Writing about knitting is just about one of my favorite things to do. But, it’s August (already) and before the Summer melts away entirely, there are just a few other things I wish to write about. Lacy knit patterns and favorite knitting yarns aside, life holds memories too good not to remember them from time to time.
Sometimes, it seems like yesterday; other times it feels like three lifetimes ago. Shrouded in faded pictures in my mind, those high school years, when dredged up, are still vibrant and alive to “see”. Sepia-colored images, like old black-and-white movies, they never grow old.
So, I was sitting in my living room flipping through channels trying to find SOMETHING to watch at 9:00 p.m. when on the Palladia channel there was John Fogarty in concert. I’ve seen bits and pieces of it before, but I ended up watching the whole thing. Early on he talked about one of his songs “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” being written after he hitched a ride out of Woodstock in the summer of 1969. Then, when I went to his website, (and who could have imagined a “website” in 1969?) it said John Fogarty would be in Hamburg, NY on 8/8 and Bethel, NY on 8/9. For those of you who don’t know, Bethel IS where Woodstock took place, not in Woodstock NY which is further away. Funny, I thought to myself, I was there too, the week AFTER Woodstock took place, but I’d have to go back in time and tell you all about it . . . . . .
My best girlfriend, Marlene and I were inseparable. This, even, before cell phones and texting! We could talk non-stop all the way home from school, part after crossing the footbridge, and within ten minutes we were on the phones again, for another hour go-round. In school, when going from class to class we would pass notes to each other in the halls because we never had the same classes together. Silly things, just funny teenage musings, which I can no longer recall, but which served the day well.
It was in June of 1969 that we graduated from high school. Cranford High School. That bedroom community in Union County near to Elizabeth and Linden, and with an always simmering rivalry with our neighbor, Westfield. Who was better, who was yuppier? I’d say it’s a draw.
1969. A long time ago. It was that decade they call The Sixties, where all manner of bad things were happening. Hippies ruled the world and freedom seemed on the brink, while the fighting in Vietnam went on and on and we were always told something different every night on the 6:00 news. Actually, hippies were few and far between and who wanted to live like a dirty bum, anyway? Vietnam was a bad scene, and freedom STILL seems on the brink. Yet, we are all still here.
It’s been a while since I’ve walked those hallowed halls of CHS, and I have not been in Cranford since 2010. The town is the same, maybe wetter from all the nasty flooding from Sandy and Irene, I think. I have NO reason to go there again, and so it too sits in my mind, right where I want it.
It was after graduating that the fun started. For a few weeks, Marlene and I hung around, probably going to each others houses and walking to town; occasionally driving if there was a car available. We would hang out at the diner and the Menlo Park mall a lot.
It was in August of 1969, right after that historic moon landing the month before, that we took off for Pennsylvania. Marlene’s parents were building a house there in Damascus Twp.; a sleepy little township right on the Delaware River across from Callicoon, NY. I had been up numerous times already to the “cabin”, because that’s what everyone called the house at this point. It was just three rooms, with a dirt driveway, a hand-pump in the kitchen for water and an outhouse out back. All this up a gravel road with woods all around. It was, as the Frugal Gourmet (remember him?) used to say, a scream.
The area was all farms, very rural and sitting in amongst foothills and wooded scenery. It took about 2-1/2 to 3 hours to get there from Cranford. I remember driving through Livingston and up Rt. 24 (which is now Rt. 124) as it meandered past St. Elizabeth College and Drew and Fairleigh Dickinson Universities. It was all back roads and places a lot less suburban than we were used to. Signs for Indian Lake would get us giggling because at the time the Cowsills had a #1 hit song by that very name, and after all, it had to be THIS Indian Lake! Then up Rt. 23 into Sussex County the truly backwoods of New Jersey, if there ever was any. Past ice cream and fruit stands, old houses and garages sunk into the earth; large areas where nothing grew but trees and weeds and the traffic settled down to an occasional car passing by. We were never in a traffic jam up there.
Then suddenly we would drive through Port Jervis, which was the biggest town we had seen for the entire trip. I remember crossing over a bridge in town and then before long we were on Rt. 97 in NY which followed the river all the way to Callicoon. We would pass covered bridges, more than one, on our way north; I loved the area known as Hawk’s Nest, where the zig-zag of the road could only be equaled to the panoramic view you got of the river far below.
Once in Callicoon, we crossed over the bridge into Pennsylvania. In fact the bridge had just been rebuilt the year before, so it was brand spanking new. Then down the road a piece passing nothing but trees and woods and a little house here and there until we saw an ancient sign barely visible that read “Abrahamsville”. A little further along we turned right off the Callicoon Road onto Stonehouse Rd. (I think) and up to Rock Run Rd. (Mind you, there were no street signs to speak of at the time. Just landmarks, like Marlene’s Uncle Joe’s dairy farm silo and the stone house further up on the corner.)
