Letter from America
by Ellen Neumann
July 4th 2012.
In Sullivan County, the heart of the Catskill Mountains of New York State, it is summertime and life is good. I love it here, even though our rural area has become depressed, oppressed and sort of poverty oriented. Jobs are scarce, taxes are high and many people live from week to week wondering how they are going to survive. Yet it is summertime and life is good. No worries about heating the house, driving in the snow or catching the flu. Mother Nature provides Sullivan County with shimmering lakes, rolling rivers and babbling brooks; all perfect for water sports and swimming in the good old summertime. Did I say swimming? Oh yes! Love it!
I did not learn to swim until I was almost a teenager. I grew up in a family of 4 children, one working dad and one non-working mother who did not drive a car [Oh man! She would kill me for saying that! Her “job” was caring for us and our home, a tough and thankless one indeed in the 1960s]. My aunt [who drove a car] would take us all to a lake on the occasional Saturday in the heat of summer. We would splash about, wiggle our toes in the sandy sludgy bottom of Highland Lake and float around in big black inner tubes. My parents once took us for a day trip to the banks of the Delaware River. As my sister Peggy and I waddled in the fast moving water, a current seized us. We clung to each other as we floated down the river for what seemed to be forever. Neither of us remembers how we got out of that alive but obviously we did!
When I was 11 years, my family built a new house close to my grandparents. With that move I gained access to a swimming pool! Yay! Yippie! Yahoo! Finally I could learn to swim and I did. No lessons, no instructor, just me, my little earplugs and the shimmering blue water. By today’s standards that pool was tiny [15 ft wide and 22 ft long, 6 ft deep at the far end] but when I was a little girl it seemed like the biggest pool in the world and although it was packed with lots of other kids, in my mind it was MY pool! I taught myself to float on my back, doggie paddle and barely swim across the pool. I was no Esther Williams to be sure yet I could now swim and this opened up an entire new world for me.
When I was 19 I met the true love of my life, the Atlantic Ocean! Oh my! I can remember the first time I saw it, somewhere near Jacksonville, Florida after having driven 1200 miles from New York to Florida with several friends in an old beat-up Chevy convertible and finally reaching the east coast of the USA. The year was 1969, I had just attended the Woodstock Music Festival and then headed for So. Florida, but that is another story. It was September, hurricane season with one brewing out at sea. The surf was strong, the waves breathtaking and foamy as they rolled and crashed on the sandy shore. The smell of salt and sand was intoxicating [or was that the cheap wine we were drinking as we lay on the sand letting the sun engulf us]. I entered the water cautiously, not really knowing how to navigate the waves. I learned quickly to bob and weave under and over them; to catch one just before it “broke” and ride it to the shore. It was a glorious and liberating experience to say the least. Over the years I have spent countless weeks at many beaches along the Atlantic coast and each time it has been like the first time: always new, always fresh and exciting.
My husband and I took our little girls to the seaside every summer for a week or two. He loved the ocean as much as I do and our children followed suit. Ocean City, Maryland was our favorite destination. We were young and needed nothing more than the boardwalk, the wide white sandy beach and some really good *Del-Mar-Va crab to create the finest vacation imaginable. What wonderful times we had and precious memories we created!
I now swim in the local community pool; a place where, when I was a young wife and mother, I took my precious daughters so they would learn to swim. Now they are the young wives and mothers. They spend their summer mornings at the same pool and watch their darling children [my grandchildren] take swimming lessons; their afternoons swimming and splashing and sunning themselves. I join them occasionally. I still enjoy a nice cooling splash into the shimmering blue water. I love to play with my grandchildren and watch them swim. They tell people “this is MY pool”. I love it when that happens.
It is now a hot and sunny July 4th afternoon. I think I will get up off this computer and head for that shimmery blue water. Summer in the Catskills is fleeting, only 8-10 weeks and it will fade into memories. When the snow flies next winter, I will think of this summer and all the summers I spent swimming in the sun. Summertime and yes, the livin’ is easy and I am lovin’ every minute of it!
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