Like a warehouse in which several floors have been segregated, under guard and lock and key—entrance forbidden—so are so many of our memories. With each passing day, month, year, and the experiences so accumulated, we sacrifice some of our past to retain that of our most recent past. The prism of our memory shows crisper that which is forty years gone than in retelling the events of the last week. Unquestionably, we are bewildered by the incongruity. However in this small, yet astounding miracle, we all, in a semi-distorted way, remain forever young.
This notion cuts to the truth of how it has been, and continues to be, in writing about the glory years of the Catskills. A reviewer of an anthology of Catskill memoirs speculated that the authors are still, now, visiting these venues, each night, as we sleep. Then, upon awakening, we rush to a typewriter or computer, hastily recording the visions while they are vivid, a moment before realizing we are in the present, and the bungalows, hotels, towns, camps, friends and playgrounds of the past have long past been consigned to dustbins.
These memories come in so many genres. They appear as snapshots—small and distinct pictures of what went before. They come in short features—a longer sequence, a series of events, a special moment frozen forever, drawn up yet again in slumber, fixed against the pull of decades and as clear and present as the morning’s news.
The recollections roll forward—a highlight film flickering against the canvas of closed eyes. Sunburns and softball, blueberry picking and milk and cookies, swimming and three mile hikes, comic books and movie nights, traveling vendors and the colony concession, winding country roads and old gas stations with elderly attendants in starched uniforms and bow ties, best friends and worst enemies, bonfires and bingo, the woods and the lake and the haunted house, counselors, arts and crafts projects, the look and smell of the bungalow on Decoration Day, daisies and the handball court, the double swing and the teeter-totter, Mello-Rolls and Orange Crush, stickball and stall showers, summer quilts and baseball cards, thunderstorms and salamanders, first dance, first date, first cigarette, first beer, first kiss, first sex, first everything.
How do these reminiscences still survive when so much else has fallen from memory? How is it my mind’s eye can conjure the definite dimple and mesmerizing magic of Marcia Clayman’s smile, when she was but seven, as was I, some forty years ago? How is it I may yet discern the blessing of a cherry-vanilla mella-roll—cold and sweet to the tongue—fresh from the colony store but slightly melting beneath a July sun? What prescient power preserves the downy feel of the orange under belly of a single salamander captured after a bracing summer rain? How can I so clearly trace the trajectory of a “pensie pinky” on its flight from my stickball bat to the distant roof of the camp-house? The lens of my inner being, where all hopes and dreams and memories live, was it then sharper, more efficient, and so much more powerful? Did I some how know, by some intrinsic intuition, that those moments were most precious and singularly salient? Was I cognizant of their need to be indelibly inscribed on my subconscious, so that many years forward, in times of stress and anxiety, they would stand ready to be summoned, a citadel of strength called from reserve to beat back even the strongest waves of anguish and loss?
Today we live in a world of towering contradiction. Science and technology have brought us to the threshold of miracles and wonders that could not even been conceived of just decades before. Images and events streak across the atmosphere at the speed of light, into our homes, and our office and our automobiles. Our children may expect to live a hundred years, and their children a hundred and twenty, and more. Yet torrents of hatred pervade and endure, ancient superstitions and horrible xenophobia poison what otherwise might be the dawn of an epoch of abundance and enlightenment.
Yet the whole of our experience is not simply what now occurs around us, or to us. No. Our experience is comprised of that which is actually occurring, coupled with our perception of that which is occurring. Now, surely our perception of this reality is touched and tempered by many variables, not the least of which is from where we have come—the entire compilation of experiences past. It is recognition of this unassailable truth that lends me the greatest appreciation and gratitude for those long ago but hardly lost summers of my youth. For, in large part, it is the love and wonder and tenderness and magic and awe discovered through those endless days that, in times of severe duress, miraculously resurfaces, and by the grace of God proves to be the measure of difference between acceptance and insanity.