falls, several hours from my New Jersey home, is a wondrous escape, a place of raging torrents which is strangely calm and tranquil. I love it there. I always will.
The memories. So many many memories. Meeting my husband, who came to Parksville because his sister had married a descendant of Mr. Tanzman, the real estate man. Fate. Small world. My mother had met my father in Parksville. If there had been no Bauman House?
I will write more about those halcyon days. There is so much. So many tales of people living so close to each other that we were always a part of their lives. And they were a part of ours.
I miss it. Sometimes we take a ride and we leave having seen the very few remnants that are left. Deserted stores. Buildings collapsing or burned to the ground. But our memories sustain us. Call it nostalgia or fleeting youth but they were wonderful days.. And nights.