My Summer of '61 -- 09/02/02

Today is Labor Day -- yesterday I was describing this as marking the end of summer and I reminisced briefly about the September that I started college.

That has been the trigger to thinking about that summer, the summer of 1961, the summer between high school and college...

Graduation was held in the Municipal Auditorium, a cavernous building, essentially one huge room, but not large enough to comfortably (or even uncomfortably) hold more than four hundred graduating senior plus their families (we were followed by the Baby Boomers; future graduations ended up being held in an outdoor stadium). It was an incredibly hot afternoon and everyone was gasping for air. If memory serves, it was a Sunday afternoon, June 25th. That night I went to a large graduation party at a classmate's house... I'm not sure exactly how many people were there, perhaps seventy or eighty, the bulk of the people with whom I had been in classes for the past four years (six years counting junior high for some of us)... a good party... since this was 1961 in New York, all of us who were 18 were drinking legally and nobody worried too much about technical detail for those who may have been a few weeks short of that.

The next afternoon I was off to my summer job. One of my father's co-workers at IBM owned a small resort in the northern Catskills -- somewhere in between a boarding house and a hotel. There was a main house with kitchen, dining room (seating maybe three dozen people, possibly squeeze a few more in on big weekends) and living room on the main floor and several guest rooms upstairs. There were four or five two bedroom cabins and then across the road was "The Annex," a two-story building with several rooms on each floor. There was a large social hall building. Both it and the main house had full-width covered porches in front. The social hall had a softdrink vending machine on the front porch. One of our numerous jobs was to keep it stocked with bottles of soda. One of our perks was to have a free soda when we did that. (It was a nickel machine; yes, just five cents for a small bottle of soda... most commercial vending machines at that time had gone to charging ten cents.)

When I say in the Catskills, I don't mean Monticello -- Liberty -- Fallsburgh area that was known as the Jewish Alps (although I lived and worked there in the late sixties... tales for another time); this was quite a bit further north, near the actual village of Catskill, near the towns of East Durham and Cairo (pronounced like the brand of corn syrup, not like the city in Egypt), an area frequently called the Irish Alps.

I was one of three male students working there -- the other two were a year younger than me, Catholic high school students from New York and New Jersey, returning for their second year at this job -- but a friend of mine from Kingston had held my job the summer before. We shared a small one room cabin (just enough room for a bunk bed, a single bed, and a shared three drawer dresser). Next door was a similar "women's dorm" for the waitresses. We were dishwashers. In addition to dishwashing and general kitchen cleanup, we were in charge of cleaning the social hall, cleaning the pool, taking trash to the dump, general maintenance, etc. plus farm chores. Across the road, downhill behind the Annex, were pastures... and a barn... and a dozen or so cows. We got to feed and water the cattle (They were not dairy cows -- thank goodness! -- but were being raised partly as a hobby, to eventually be sold as beef cattle.) We got to mow the hay fields... and bale the hay... and gather up those bales and stack them in the barn. Fortunately, the hay work took up two intense weeks of work, but for most of the summer the work was relatively easy.

Some nights we'd walk a mile or so down the road to Raeder's Inn, a small bar and grill, family-owned, the mother and father were German immigrants, a married daughter was the waitress, her husband (who worked as a prison guard during the day) was the bartender... and, of more interest to teenaged males, was another daughter, a college student, an art major, who filled in at busy times. We'd hang around, play the jukebox (I kept playing "Green Fields" all summer), play games -- they had a bowling machine that I got to be pretty good at, dropped many dimes into its coin slot -- then walk back to our cabin. Sometimes on Friday nights I'd buy a sixpack of beer and after stashing the beer in our cabin we'd raid the kitchen -- there were always a couple of leftover hams in the refrigerator on Fridays (left from ham night, Wed or Thurs, can't remember) -- and build some big thick ham sandwiches which we'd bring back to our cabin and wait for the stroke of midnight (this being in the days of meatless Fridays for Catholics) to eat our sandwiches... and, not being Catholic, I would always tease my friends by taking a big bite of my sandwich when the clock said that Saturday was still a minute away.