Turning off that road we were on another gravel road with open fields and woods all around. The “cabin” was on the left and we would pull into the little rocky driveway. Back then it wasn’t much to look at and I never saw the finished results, but it did get expanded later that year and we could walk around in the “living room” that had just been added. But for now, it was three small rooms and a water-pump. And that outhouse.
1969. That was a year. Not only did we graduate high school, but other big events happened that summer. We were in Pennsylvania just after the Woodstock festival had taken place. So, 45 years ago at this very time, me and Marlene and her sister and folks were living it up in PA. I don’t mean that in a wrong way; either. The living was simple but very good in PA. Farm living. Straight off the land.
One late afternoon we were waiting for Marlene’s mother and Aunt Irene to get back from wherever they had gone to and we were starving! Teenagers with no food, not good! So, we went out into the little garden in front of Aunt Irene’s farmhouse and picked corn off the stalks. We decided on three corns per person. We heated up a large black pot of water on the stove and threw in our cobs.
You have NEVER tasted anything so good as corn-on-the-cob fresh off the garden stalk! It was all so mouth-melting not to mention utterly delicious. So soft and tasty; nothing like I was used to from the supermarkets! We ate our fill of corn that afternoon and that has stuck with me all these years. Just the taste of it; the awesomeness of things grown in the earth, then picked and cooked.
I can recall sitting on the wooden porch of that old farmhouse; inside there was a kitchen in front and a living room in back; up the stairs to two bedrooms and that’s all. No indoor plumbing, no toilets, no walk-in closets, no family room, no two-car garage. Just old linoleum on the kitchen floor and an old stove for cooking. I don’t recall if it was that visit, but one visit we did have a “picnic” outside one evening. There were picnic tables set with tablecloths and lots of plates and napkins and such. We girls did all that while the grownups took care of the cooking. I recall Aunt Irene putting on one of her brand-new Reader’s Digest records, and the song “Company’s Comin'” could be heard all over the yard.
Aunt Irene. A woman in her late forties I would say, at the time. Shortish, over-weight, gray hair, hard-working. Not one to talk a lot or at least not to us; but she had a motherly way about her that spoke volumes. She had three sons from a previous marriage; all of whom didn’t live there in the farmhouse. One of them Charlie, had just returned from Vietnam the previous year and he would show up now and then in his blue Chevy SS sedan hot rod. Cool car and fast as hell!
Aunt Irene was married to Uncle Allen, who was a brother to Marlene’s father. They looked alike and I’m remembering how bronze his forearms were by summer’s end; pure copper-color from working outdoors all season. That’s what you did when you worked outdoors in every season; if someone’s barn burned down, everyone was there in just a few days to clear away the old rubble and help to build another. No one had an abundance of “stuff”; you know all those things we buy incessantly from the shopping channels with a click of the mouse. Rooms were sparse and furniture old, but the fun we had and the heartfelt goodness that I still feel, 45 years later, is truly astounding!
Aunt Irene and Uncle Allen had two children, Martha and Eddie, who were both younger than us. They tagged along wherever we were and we had a blast every day.
Like when we went swimming in Vincent’s Pond. Just up another road a piece. Sitting out in the middle of vast fields was a pond belonging to one of the farm properties. We put on our bathing suits, grabbed our towels and headed over to swim. We could wade out into the water but not too far in, boy, did it get deep! Luckily we had a big old black inner tube which we took turns floating across the pond in. Midway across you could feel how COLD the water was. Out in farm country away from everything it seemed and we couldn’t have been happier. No one to bother us, no one to tell us to “get outta there!”, just fun in the sun on a lazy summer afternoon.
We were at the cabin for most of the week after the Woodstock Music Festival (or should I say “Mud Festival). For three days it did nothing but rain hard, but that didn’t stop the almost half million teens and twenty-somethings who descended on Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, NY. No one expected what they got; besides the rain there was the lack of toilet facilities, and all of the drugs. Another one of my girlfriends Linda, actually convinced her father to drive her there, can you imagine! He got within about 10 miles of the place and you could go no further for the HUGE traffic jam all over the place! So, they turned around and came home.
One afternoon me, Marlene, her sister Denise, cousins Martha and Eddie and her mom and Aunt Irene all piled into Irene’s old Chevy. I mean, this thing had to be from the 50’s; classic good looks but really ragtag by this time. I think it was white and green or white and yellow, I can’t remember. With the little fins on the tail lights and the hard seats inside. It didn’t look like the sturdiest of cars but when you’re seventeen and someone else is driving, you trust that they know the car is going to get you there and back. No worries!
