Looking back today, it’s obvious that it was a classic matriarchal society. Close to maybe what had existed so many years before, when the senior men in the clan were out hunting and foraging, and the women tended home-fires and children. But in the remembering it is clear that the weekdays were devoid of fathers and husbands, except for the colony owner and maybe the camp director.
At sometime between dinner Sunday and breakfast Monday, the dads vanished, banished back to “the city”, where they slaved long and hard to earn the bounty that made our summer’s solace possible.
Disappearing along with them were all vehicles of the internal-combustion variety. On Monday mornings the colony parking lot was as empty as a temple 10 minutes after the shofar blows on Yom Kippur. From Monday through Friday, we were pretty much landlocked to that little plot of grass and asphalt- remanded to a handball court, ball-field, casino, swimming pool, and row s of little shacks that were our respite from the teaming and steaming streets of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.
The weekdays were full-with day camp and ball games and swimming and horseplay, and the moms had meals to prepare, and washes to do, and, more essentially, mah-jongg and canasta to play. But, invariably, Friday rolled around again, and with it the much heralded return of our the wandering dads.
Friday came, and our moms, who on other evenings would throw anything at all together for dinner, often “pot-lucking” it between two or three or more families, would suddenly emerge as Jewish Julia Childs incarnate, and spend hours preparing lavish “Friday” (or “Shabbos” to the more observant few) repasts. They roasted chickens and turkeys, and made chicken soup from scratch. They made chopped liver, chopping the liver and eggs and onions and chicken fat in those old wooden bowls with a gleaming, steel, sharper than the devil’s tongue hand chopper that preceded “Slingblade” by a good three decades. They baked kugels and bought or baked fresh challah. I remember my mom would stock away jars of cold borscht, or schav–a foul smelling, mysterious, green concoction that my dad downed with relish preceding his dinner.
They began arriving some time after six. Those that were fortunate enough to be able to leave their offices an hour or so before regular closing. The small, winding country road that for five days had been practically barren, now witnessed a continuing, relentless clump-clump of tires bounding over its weary blacktop. The cars knew not from air-conditioning, and the Chevys and Fords and Oldsmobiles and Dodges appeared, windows opened wide in search of a small breeze. The dads emerged from the steamy cars in short- sleeve white shirts opened at the collar, a hint of perspiration stain at the underarms, stopping to stretch, then await the rushing onslaught of their children, who, gratefully, were still young enough to be excited by the simple reappearance of an absent parent. I recall us charging my dad with the zeal of the bulls at Pamplona, eager to discover what treat or surprise he’d smuggled up from the city. One weekend it was my grandfather, replete with overstuffed valise, intent on a two week stay, armed with enough loose change to keep me in pin-ball heaven for the fortnight. Another time it was a stack of new Superman’s. One time it was a surprise visit from a city friend, although that one backfired, because, well, the city friends and country friends, they were two different breeds, ya see, and they mixed as well as gasoline and turpentine.
I remember those Friday nights like they were last week. The promise of dusk settling around the colony as we spied my dad’s car turning into the parking lot. He lumbered from the car, and you caught a hint of his smell-that dad smell. Part Old Spice, part Pepsodent, part Lucky Strikes, part perspiration. And he’d been three hours on the road, but he was anxious and eager to hear all about your week in camp, and the softball game you won with a late inning base hit, and the movie you’d seen the other night in the casino, and the new high you’d posted on the colony pin-ball machine, and anything and everything else you wanted to share.
Harry Chapin wrote a lot of great songs, but, fortunately, “Cats in the Cradle” didn’t apply to us. We really did know when dad was coming home, and we really did have a great time then. We really did.