When I was a kid growing up in Newark’s famous South Ward, known as Weequahic to the cognoscenti, summers were pretty predictable. Most of my friends did “something.” A few went to camp. Some stayed home and played in the neighborhood or did activities at the Y. Many went down to the Jersey Shore where their families rented or owned small bungalows, particularly in Bradley Beach, a town I’ve been to maybe three or four times in my entire 78 years! My own family went to the Catskills (which were not really Catskills but Shawangunks and that is another story).
My grandparents were the proud proprietors of a small hotel which they bought in the mid 1920’s. Somehow it, and they, survived the Great Depression, and they never missed a season. The season ran from July 4 until Labor Day and, according to my mother’s memoirs, this frenzied hotel management job is what eventually killed her mother who did all the cooking, baking and management.
By the time I was born the hotel had deteriorated and become a “kuch alein” which literally meant cook alone. Each guest family would usually stay for the entire summer and rent a single bedroom and a piece of a kitchen. Many more would share the toilets. Nonetheless, the best memories of my life centered around this very modest establishment and not a season goes by that we don’t visit the old site which is now a United States Post Office in the hamlet of Parksville NY.
So, sometimes it takes a rewind to recall my glorious and primitive summers and contrast them to the summers of my grandchildren. It wouldn’t ever have entered my mind that there could be anything better than swimming at the falls up the road, or cheering on our all boys softball team or having total freedom as a gang of us Jewish city kids plotted our own days and activities. We were not always politically correct. We had, for example, an annual beauty contest where the boys would judge the girls. One August I was the proud winner of the “best nose” contest. At nights we would sit under the giant pine tree that my grandmother had planted and which shot up like an adolescent boy. We would pull up our Adirondack chairs and just “hang out,” night after night and summer after summer. And, when Labor Day arrived we’d depart and not see each other again until the following July. No reunions. No emails or what’sapp. Nothing at all.
My grandchildren have much grander summers. All of them have spent considerable time in Israel, so that’s practically not a vacation for them. Some have spent years there. Others have done yeshiva or Ramah programs. At each of their naming ceremonies or brises, I adjured them all to learn the streets of Jerusalem as well as those of their American neighborhoods. They don’t disappoint.
But Israel is not the only recipient of their travel dollars. This summer, for example, our progeny plan to be in disparate places like Hungary, Southeast Asia, California, Brazil, Washington State and assorted European capitals. It seems to me that every few days or so I am monitoring another flight and looking for emails from around the world. And, we ourselves, hope to be in South America, Canada, Europe and then back home to Herzliya.
Our place in Parksville had one very very shared public telephone. It was operator assisted only, took coins and was a so-called party line which young people today would never recognize as a real phone. We are all so glued to our own private numbers that it sounds medieval to think of dozens of people sharing one phone. But that’s how it was. And we did survive it. And, by the way, that phone did not have Google or Words With Friends. And you couldn’t even check email or Facebook on it. Incredible that we survived. It still gets a dial tone on our basement wall in West Orange. But, no operator tells us to deposit coins. She, and it was always a she, has long since moved on.
But, maybe we wouldn’t have been so able to survive if we still had that phone, Liberty 726J. When all these kids are on their far flung summer trips to India and Thailand, at least we can contact them and get daily updates. I’ve received emails from mountain tops and whats’apps from deserts. I once got an email from my son on a ferry in Indonesia. I would not do well without those little pieces of data shooting through the electronic world, whose delivery system I cannot possibly fathom but which gives support and comfort to my angst! Unless, of course, a battery has run out of juice or a phone has been lost at sea or the networks are down. Best not to see me in that frantic condition! Some imagine the best. And then there’s me!
So, would my parents and grandparents ever believe where their progeny are going? I suspect they would. They were pretty adventurous themselves. Getting here from Poland was quite the dramatic undertaking and the grandparents did it without money and with two toddlers. And, of course, the family left behind was probably never going to be reunited.
My parents were also inveterate travelers. My father, the once single young man called Sam, had hitchhiked to California. And as a married couple they made aliyah to Israel when my father was 80 years old and my mother a mere 74. Not too shabby.
The electronics: that’s another thing. No. They’d never believe the communications we have today.. I’m not even sure that I can make sense of it myself.