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Free to be You and Me

Every summer of my young life we’d pack up the car for our annual 2 ½ hour schlepp, whisking us away from the hot streets of Brooklyn to the cool mountain air. With my brother and me kicking each other in the back seat, unrestrained by seat belts or cars seats, we’d head over the bridges and up to the woods where summer officially began.

After driving what seemed like forever on the not so Quickway, we’d get off and ride for more forever those last five nauseating miles of rolling hills; passing a lot of old barns and nothing, ticking off landmarks and we sang 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.  First came Egg U then Lucky Dip and Davos which was also known as The Big Vanilla, until finally there it was, the big white sign reading Goodman’s – our bungalow colony, our safe haven, our freedom.

We’d pull onto that gravelly road, like crunching glass under our wheels, roll down our windows and hang our faces out the window to bear full witness to our arrival.

The back line of bungalows soon came into view, tiny little white planks of wood that would house families of four or five. Homes that were more like shacks that had nothing but everything we needed. I knew every family in every bungalow up the line till I reached my own.

My brother and I fell from the car like puppies and tumbled into the dewy grass. Woods surrounded us, closing us off from the world. During the summer, groups of kids would sneak away in those woods to a hideaway called the Bear Cave, climbing over the rock with the graffiti scrawled ‘Son of ’44’ that always gave me the shivers.

David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam had been caught by then but I was young and the idea of him and that rock created a feeling of danger that lingered. In fact, the Bear Cave itself, where the cooler, older kids hung out was foreboding enough without even the question mark of bears or serial killers.

There were other reasons to be wary of those woods. I had it on good authority that Old man Zuckerman had lost his arm chopping wood on account of being distracted by kids and was now running around crazy with an axe looking for children to kill. That was the story anyway.

The only time I ventured into the woods was with the camp after a rain to search for little orange salamanders that I would doom to a sad end on my bungalow porch in a plastic tub with air holes slit in the top. I loved those gentle soft bellied creatures.

On that first day up, I’d run from the car, sucking in deep breaths of mountain air and leave my parents to the job of unloading our packed up life and setting up our bungalow. I’d walk out into the large expanse of green lawn, hard back wooden chairs and picnic tables scattered about and watch other families hauling suitcases and boxes into their summer homes, knowing they were full of friends and that I’d be in and out of many of them over the next two months. I had been in and out of them since I was a baby.

That was more than 30 years ago, but I still see all of us there on the big hill above the concession, in the TL where our names are still scrawled, behind the casino on Morris’ side, on the S-line lawn and screaming at each other in Color War.

There was the boy in his parachute pants who my best friend loved and I did a little too; and my friend’s brother with a coil of purple rubber arm bands lazily reading a Richie Rich comic book in his bungalow. There was the girl with the wild kinked out hair and her strong older brother with his half shirts, wide smile and a voice as gravely as the road that led us into the colony. There were the sisters who intimidated me, the girl strutting around in the rainbow bikini and the boy who everyone thought was hot; the shy tall guy, his best buddy and the one I played Zim Zam with.  My cousins were also there with me to giggle under the blankets and have our run of the land.

We will forever be those children rolling down the big hill, playing Catch the Flag and May I, trading stationery and running free, full of life and possibility in a place that will remain forever idealized in childhood dreams; a safe place with bomb pops and bungalow bars and a sweet $1.25 lunch special, where the world couldn’t touch you.

The 70’s and 80’s were long ago. The emaciated, slightly hunched man with the tired old cowboy face who walked the colony picking up litter with a long pointed stick and rolling over the grass with his tractor sold our colony and sent us off.

We all grew up and the world did touch us.

But in Goodman’s we live forever.

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