Monday, July 02, 2012

Returning home

The Catskill Mountains has a very special place in my heart. It is connected intimately with my childhood and young adult life. It was there that I walked through the woods as a child. It was there that I had my first job. It was there I had my first love and many other firsts.

My fathers connection goes back decades before mine. You can get a glimpse of the life there by viewing the movie Dirty Dancing or Sweet Lorraine.

The largest and greatest hotel was the Concord. The demolition of the place was so complette you can't even tell anything stood there. The sole survivor is home of the Robert Parker family, but that may be temporary. The cottages where the workers lived are similarly gone. The bar across the street is also gone.
Oddly, the nasty bar where the diswashersused to give the owner their paycheck is also gone, but the structure is there. The rooming house where my friend John lived 20 years ago is still there. John worked at the Concord for 30 years and we had many meals together. One summer, I came up and a security guard told me your buddy had a heart attack and died in the spring.

There was a small town named Parksville with the best soft ice cream place on the planet. The highway was moved so it passed the town. This is probably the last season the custard place will be there. Long ago an excellent resturant named Poppys burned in a fire and never reopened.

Surprisingly, many of the bungalow colonies I summered in are still there. They were rebuilt and sold as condos. Small kosher pizza places and coffee shops open for the summer. The hassidic Jews come in droves for the summer and provide money for the local businesses other than fast food shops.

I went to the family estate and visited a cousin. I could not find the stone walls where I learned about snakes. There was a grassy field about 30 feet long that is gone. There were the familiar orange flowers that were everywhere around July. I didn't even get to see the nearby hemlock forrest with a single paper birch oddly in the center. I did not get to see the huge boulders that I played on as a kid and imagined they were mountains or vestiges of a sandbox that was reclaimed by the forrest. I did view a swimming hole I helped build.  The family dredged a stream pool  with rocks and made a stone dam. The hole was about eight foot deep and cold on a hot day.

The famous Brown's Hotel was doing okay as a time share until April when it was burned beyond repair in a mysterious fire.

When I retire I want to spend the last years of my life away from NYC in these hills. A nice small place to spend my golden years watching the few remaining seasons of my life dreaming of woods and watching the land reclaim itself. I hope enough of it is left so that I can live this dream.

The towns are not imaginitive. Oddly, they could probably survive by luring NYC people with busses to the City. A place where Civil Servants could live and raise small families. There is ample land and modular housing on two acre lots could be the field of dreams for many.

It was a depressing visit. I will see if I can locate the book the oral history of the Catskills. It will be good to hear of Grossingers and the comedy of Lou Goldstein. I can imagine the music of Erskine Hawkins who was a friend and the horrible bimmi kitchen. Some of you can hear glimpses of this world when Michael Savage talks of the long gone Hotel Flagler and strange locals who lived off the land.


Ducky's here said...

Lot of Italian barbecues solving the business problems, I see.

Ducky's here said...

The wheel keeps turning, Beak.

Even Majorie Morningstar would rather go to Vegas than the old Grossinger's. Too bad really.

As more and more disappears we forget the values too. It's a shame but money has doomed the culture. We know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

beakerkin said...


I noticed all the convenient fires and said the same thing. My father is somewhat more generous and points out the fire fighters are volunteers. Too many coincedences.

Grossingers was a place I loved. It oozed warmth and had the best food on the planet. The great Lou Goldstein was a giant in many ways.
I watched his brilliant Simon Sez routine about ten times as a kid. Professional actors and lawyers asked where I learned timing and pace. I explained I patterned elements after Lou Goldstein with touches of Bob Grant.

The Concord had a giant of a man it was my honor to work for Irving Cohen. I remember working for Irving Cohen and he taught me something early "nothing is impossible kid. You might need different tools or resources but take that word out of your vocabulary." Thirty years later I still remember his wisdom as a fashion exec and as an officer. I never did get to thank him for that wisdom that changed my life. He changed many lives and made everyone he met into a better man.

On reading about the era. The Catskills hotels really came about because Jews were excluded from many places. Rather than cry about it they just built better places and let others in. You can see plenty of Black celebrities and atlettes alongside Iltalians and others.

Always On Watch said...

For a long time, Mr. AOW and I thought that we wanted to retire to the town where my mother grew up. We made specific plans in that direction.

Then, in 2000, we went down there to take a look. The town had boomed! No longer the sleepy hamlet. We abandoned our plans at that point.

Sometimes you can go home again, sometimes not.