When we were kids, School would end for Summer vacation around the middle of June and Lord knows , we would be ready. The last 30 days before the break were agonizing, as we sweat in hot classrooms with no air conditioning. You could literally feel summer overtaking the city and the desire to get out of school and on with vacation intensified with each passing day.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, these last few days of school seemed to take forever to end, and much of the day was spent gazing out the window wishing we were out there ( anywhere) enjoying the warmth and the sun. As a kid, do you remember just how long it seemed to take for a major event to arrive, as you excitedly waited for it? The wait seemed endless. Of course, those dentist visits, school tests and teachers conferences with your parents seemed to be on you before you knew what was happening!
Well, that last month of school always seems to take an eternity before the break finally arrived. We were almost giddy on that wonderful, long-awaited last day of school. All was well with the world and everything that had previously caused anxiety and apprehension seemed distant now; summer vacation had arrived. For us, this last day also signaled that start of our summer stay at Dad’s bungalow in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey. Dad had worked three jobs and labored tirelessly to be able to afford this small oasis for us in North Jersey; his prime goal being to get his two boys off of the very mean streets of New York City in the brutal summer months. For this, my brother and I will be ever grateful. When we speak of memories, many of the most wonderful ones, as I’m sure you have noticed from previous posts, take place in and around this very humble bungalow in Lake Hopatcong.
For us, packing for the summer was pretty easy as we didn’t have that much anyway. A pair of sneakers ( not yet designated as tennis shoes or running shoes), a few t-shirts, a bathing suit and a few shorts. Done. (We did keep one nice shirt and a pair of long paints at the bungalow for Sunday morning Mass.) What we packed was irrelevant to us… the fact that we were going was all that really counted.
Excitement level reached a fever pitch that last Friday of the school year, because that evening, when Dad got home from work, we would be off! Dad always took the first week or two as vacation so he could spend the time with us before having to return to his jobs. At that point, he would come to see Mom, Rob and I on weekends and once during the week, usually Wednesday night.
I’m certain that as with many things time only improves our memories of fun events in our lives. That may very well be the case here, but so be it. I remember that drive out of the city and into the “country” as almost magical. We had not a care in the world and a summer of play, swimming and adventure awaited us. I clearly remember the air changing in aroma as we left the stifling city and headed west on Route 46. Traffic would begin to thin as we hit closer to our destination and the haze of the city gave way to clear, early evening sky’s.
Rob and I didn’t speak all that much on the drive as we were completely lost in our own thoughts; what new adventures would await us this summer? I can’t wait to go to Bertrand Island! I wonder what week cousin Chris will come and stay with us… that was always great fun..will I finally be able to scale the Big Rock? and on and on our thoughts went. Our city life was only a memory when we saw the exit for Hopatcong Hills ..our exit …. the final few miles to our oasis. Now we could smell the trees and the vegetation. The air was distinctly cleaner and even a touch cooler.
Through the small town of Landing we rode, eyes fixed on the boats dotting the lake which was now directly in front of us. Now , the clear , distinct aroma of the lake also filled the air. We looked at each other and smiled our biggest smile; soon.
Finally, the final turn on to Santa Fe trail and Squire Road; and there , a quarter of a mile away stood the bungalow ; white paint and green trim. It seemed to be smiling at us as we neared the driveway, welcoming us home after a long school year. We rushed out of the car and into the narrow road in front of our “home”… we stretched and looked around…. all was well. We wondered aloud what other kids were here already for the Summer… there weren’t many… but almost everyday would be spent with them: Bobby, Big Ray, Little Ray, Phillip, Joseph….. were they here? Tomorrow we would find out as we walked the narrow roads to each of the sparse houses. We would re-acquaint and then begin our adventures.
It was starting to get dark and some early stars were appearing in the twilight; yep, stars.. we could actually see the stars. Dad mentioned that it was going to be a beautiful night. Yes, that it was … and another Summer had begun. Little did we know that life long memories were being created.
I would trade them for nothing. Our bungalow… our Mansion… Our summer.