I can’t explain it. What is the pull, the powerful magnetic force that keeps us going back there? There, where there is nothing of us, nothing of ours. At all. Even the parts that seemed like they could never be undone, and, in fact have not been undone but have changed so much that they are unrecognizable, hidden by the decades of natural growth of trees, bushes, weeds and elements like fierce wind and pounding rain. Even the piano rock, a massive grand piano-like boulder, probably there for millions of years, can no longer be found. If it is not gone but totally hidden, what then? In our youth we were its guardians, sitting on it with our friends to catch the brilliance of the sun and feel its permanence or newly in love basking in its starry nights. Is it permanent if we cannot find it?
Every year, at just about this time, we decide it’s time to take a ride to Parksville. And again, as always, we say to each other that we should wait for my sister Janet to arrive from Israel because she won’t want to miss the ride, up the Thruway to the Quickway to our beloved Bauman House. And then, as always, we decide to go anyway, and then, to go again in July when she’s here. Why? I cannot say. But I know she will want to go.
Is it the pull of the ghosts of our youth? Do our eyes deceive us? Do we see them all sitting on the porch of the Little House in their green wooden slatted rocking chairs, never ever, amazingly, running low on talking points? For so many endless summers they never sat without conversation. I see their faces so clearly, as if I’m staring at them reflected in my mirror. I hear their names and the titles they all bore. Flo was always Mrs. Levine. Never in all those years did anyone call her Flo, or Florence. Mom was always Ida and Fannie was Fannie. Mrs. Lipschitz, who I suspect is still alive at what must be close to 200 now, never had a first name. At least, if she did, I actually never knew it. Maybe that’s why I think she’s still alive. I cannot find the obituary of a woman named Mrs. Lipschutz in the Social Security Death Index. I need more information than that! Mom’s aunt Gussie was always Gussie but her husband of probably 70 years was just Pudalov. I know he had a first name but I never heard anyone call him by it, like Mrs. Savlowitz, also always minus a first name. And busily, skirting the conversation, was the small wiry man I called Pop, my grandfather, who never had time to sit. Too much to do. The porch-sitters referred to him as Pop if they were family and Mr. Bauman if not. No one called him Izzy.
Pop was the owner and caretaker of this old house and this old place. Believe me there was more work than he could possibly do in his one lifetime of 77 years. A lot of it just never got done and now, it doesn’t matter a whit. If the toilet was running and the kitchen sink was stuffed and the window pane was cracked, it truly is of no import. It’s all buried. No one needs a plunger or screwdriver or a hammer and nails or a new piece of glass. Gone gone gone.
And sadder yet is Joe’s house. It is a cottage across the road from the Bauman House and Joe and Hannah are embedded in my memory, always walking hand in hand, to somewhere, I know not where. But every summer day Joe, a lawyer and beloved husband and father, had another calling. His bushes had to be trimmed with only an old fashioned manual shears. They were perfectly groomed, no doubt the world’s most frequently manicured bushes. And then, many years ago, Hannah died and then Joe died. The house was sold to a family that did not care about the bushes. Now the bushes subsume the house. Like the piano rock, the house is still standing but it can no longer be seen. If Joe knew it would wreak havoc with his long sleep.
There is truly not an iota of us being there, at The Bauman House. But, luckier is to go up the road about two miles, where the Tanzville Hotel, not so famously remembered as the place where my husband and I first met, is just as deserted, with no reminders that it was ever there, but one! The stone entryway, the portico, remains. Does it still hear the chattering of the hotel guests as they walk through it, seeking the steps that welcomed guests for maybe 80 years. Seeking is not finding however. Only the portico remains. No steps. No buildings. Nothing but the portico. And now I learn, a lifetime too late, that it wasn’t ever a portico at all. It was always a porte-cochere. How French! How did we not know the correct word, through all those days and nights that we thought we were entering the grounds through a portico when we were not? Lucky for us, such uneducated people at least recognized a chuppah! A wedding canopy.
Our Bauman House doesn’t even have a remaining portico, or porte-cochere. Its fence is long gone. Its proud white sign with green script letters, a sign that must have brought overwhelming pride and joy to Pop and Peshka, his wife, my grandmother, when it was hung up for the first time. I can barely imagine their emotions, two refugees who had come from Poland with nothing were now the owners of a hotel that bore their family name. How well I relate to the immigrants, and the would-be immigrants of today. Their dreams can also find fulfillment.
And so, the Bauman House, bereft of a sign, and a porte-cochere, and with an invisible piano rock and in the absence of all the human rockers on the front porch, still haunts and thrills and rises to the banks of the flood of memories that are shared by some of us, by me, my husband, my sister and perhaps Mrs. Lipschitz. The others have gone. All of them. The buildings have gone. All of them. And yet, we continue to spend exorbitant amounts of money to fill our gas tanks and drive there. Why?
So easy to understand. There, we are young. All of us who go. We search for the days of our youth which we surely know we will never find. Nonetheless, we enter the porte-cochere of our imagination and tread where our steps once echoed. Hello Mrs. Lipschitz. Hello to all of them.