Saturday nights the guests would all chip in to buy booze and there would be a party in the social hall -- the boss always paid for us -- and we would drink a lot (usually beer -- the adults tended to drink highballs (some kind of liquor dumped into a glass of some kind of soda... it was sort of a holdover from the 1950's) -- and yes, we sometimes got a bit drunk. And the next day we'd get to gather up all of the deposit bottles, so as an added bonus we got to take them to town and collect the deposit money (two cents on small soda and beer bottles and cans, five cents on quart bottles) and being teenage males we'd buy a dozen donuts and stuff our faces. Usually the parties were fairly sedate (given a certain high level of voices and laughter) although once two younger couples (younger relative to the usual crowd, they were probably late 20's, a decade younger than average but which still made them ancient to us *grin*), who apparently had continue partying after everyone else had gone to bed, snuck out to the pool and went skinny-dipping. (How did we know? Because we heard them giggling and laughing by the social hall, slipped out of our cabin to see what was going on, and found a good vantage point to watch the proceedings.)

The owner (who had been a fighter pilot in WWII) was half-owner of a small airplane. One day after dinner he drove us over to the local (grass runway) airport where the plane was usually kept and took the three of us up for a spin. He did a little bit of fancy flying, joking about seeing if we could keep dinner down. I suppose it wasn't exactly the kind of stunts you see at airshows, but it did feel thrilling to me. It was fun. He also had a grass landing strip on his farm, an unused pasture a couple hundred yards uphill of the main buildings. We drove the pickup truck back from the airport while he flew back with someone else. Since we left the airport before he even took off, we were pulling into the driveway next to the main house when he flew overhead. When he landed on his grass strip the landing gear collapsed while he was still taxiing to a stop and the plane nosed over, trashing the propeller. No injuries, but the plane spent the next few weeks in a hanger he had next to his personal landing strip.

The last night of summer -- if one is to consider Labor Day the last day of summer -- I think we all stayed up all night, or at least most of the night. That Friday night a couple of friends of mine drove up from Kingston and we spent much of the night going from bar to bar, enjoying the raucous resort revelries, kind of a smaller scale mountain version of spring break in Florida, packed bars, parking lots filled with the overflow crowds -- O'Neill's and O'Neil's-in-the-Woods, and The Shamrock, and the Erin Melody Lounge, etc., etc., like I said, the Irish Alps. Saturday night the guests had their last Saturday night party of the summer. Sunday night was not as wild as Saturday, a few people left early to beat the Monday traffic back to the city, the rest didn't party quite as hard as Saturday, knowing they faced a long drive home on Monday. Most of the guests left on Monday, just a few staying over until Tuesday.

As I said, we stayed up all night that last night... walked down to Raeder's... I carried one of the waitresses on my back all the way there. She wasn't very big, but even so... When Raeder's closed we walked back. People paired off and disappeared. I was with the younger sister of one of the waitresses, just a friend, we walked around, laid on the ground looking up at the stars (do you know that scene early on in Close Encounters, where he comes to this winding country road, some people hanging out waiting for the aliens, and the sky is filled with thousands and thousands of stars? That's what that night looked like) We talked, looked at the stars, wandered around, trying to avoid wandering anyplace where people might be trying to find a little privacy. Eventually the sky grew light -- and we had breakfast and washed the dishes and I got a ride to Kingston with the owner.

That afternoon I was supposed to get together with some friends. I sat down on my bed just for a minute and the next thing I knew it was dinner time.

Our pay was twenty-five dollars a week plus room and board -- well, this was in the day of dollar an hour minimum wage -- the previous summer I had worked thirty hours a week in a furniture store, so thirty dollars, minus tax meant take-home pay of $27.50.... however, they only needed me eight or ten hours a week (family-owned store and the family member in the army had finished his enlistment, so there hadn't been much need for me after the Christmas rush) -- so twenty-five dollars a week seemed like a good deal (and we did get free drinks at the Saturday night parties, etc.) -- times ten weeks came to two hundred and fifty dollars (but I don't remember how much taxes took out of that) -- and when he paid us off at the end of the summer the boss gave us each an extra fifty dollars for all of the extra work we did with the hay.

p.s. Yes, Labor Day has turned out to be a rainy day, steady rain since midnight and it looks as if its going to rain all day.

previous entry

next entry

To list of entries for 2002

To Home (Index) page