Writing 101: A Room with a ViewPosted: September 15, 2014
I am 66 years old, yet the most lasting experience of freedom I have ever had was during the summers I spent as a child in the Catskill Mountains of New York, in a place with the unlikely name of Muldavinville. To the uninitiated, it was just a summer place, a “bungalow colony,” with a funny name. To our parents, it was a place to relax, swim, play Scrabble, and enjoy the summer vacation (many parents were teachers) in an environment that kept the kids busy, happy, and generally safe. I’m not sure if the other kids I grew up with during the almost ten summers I spent there really felt as strongly about the place as I did. But I was a very shy, introverted, and fearful youngest child back home in Brooklyn; it wasn’t until college that I was able to be drawn out of my shell. I lived for the summers, when I became a different person, active in sports, popular, a tomboy who was comfortable being myself.
Neither of my parents drove when I was a child, so we didn’t own a car. To get to Muldavinville, we had to take a train from Grand Central Station to Liberty, NY, where we were picked up by Melvin Muldavin, who with his mother, Matilda, owned and ran the place. I remember the paneled station wagon that he picked us up in, and the drive through the winding country roads bordered by trees, climbing up the mountains, my anticipation increasing with each turn, until we finally pulled into the graveled driveway and up the hill.
On the left side of the graveled drive and parking area were two large white frame houses, one belonging to Matilda and Melvin and the other for a summer guest. Across a footbridge to the right, however, were a number of smaller, more rustic cottages. The first one, the only one on the left, was where we spent my first years in Muldavinville. The cottages consisted of covered but not screened porches, two bedrooms, a dining area and kitchen, and a bathroom with sink and toilet only. Attached to this first cottage were the rooms housing the coal stove and the two showers whose water the stove heated. What I remember most about living in this cottage was the noise made by the coal being shoveled into the stove to heat the water. What I remember most about the showers was the time my older brothers and their friends tried to peek in the high windows while some of the teenage girls were showering.
The other cottages were more or less in a line across the field which was the baseball field on the weekends when the working men came up from the city. Some were single, and some were attached. We spent most of my summers in one of the attached ones; my friend Saul and his family stayed next door. Saul and his family, like ours and several others, were regulars; other families came and went. My sister came with her husband and my nieces one year; my younger niece and I traded tonsillitis back and forth, and I spent a good deal of my time set out on a cot to receive the healing rays of the sun.
Up on the hill was a large building called the casino, in which we held dances, parties, and the final spaghetti dinner of the summer. There was an open section between the casino and the field with metal barrels for our sorted trash: papers to burn, glass, tin cans (no aluminum back then). The food waste was set aside to give to the farmer to feed his pigs. There was a campfire ring where we had campfires. Down where the cottages ended, right before the woods, was a pingpong table and volleyball court.
Woods were all around, and the path to the lake was through the woods. The farmer’s chicken coops and ranging chickens were not far from the lake, and we used to watch the chicken hawks sailing in the sky above us as we swam, played in the sand, mud and lake clay, or rowed the single rowboat. I will never forget the horribly squishy feeling of frogs eggs under my feet, the coolness of the mud plastered all over my body to insure I could go in the water just one more time, the pain of the first sunburn we endured to start our tans, or the fear of drowning that I got when I was pushed under an inner tube that everyone was submerging.
After some years, our cottages were updated with showers and hot water, and the coal stove and community showers were gone. Several years before we left for good, a man built a large chicken house not far from Muldavinville; the chickens were caged, and when the wind shifted, the stench was awful. I’m not sure why we stopped going when I turned fourteen, but nothing has been able to replace it for me. Having lived in several different apartments and neighborhoods growing up, for me Muldavinville was the most stable part of my life, the place where I really belonged. Going to the Rexall store in Jeffersonville and picking out a new paperback book, sitting in the rowboat with my friend Ruth in the middle of the lake, savoring the newness of our books before reading them, walking the mile down the road to the tiny town of Calicoon, waiting with my allowance for the truck with baked goods and candy which came twice a week, learning to folk dance…..memories flood back.
There was a time, after the Muldavins sold out and left, that the property that had been Muldavinville came up for sale. My brothers and my brother-in-law, I think, considered buying it, but on examination, decided it had been changed too much. I’m glad I didn’t get to see the changes; now I can keep the memories as they are, as much a part of who I am as they have ever been.