October 05, 2006
The mountains are stunningly beautiful in October. Even the roads, winding through tree-covered mountains, are pretty. With most of the summer crowds gone, we saw all kinds of wildlife: white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and a fox. When I go the mountains with my parents, though, we are returning for more than just the sheer beauty of the bright leaves and small lakes. We return for the wild parts of the mountains, the big tracts of land protected by the state where wildlife is free to roam, but also for the human memories.
One of our stops was at the campsite where we spent so many summer weekends in the 1960s: two other families usually joined us so whoever got there first saved three campsites near each other, along the back road with the woods behind us. The twelve of us kids would climb rocks, run around in the trees, and beg the parents to take us to the beach. My mother still remembers the time that one of the woman in the campsite went into use bathroom and came out of a stall to find a black bear roaming about near the sinks. In those days, a handful of campers used to gather at the town dump at dusk to watch black bears pick through the garbage, eating junk food that campers would toss them. I well remember the shivers of anticipation as we would stand on the dirt-covered hill and watch for the first dark bodies to come lumbering out of the woods.
We stopped at the camp that Kindergarten Friend's family owns, a cottage on the shore of one of the bigger lakes, a place I visited during my childhood. They've built another camp, but otherwise, everything has stayed the same. The general store, where we bought Seek-a-Word books, is still operating. And the shady pine woods where we played, looping yarn around the trees, attaching notes to the yarn, and pulling it back and forth in some complicated game, look just the same.
Of course, my father's memories of the mountain go back farther than mine or my mother's. During summers in the 1950s, he worked as a musician at one of the resorts. As we drove around the small mountain towns, he told stories about each building we passed. "That front part there was the barroom. I used to play singles there."
Some of the old hotels are still standing, some still operating. On our annual tour, we parked wherever we felt like it, usually in sunny driveways covered with pine needles, and wandered around. My father would point out where the musicians would set up, fifty years ago, and where the staff quarters were. "There used to be a Boy Scout camp across the way," he said, "and every night at dusk, someone would walk out on the dock and play taps." I could imagine just how haunting that would sound, the notes of music coming across the water.
Of course, in small towns, the locals don't always like strangers coming to gawk. At one place, an older man walked out, gave us a meaningful look, and said in a cold voice, "May I help you?"
My father looked over at the man. "I worked here in the 1950s. I was one of the boys from the Wood Hotel."
It is funny how those words changed everything. Immediately, the man relaxed. He and my father lapsed into a series of reminiscing and catching up -- what happened where, who ran which resort, and who was still alive. As they talked, I could just picture what the small mountain town was like in the 1950s with rich people from the city staying at these elegant resorts, dressing for dinner, dancing into the night. And the staff -- the musicians, the waiters, the kitchen help -- working hard all evening and then taking off in the middle of the night for their own adventures on the dark back road along the lake.
Over the years, we've met any number of staff who worked in the mountains during the 1950s and who still talked fondly of those days, some returning to live in the mountains, some returning their for camping or hiking or boating every summer. I've often wondered about the rich families who stayed in those resorts and whether or not they, all these years later, have that same attachment to the mountains where they spent summers eating the food that was prepared for them, sleeping on the beds carefully made up for them, and dancing to the music my father and his friends provided.
Posted by jo(e)