Station Wagon Summers
“Yerushalayim Is Not for Sale” plays for the third time, as we pass Kauneonga Lake and approach the final hill before Shor Yoshuv bungalow colony. Mordechai ben David sings about the “massive construction atop a Jerusalem mountain,” while the seven-year-old version of me tries to figure out what the word “Utahovernight” could possible mean.
How can I explain to my children today the feeling of sitting facing backward for three hours in the back of a brown-and-beige station wagon, wedged between boxes marked “milchigs” and “fleishigs”? How do I explain that unique combination of intense nausea and absolute ecstasy? Those stubborn window handles that you cranked round and round to let in a blast of hot Route 17 car exhaust, or the way the teeth in the hole of the cassette tape pressed against the tip of your finger as you tried to wind a shiny black mess back into the spool of a cassette? Lost sensations.
Behind me is the sweet freedom of the “last day of school.” Ahead stretch miles and miles of wide-open, glorious summer. A feast of endless delights awaits: little orange salamanders with tiny black speckles peeking out from beneath wet forest leaves; the thwack of a stickball broomstick connecting with a bouncy blue ball; the magical aroma of old wood, French fries and sweet ice-cream in a small bungalow colony canteen; and all around me, verdant green, deep blue and puffy, towering mounds of white.
These are the ingredients of summer. The thousand helpings of wonderfulness to nourish a child’s soul.
There will be winding forest paths that end in a mysterious burnt-out camp; gnarly tree roots that jolt beneath my bicycle wheels as I bump and bounce my way to the ice-cold swimming pool; and family suppers in the cool summer evening, to be eaten on a screen-enclosed porch, until nothing but a pile of watermelon pits remains.
There will be others with us as well. Swarms of fellow sun-darkened children, kindred sojourners in our bungalow world. And it is “ours.” We children own, by majority rule. It can’t possibly belong to those “giants” who live in our bungalows and appear from behind the white picket fence surrounding the shul.
Our throngs make great discoveries, announced with shouts of glee: the slithering garter snake whose forked tongue flicks in and out with astonishing rapidity; a wandering goat that appears by the colony entrance and munches on offerings of leftover cholent; the arrival of the truck peddlers hawking kosher knishes, kosher socks and a plastic wallet with a horse-head design on it (which stays in my desk drawer for the next fifteen years). Our young tribes run and shout from one great event to another, with little thumb-sucking dawdlers toddling and tripping behind.
The days melt into each other, but nothing compares to the most anticipated event of the week. After a long summer Shabbos, when the stars emerge and the cool night falls, when the fireflies glow in intermittent rhythm, we – the children – scatter throughout the colony to find branches and twigs. We drag fallen logs from the forest behind the baseball field until a giant mound of kindling takes shape next to Rabbi Stein, ztz”l’s, bungalow. The fire roars skyward. Sparks explode in fiery showers. Guitars appear and Rabbi Brazil’s sweet voice is joined by the rest of the crowd. Roasting potatoes wrapped in silver foil glow red-hot. Time stands still.
The final days are bittersweet as the everlasting summer draws to a close and ominous moving trucks appear in front of the bungalows. Soon it is our turn, and box after cardboard box is lifted and squished into the back of the truck in a remarkable feat of engineering that appears to defy physical explanation.
I watch from the back of the station wagon as we drive down the hill and the bungalow colony disappears in the distance. I feel a lump in my throat and sadness in my heart, but I am sure we will return next year, just as we did the year before – for we shall remain forever young.
Published in Yated Ne’eman Magazine 6/30/17