28 August 2006

At the Catskills conference: Going back

My return to the Catskills, after more than three decades, began on a Shortline bus from New York City. A stormy sky provoked a flashback to a similar trip when I was 5 or 6, as we set out from the Bronx on our annual trek to my grandparents’ bungalow colony in Kauneonga Lake.

The terrifying trip had been punctuated by thunder and lightning ended when we finally reached the refuge of my grandparents’ Catskills Tudor house, with its brightly-lit country kitchen, large black cast-iron stove, pine-panelled living room and big fireplace.

On this trip, I tried to spot Wurtsboro Hill, where cars used to overheat and where we stopped for ice cream at the Red Apple, but the rain was so heavy that I couldn’t see a thing.

The drive made me think of friends from long ago, of far-away places, of travelling somewhere in my grandfather’s car, filled with people and grey with cigar smoke.

Among the pleasant memories were picking blueberries and the Great Cow Roundup, when an adjacent farm’s bovines broke through the baseball field’s fence and wandered among the bungalows. Urban mothers tried to protect their kids from these wild dairy cows, but it was hard to tell who was more frightened. I think it was the cows.

My grandmother’s tall tales of thunder being caused by Henry Hudson’s men bowling in the mountains used to calm me during the spectacular electrical storms of my childhood.

The signs flashed by: 5 miles to Wurtsboro, 17 to Monticello, Town of Thompson. A billboard for the new Bethel Woods Arts Center, built where Max Yasgur’s farm once hosted Woodstock. Who from the old days would have believed that the Boston Pops would be in the Catskills, playing a program of Broadway music as they are this weekend at the new center?

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