Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Different Kind of Summer (by Margie Gelbwasser)

I've had summer loves of the romantic kind, but I won't write about those. Mainly because thinking back about them kind of bums me out. I never really grasped the whole summer love concept. I always wanted them to last longer than a summer. Maybe if I got the memo that they were only supposed to endure a summer--contrary to the said boys' proclamation of 'you never know what can happen'-- it all would have gone down easier. But romantic me missed that message, so yeah.

Therefore, I'm going to write about my own kind of summer love--my favorite summers.
I always WANTED to go to camp. ALL my friends went to camp. Camp was supposed to be awesome, first-kiss-sneaking-into-boys'-bunks-madness. But I never went to camp. Instead, every summer, I went to a bungalow colony in upstate New York with my older sister and grandparents. There were a few of these colonies. The first was in Monticello, and I was four or five. My sister and I collected salamanders and played hide-and-seek in the tall grass. Once a week, there were movies shown with an old school projector in a little trailer, while the owner sold ice cream bars--the kind with the crispy chocolate coating and vanilla inside. There was a pool and a merry-go-round that the older kids would spin--by running around in circles and then hopping on. We went there until I was seven. That was the year it burned down. Rumor was the owner started the fire to collect insurance money.

The year after, we went to a bungalow colony in Liberty, NY. No salamanders here, but there were cows and chickens, and we got fresh milk and eggs. There was a trailer with weird curtains that always looked like there was someone/something hiding behind them. We swore it was a ghost. We swore it was haunted. We'd run in, stay ten seconds, get freaked out by some noise and run out. Was there a ghost? Who's to say there wasn't? I met a girl there who became my best friend for years. Her name was Faina. We recently reconnected on FB and it was great to reminisce with her about all this. She doesn't remember the whole ghost thing. There was an amusement park within walking distance and my grandpa used to take the kids, telling stories along the way. My grandpa was an awesome storyteller. This bungalow colony was also the first place I played doctor. In some secluded shed. None of us understood why our grandparents were so mad.

We stayed in Liberty a year or two, and I'm not sure why we left. But a bunch of us--Faina's family included--moved to another bungalow colony the following summer. It was in Ellenville, and we stayed there for six years. When I think of summer, that is the bungalow colony that comes to mind. The bungalow colony in my novel PIECES OF US is based on this one.

At the time, I didn't appreciate it enough. I loved seeing my friends, loved the tranquility, loved being someone else every summer. Maybe not someone else, just me. A me who didn't worry about being popular or wearing or saying the right thing. But a part of me still wanted to be like everyone else, and go to camp. As an adult? The memories from this bungalow colony are my favorite and where I retreat to in my mind for the simpler times. They were being with my grandparents all summer. Waiting for my grandpa to get back from his berry picking run in the woods so we could eat fresh raspberries and blackberries and currant. It was watching my grandma make fruit compote and jam from the berries. It was playing baseball with the older kids and begging them to let us play truth or dare too. It was playing manhunt and cops and robberies and hiding in the darkness. It was swimming until our lips turned blue and our grandmas yelled at us to get out of the water already. It was learning to ride a bike and do cartwheels and waiting until older brothers or parents came who could drive us to movie theaters and roller rinks. It was having my big sister to myself every day of the summer and hoping I'd have summer boyfriends like she had. It was knowing no matter how much I annoyed her, she always stood up for me and made the older kids include my friends and me in their games. It was my grandpa, carrying his huge stick to pull back branches, walking all the kids down a hill to wade in the creek. It was also him gathering every kid in the bungalow colony to put on plays and shows for all the families.

I miss those days a lot now. My son went to his first full day camp this summer. He loved it. I was really happy for him. But I often tell him stories about my summers as a kid. About the berry picking. The jam. The creek. The endless days and grass we used to run on. And you know what he says? "Mommy, I want that. When can I go there?" And I smile. We all want what we can't have, right?


  1. Sounds wonderful!! I need to read PIECES OF US!

  2. What wonderful memories! I wish I'd had that as a child. Do such colonies still exist? I might look into them for my family's summers.

  3. LOVE hearing how your summers made it into PIECES OF US.