Thursday, April 26, 2018

Almost Home Again

I didn’t visit the house where I grew up with my sister Janice and parents. I did visit the bungalow where I spent many summers with my sister and grandparents.

My grandparents' Catskill Mountain 'estate'.
The bungalows look run-down and neglected,
but otherwise much the same as it was 50 years ago.
Note the stump where once a tree grew.
 My grandparents bought a small house – a bungalow set on concrete blocks – in the Catskill Mountains sometime during the 1950s. I was a little girl and do not remember the particulars. I do remember what the bungalow looked like outside and inside, and have memories of summer days walking along Joyland Road, playing with friends at the nearby bungalow colony, sitting in the grass under huge shade trees playing cards, reading, drinking iced tea and lemonade.

Grandpa drove to our house on Long Island the day school closed. Janice and I jumped in the car and three-hours later we piled out, eager to begin our summer vacation. We stayed until Labor Day, another summer of hot days, ice cream nights, lazy weekends and occasional trips to town over until the following June.

Janice and I enjoyed Grandma and Grandpa’s company and I am sure they enjoyed ours. Meanwhile our parents relished each other’s company sans kids. For 2½ months.

I thought about the old mountain homestead one sunny spring day while driving north on the New York State Thruway. Monticello was about 30 miles out of the way (each direction), but my curiosity won.

The once pristine landscape driving northwest into the mountains is no longer unspoiled. Billboards urge travelers to stop and visit nearby gas stations and convenience stores, fast food restaurants, stores and roadside stands.

The area is not, however, an economic marvel. On the contrary, for years the Catskills have been subject to run-down and closed up hotels, dying towns and businesses. The tourist trade lost out decades ago to new, more exciting vacation locations.

A renaissance is in the making, however, thanks to casinos. A 2013 amendment to the New York State constitution allows Las-Vegas-type casino gambling. Whether the largesse of the casinos spills over into the community remains a question.

I knew Grandma and Grandpa’s cottage was on Joyland Road, a name etched in my memory. An exit off the highway for ‘Joyland Road’ made it easy to find. Turning onto the street, the car traveled along the two-lane road, passing dilapidated rows of abandoned bungalow colonies, houses occupied but in disrepair, and vacant, neglected homes and businesses.

Then I saw it – two bungalows, one set back a few feet from the larger house. Grandma and Grandpa owned the mountain estate, comprised of two bungalows and a storage shed, and rented out the smaller bungalow every summer. We resided in the larger one.
The bungalow and storage shed. I remember a red door and trim. 

 The bungalows sat silent and deserted behind a patchy brown lawn. No towering shade trees, only stumps where once majestic branches provided shade during hot summer afternoons. The lot reflects the economic problems the area faced over the past decades. Still standing but struggling.

It was hard to tell if the property is permanently abandoned or only uninhabited during the winter. Perhaps owners will arrive in May or June and signs of life appear. The lawn will turn green and newly planted flowers bloom, outdoor chairs and tables materialize, fresh paint brighten the dingy white shingles.

I had not seen the bungalow since the 1960s, and probably the early 1960s. Once in junior high, days hanging with friends at the pool and beach and jobs replaced summers in the mountains. Grandma died in 1969, and Grandpa sold the place the following year.

Walking around the property, I could almost hear echoes of two little girls’ rowdy voices as they race around the house, Grandma calling us to lunch or dinner, Grandpa hunched over his vegetable garden in the far corner of the yard, occasionally a car careening too fast down Joyland Road, a neighbor walking by hollering “hello!”.

I was almost home again, for a short time.  
The far corner of the property where Grandpa's
vegetable garden flourished.

3 comments:

  1. Powerful feelings when we visit some place in our childhood. I always think how narrow my vision was at that time.

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  2. I lived in the Catskills for a while in the late 70's and 80's. A place called Callicoon, right outside of Monticello. Living there was a nightmare for me. It was so poor. Like living in Appalachia. I have heard from friends who still live in the area that it is making a comeback now.

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  3. In 2001 I was in Washington DC and decided to find the house where my family lived in 1958. I got clear to the street I lived on in Springfield, Virginia. But the street name had changed and so had the house numbers. I THINK I found the house. But I'm not completely sure. Memories, though.

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