It was that most dreaded of times. After two glorious months spent at the house in Lake Hopatcong, it was time to go back to the city and start school. Mom and Dad, wanting us to have every last moment of vacation, waited until the Sunday night before school started for us to come home. In a way it was great that we were able to spend every possible moment of our time there, but in another equally real way it was somewhat cruel. One day we woke up in the sunshine, hearing birds sing and smelling grass, and the very next day we woke up early and had to get ready for the very first day of a new school term. A first day of school was cause of anxiety enough, but to have it abruptly thrown at you like that was cause for a near nervous breakdown.
We would spend that last Sunday playing ball, going to the lake, all the normal things we did that made our stay there so great. Mom would remind us every now and then to be prepared to go after dinner that night. We nodded and said no problem, and kept on playing…it was hours away right? Why worry about it now?
But you know how that works….before you know it Mom is clearing the dinner dishes from the table on the porch, and the departure is close at hand. I remember my stomach starting to turn over in anticipation, well, dread really of what was to come. Mom of course had packed our stuff already so we couldn’t say we weren’t ready to go when Dad started jingling the car keys. The late summer sky had turned darker, and cool breezes, harbingers of what was to come fluttered through the leaves of the trees. I would sit on the bottom of the stairs outside, thinking back on all the fun stuff we had done in the past two months; the ballgames, the daily trips to the lake, the candy from the little red store (it’s real name was Nan Pratt’s but we always just referred to it as “the little red store”), the ice cream treats from the Pied Piper ice cream truck that came around each night, the hikes through the nearby woods, the sound of crickets and cicadas, the sight of an already dark sky made even blacker by the hundreds of bats that soared above, the barbecues, the visits from Cousin Chris and Lorraine and Robin, the magic that was Bertrand Island….all flashed through my mind as I awaited the final walk to the car and the drive home and ….school. Horrible, scary, hated school. Ah what nights these were, these very last moments of freedom. Soon it would be textbooks, strange kids I didn’t know nor wanted to, homework assignments, school plays, math class, and even worse…the indignity that was gym. I would close my eyes and pray that somehow when I opened them again it would be the first week of July and it was all just beginning again. But again…you know how that works.
We would pile in the car and with one last mournful look back at the house as the car turned off of Squire Road, our fate was locked and lost.
We drove past the little red store, the lake and the Ledgewood Drive In Theater before Dad turned onto the ramp to the expressway. I imagined each one calling to me not to go and I hung my head at my powerlessness to stay. I love you, I would call out to them silently, I will be back…I promise.
The ride on Route 80 and then Route 46 as we got closer to the city was a blur, the darkness outside hiding the strip malls, and road houses we passed. An hour or so later, the smell of the air changed. It wasn’t clean anymore, it smelled of exhaust and chemicals, and I knew we were nearing the final approach to the Lincoln Tunnel. And then there it was, beautiful for sure, the New York City skyline. It’s still beautiful today but a lot larger than it was then. The long winding entry road to the tunnel was ahead, and soon it would swallow up our little car and spit us out onto a world of pavement and streets and crosswalks, and Avenues; traffic lights, garbage, noise and the smells of a dormant city on a Sunday night. I was nauseous by this time, really wanting to throw up. Soon Dad had parked and we unloaded the car, hauling our stuff back to our apartment, which always seemed a lot smaller when we got back. Not sure what that is, but there it was; both Don and I felt it, and commented on it to each other. But after all it was home, as much if not more than the house in Jersey was, and we soon found comfort in its familiar surroundings.
I never slept well those Sunday nights; the thought of the first day of school loomed, and I wanted to just stay in bed forever. And as life goes, the next morning we got ready for and went to school and in a few days, it felt normal again. Not good, but normal. We set out sights on the coming fall and Holiday season and tried not to think about those glorious summer days we had just had; that would have been too hard. No, better to concentrate on Christmas, and the new television season which was upon us. Anything but to dwell on what we had temporarily lost.
And the days and weeks passed quickly though not as quickly as they do now, and soon it was time to start thinking about the last day of school and all that a new summer held for us.
The cycle of life, right?
About that time, early Spring, I started dreaming about the sound of the rollercoaster at Bertrand Island, and the call of the Dugan’s man delivering fresh bread and milk to our door, the sentimental sound of lake water as it laps up against an old dock, the flapping of those beautiful bats, the crack of a whiffle ball bat as it delivered a home run across the hedges, the slap slap of Mom’s flip flops as we walked to the lake each day….it was all there, waiting for me, beckoning to me in my dreams…come back they all said…come back and play..and by the grace of God and Mom and Dad we did each summer.
Sometimes today, thousands of years later, as Spring dawns, I dream those dreams again… and wish I could comply…I wish I could answer…I’m coming…I’m coming.
I wish I could go back. And stay forever.