We stopped at a general store, where we grabbed some hard candy out of the glass jars at the register. Marlene’s mom and aunt also stopped by another house to get some fabric for quilts or weaving or knitting or something like that. By this time we were in NY State and Aunt Irene knew how to drive over to Bethel so we took a ride just to see where the famous Woodstock festival had taken place.
Well! Let me tell you. I have never seen a BIGGER MESS IN ALL MY LIFE! We rode past the farm and the fields where the music festival had taken place. No doubt as to where it had been because there was GARBAGE-all-over-the-place! As in paper goods, towels, blankets, sheets, food, drink, toilet paper, clothes, bags, shoes, umbrellas, tables, chairs, tents, and anything else you can think of. I’m sure it was laying there. Or festooned in the trees, all blowing in the breeze. Field after field after field of GARBAGE! Almost other-worldly; like looking at an explosion of a garbage dump or an army of planes dumping junk out of the skies. It was surreal, and I can still see it clearly in my mind’s-eye!
The best part of course, was when we drove slowly past all of the port-o-potties! Ahhhhhhh! The aroma, the scent, the bouquet of putrescence that caught you in your nasal cavities! It was truly stifling, almost overpowering! God-awful!
Today you can wander up to Bethel, NY and visit the Woodstock museum to relive that fine music and dining experience. I think I’ll pass. It’s iconic nature certainly lives on!
We had the best time that summer so long ago. Another afternoon found us all sitting on Aunt Irene’s front porch; just an old wooden claptrap kind of place and we had what looked like a bushel of peaches to skin so they could be put into preserve jars. As we sat there with our hands full of peach juice, the sticky sweet mess all over our fingers, honeybees decided to join us in our fun. At first it was very disconcerting to have these little insects alight on your fingers and hands, but they didn’t want us, they wanted the sweet, sticky peach extracts. They would slowly just sit there, turning here and there, and then fly away. Nobody was stung. So there!
One more memory that sits in my brain on permanent guard-duty. Just to the left of Aunt Irene and Uncle Allen’s farmhouse was an old car path, where the indentation of tires could be seen all the way up the hill. We followed that path one day, coming across a place where people dump old washing machines and the like; just walking uphill through the woods, where no sound aside from the birds and the crickets could be heard. It took us about half an hour to get to the “top”. When we did we could see across into NY State, we could see what looked like a stream running way down below us. It was the Delaware River, of course. The view was spectacular! For miles and miles it went on, affording us a glimpse into nature’s beauty. We were actually joined by a couple of deer down the meadow; they stood stock-still and we stood stock-still until one of them must have picked up our scent. Then they were gone, off in a flash! Not to be seen again.
Ever walk down a country road at night in the dark with just a flashlight’s beam leading the way? As we drew near to the end of the road where it met another, we heard rustling in the meadow above on our right. It’s somebody hiding in the woods waiting to jump out and get us! All we could make out was a huge black shape! And it was moving! Run for your lives!! Then one of us was brave enough to shine the light and there was that cow standing at the fence, not at all concerned about anything, there in the dark!
When we lived in Pike County which is one county south of Wayne County where Damascus is, we were fifteen minutes away from Lord’s Valley. Truly. Just down the road from Damascus is Lookout, PA which sits in Galilee. It’s good to be in the Holy Land.
Thinking back on all those dirt and gravel roads, those foothills, and pretty mountains in the distance, dairy farms and acres and acres of farmland, simple little farmhouses, woods and rivers, ponds and falling streams, I’d say you’re not far off from God’s special corner on the Earth. I’ll always remember Pennsylvania with warmth and love. Just about as good as one of Aunt Irene’s delicious suppers! Venison, corn on the cob, rich thick gravy and whipped mashed potatoes.
Always homemade pie and preserves and hot coffee. Good conversations and card games across the kitchen table. Picking up the local “newspaper” to see who’s daughter was getting married or how many cows were sold at the local auction. Farm equipment used, for sale, but in good condition. Mr. So-and-So’s wife just returned from a trip to Indiana to visit her sister. And did you know that R.E. has been spotted out and about lately with B.H., God forbid his wife find out!
So much fun we had; with no cellphones, no computers, no Internet, no video games. Just pure imagination and the landscape to go with it! Homemade and simple. To the good life. To the best of things and to the best memories no money can buy!
“And the seasons they go round and round, and the painted ponies go up and down, we’re captive on the carousel of time, we can’t return we can only look behind from where we came, and go round and round and round in the circle game.” Joni Mitchell