Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Before the end of my childhood

I am vacationing this week in a small village called Skaneateles. It is located on the end of a Finger Lake in Central NY. I grew up here. It was the time when I was still innocent and all was right with the world. My family lived here for almost ten years (though it seems like a lot longer in my mind). I was 4 when we moved here and 14 when we moved out. I think of this as where I grew up. My home town.

There is the feeling when I saw the lake for the first time at the 'overlook'. It is at the south end of the lake and you get just a glimpse of the water nestled in the hills. The feeling in my heart and head. The feeling of home. It made me drive all the faster to get to get there. To race up the lake side road and into the town.

Skaneateles is a very quiet town. One Main Street with the shops, library and post office. And the park. The lake front park where you could go swimming in the summer and ice skating in the winter. The lake is one of the purest in the country and it is drinkable unfiltered and supplies several towns and the city of Syracuse with clean fresh water.

I write this from the porch of the home I am staying at this week. Paul's Cabin. It is on the east side of the lake and it is on the edge of a cliff that drops into the lake. It is magnificent and a wonderful treat. There is no TV. No cellphone service. I can get wifi so I can use my netbook, and there is a great classical music station so I am happy. My brother and family rented it for a week and they will be joining me tomorrow. They rent it out as a vacation home. I have had three gloriously quiet and contemplative days. I woke the other morning and opened the door onto the porch. It seemed odd. There was the sound of wind rushing thru the trees and some odd noise. Oh. Birds. Birds chirping. Living in the city for so long, I had sort of forgotten that early morning sound.

See, I turn 50 tomorrow. The 22nd. It has been nagging at me for the last two years. I have stopped telling people I am 38 (which I have been told I look) and telling them I am 50. This must mean something in the timeline of life. Or in my brain that is keeping track of this stuff.

When we lived in town, it was in a nice middle class neighborhood. There also the families that lived "on the lake" on east lake or west lake road. Those were the upper class of Skaneateles. The homes with lake front property and docks for boats and such. I look at these houses now, after 30 years and am still in awe of them. Beautiful white columns, boathouses and criscraft classics in the water.

I found our old house and gazed at the changes. They cut down the tree! The huge tall pine that graced our front lawn. Branches on it didn't start until half high as our second floor. I would stand near the trunk and look up and try to see who was living there. There had to be someone up there! I recall the winters we would have here. Winters that make the stuff I see now look like a snow dusting. Winters where schools didn't close because it snowed, we just trudged on thru it. The snow would usually get to be about 4 or 5 feet high. My dad and older brother would just shovel and shovel. The snow yielded to fantastic snow igloos and winter caves dug out around the front of the house. In our snowpants and boots and caps and gloves we would play in the white snow.

The new owners (only lived there for 15 years now) added an addition to a small kitchen and reconfigured the back of the house. Other gaps - the peach tree in the backyard is gone. As such the tire swing that was attached to it. The tree was where we would set up our tents in the summer and my brothers and I would sleep out in the yard. Far enough away to be "out" and yet, close enough to the house to be able to run tumbling in when it got too scary outside.

It was fun to drive up and down the street. I think that remembering the names of my childhood friends was like opening a box that had been locked and shoved in a basement corner. I remember Mary Pat who lived across the street from us. I look at their house and the rush of memories hits. Playing Wild Wild West with her. She was always James West and I was Artemus Gordon. She was braver than I was at jumping, climbing or running, but I was better at imagining something to be something else that would work to get us away from the bad guys. Making a stick into a gun, or a bomb, or a well, whatever..and once I told her what it both our WAS that. I have always loved to think outside the box and now in reflection, maybe it started way back then.

Up and down familiar but vaguely forgotten streets. With large trees and quiet almost non existant traffic once off of main st. I checked off various houses I recognized but matching them with who I last remembered living there. The families that lived on my street and had kids that we grew up with. The best was on the one up on the hill. It was a large easygoing house at the top of our hill that had a family living in it that we were friends with. My mom and their mom were friends and us kids were all sort of the same age. That was the house that was just fun to be in. It's my dream/fantasy house. I would love to buy it from whomever is there now. It was like a magic house. There was the guinea pig room, the dance studio (a large room with hardwood floors and mirrors and an echoinglyy tall ceiling. I could imagine parties being held there with a band and men and woman dancing in the slow waltz or maybe the charleston. There is a book out called "The Catch Trap". They have a large house in that book that I imagine to be like this house.

I kept waiting for the police to nab me for stalking or such.

There are lost of snapshots in my head of my time growing up here. Walking the three blocks to the library on saturdays. It was there that I was able to find books. I loved to read, thanks to my parents who also loved to read and read to us at night. The library though, well, that was a special place. They had a section that was all for kids books. The Black Stallion and the whole series of books by Walter Farley about horses. I read every one of them. Many young adult science fiction that I was reading before I was a young adult. I discovered Heinlein there. And The Big Brain, Harriet the Spy, Mrs. Piggly Wiggly and many others. Some of these books I have found again and have my shelves to pass on to nieces and nephews and such. But it started at the Skaneateles Library.

Another snapshot is running through our backyard and the empty lot behind our house to go over to Austin Park. The empty lot behind the house now has a house in it. Sheesh. Austin park is an ice skating rink that was built in the early 70's for the kids in Skaneateles. Before this we would just skate on the lake. My older brother played hockey on the lake and it was just the town thing to do. Austin Park made hockey and figure skating a lot safer. We have a couple hours of home movies of my two brothers playing hockey. Older brother was mid teen's and younger was 6 or so. Quite a difference in playing style. Hockey to us is like football to texans.

I went by the Presbyterian Church. That was the family church and where I got my religous education. Sunday School. Both my parents were sunday school teachers at various times. One year it was the year my grade (whatever that was) got to put on the christmas pagent. I was chosen to be Mary. I distinctly remember one girl sneering at me (i didn't know it was sneering back then) about how I only got picked because my mom was the teacher. I think my mom made her a shepard or such. I am going to try and go to service on sunday morning. Not sure if any of my siblings will go, but we will see.

I know I have been writing a lot but the flood gates have opened.

There is a comforting warm happy feeling here as I sit here on the deck listening to the classical music that my father taught me to love, (thank you dad) and look over and across the lake. Now, over the years, I have been to other lakes in other states, since this one, seen them, swam in them and such, but none feel the way this one does.

I was standing in the public park in the village and knelt down to feel the stone that is the walkway at the edge of the park and meets the water and hearing the water/waves hit the stone wall and remembering that sound. I remembered that sound from 35 years ago. It calmed me. It was great.

My father always told me "don't grow up". I was Peter Pan and wanted to be a kid forever. There has been a lot that has happened in the last few years. But the kid in me is still there. It remembers.


Meerkatdon said...

This is beautiful, Betsy.

Here's to the next 50!

Jack B. Nimble said...

Lovely post, Betts. I felt like I was standing there with you. 50! Best years of my life! Enjoy.

Keep writing.