There was something about summers when I was a kid. I’m sure the same is true for you. Summers lasted forever in those days. We curated friendships in hours and knew we’d be friends forever. Sometimes that turned out to be true. Oftentimes not.
I spent my summers in the tiny Catskill hamlet of Parksville NY. It’s not a famous place, always outshone by its neighbors to the south. These included Grossingers, a hotel which became a town unto itself, with its own post office. Not to be outdone, our place became a post office too. More about that later.
About a century ago two Jewish immigrants from Poland somehow managed to buy a hotel in the Catskill Mountains, in that village of Parksville. They had little money but, through dint of loans and very hard work, they became proprietors, and, like the Grossinger family, they named their eponymous hotel the Bauman House. A wooden sign, professionally made, hung proudly at the entrance for many decades. Imagine, a struggling pair from the suburbs of Bialystok with a mildly impressive sign bearing their name in the United States of America’s New York State. These were my mother’s parents.
The hotel’s food was legendary but it ended up killing the cook, my grandmother Peshka. You can work too hard and she was the proof, sadly not the living proof. She gave more than her all to making the hotel a success with the strategic goal of sending her son Charles, aka Charlie, to NYU Dental School. She succeeded in her mission and in creating a sort of dental dynasty. Charlie’s son, my cousin Richie, became a dentist and our own granddaughter, Maayan, is now in dental school as well. My personal lack of understanding of why anyone would enter this profession is not herein relevant whatsoever!
By the time I was an idiot adolescent the Bauman House had deteriorated to a kuch alein, literally cook alone, where each of the mamas cooked for their individual families and did the family’s laundry and room cleaning as well. They also all played mah jong. Coming to the Bauman House without a mah jong set was truly unheard of. It was a daily activity, except on Shabbat. This was not due to piety but to a certain sense of impropriety.
When the papas arrived on Friday afternoons, the parking lot became full. Their wives curled their hair, put on makeup, and looked fetching. The papas never played mah jong but they sure did play poker. Their stakes were a nickel and a dime and no one ever left the game rich or bankrupt.
All these mamas and papas had kids and it seemed to me that most of those offspring were my age. My sister, three years younger, had the same impression about her friends so I guess there were enough kids for everyone. My age had a veritable gang and since most were repeaters, meaning they came every year, we had many friends, and eventually many summer romances. We had a level of freedom which is simply unattainable today. Our mothers never worried about where we were. They did worry about polio since we were growing up in the 1950’s, but none of us ever got it.
Generations like ours, growing up unsupervised, are now mere vestiges of Jewish American history. My husband and I sent our own kids to camp; all the grandchildren were campers as well. I can only extol the wonders of camp, particularly the Ramah experience. Kids who went to well run camps had and have unique and memorable summers. These are special places!
But I never went to camp. The Bauman House was a substitute, better in some ways but minus the strong educational component of good camping. I hung out with my friends, and the summers were glorious. We kids were all Jewish and the summers were filled with activities planned by us.
We swam at the waterfalls, an incredibly beautiful spot, a short walk away and unknown to the world outside of Parksville. We slid down “lookout below” a natural slide with its rocks intact, until it finally smoothed itself out after the thousands of slides it endured. We played handball and ping pong and climbed to the piano rock on the second hill and did cookouts on the third hill, always supervised by Uncle Dave who was a gift to the world and made baked potatoes that were sublime. And above all we girls were cheerleaders for the boys softball team which remained victorious summer after summer, competing against nearby kuch aleins and bungalow colonies. I don’t remember ever being bored. And I know the women’s movement was nowhere to be found!
Eventually my parents grew old and so did the Bauman House. Operating it as a business became improbable and then actually impossible. The repairs were monumental and our core families grew old as well. The kids that we were became professionals. Doctors. Lawyers. Accountants. Teachers. And of course dentists. And we sent our kids to camp!
Thus when a neighbor came along with a ridiculously low offer my parents grabbed it and sold. Little did they know that this guy named Joey had already negotiated another offer, with the US Postal Service! Hence he tore down the Bauman house, and the US Post Office, Parksville branch, was erected at an annual rental four times the sale price of the property. This was a one hundred year lease! Down went the Bauman House sign forever.
What is clear to me, now that the bad business deal is a mere distant memory, is that we had the good years. No. We actually had the great years! The fun was all ours. The memories were ours. And our summers were far more entertaining than selling stamps!