Thursday, June 22, 2017

Up the Lake- Toast

Once upon a time…

A pretty homogenous group consisting of Italians from the Bronx (and maybe some others, but they converted) that were part of “send city kids into the woods" projects were staying at camps on a lake up near Bear Mountain. 

By swimming or boating across that lake, they discovered a wonderfully enchanted land.  First they brought dates to this land for picnics, and over time those picnics rapidly progressed through sleep overs in tents, to platforms and finally hand built cabins allowing them to spend more time Up the Lake.  

The relationships of the dating couples also grew…into families.

Large, loving, loud families

For the next four to five generations, the descendants of that original group, (plus some very special friends who might as well be family) had a continuous series of crazy story and lifelong bond generating adventures every summer in, on and around those cabins and that Lake.

And now, after more than ninety years, it’s over.

We all knew it had to be over eventually…



That’s a complete lie.

We all knew it was GOING to be over eventually.

There are a ridiculous number of ways it didn’t have to be over, but we knew none of those would happen.

My daughter has known since gaining consciousness we’d have to stop going Up the Lake at some point. Considering my parents and I didn’t know until various stages of our adult lives, and my Grandparents possibly never knew, her having to live with that knowledge sucks more than non-Up the Lakers could imagine.

However, how much that knowledge sucked was nothing compared with how it came to be over.
I never imagined that anger could overtake sadness at the moment when it happened.

It was over without regard for:
Good Business Practice
Basic Arithmetic

Throw in the fact that there were several episodes of false hope to truly crush the kids’ (and adults’) spirits and it should be pretty clear why I had to rewrite this multiple times to remove profanity and keep it from being purely an incoherent rant.

Now with that out of the way:
I ask, in the spirit of respect for Up the Lake, that those who wish to share memories in the comments continue to keep profanity and ranting out of them, and maintain the focus on the many and varied positive times and relationships.

The extra catharsis to get past that urge for my sister and I came from having Grandpa Joe's rant  from the end of Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory run through our heads regularly during the endings of those false hope moments.  I hope you all can find something as well.

All of my Up the Lake family is deeply into bewildering grief right now.  Because of this, apologies in advance for wandering aimlessly between general and specific Up the Lake references for the rest of the post.

When describing our attachment to the place, most of us instantly start with: 
“It’s not the place, it’s the people.”  

But upon reflection, there’s a whole bunch that is "the place" too.

With multiple generations of everyone’s families, there are memories attached to everything.


I could spin a myriad of tales from events in each and every cabin up there.

Heck, I am admittedly-
A) Terrified of heights
B) The World’s Worst handyman.

Yet, I have multiple memories and stories about repairing and working on the roof (and underneath the floor in some cases) of many different cabins, not only my own.

There were card and board games, enormous meals, social goofing around and the echoing giggles of children who stayed up too late in every kitchen.

There were sleepovers, furniture moving, and animal extractions in every bedroom. 

Even the outhouses, due to being two seaters, hosted everything from stolen cigarette moments, to conversations about key life events, to occasional drunken musical interludes.
This connection goes well beyond the Lake and the cabins to the land itself.  Every rock, tree, rut in the road, pathway, stone wall and empty field sang with the history of several family trees' worth of adventures.

See this rock?

My daughter used to stand on it to sing and perform when she was a tiny little girl with her cousins and friends.

Do you know who else performed on this rock when they were tiny and little with cousins and family?

Me and my sister…

And before that, my Mother and Aunt when they were tiny little girls.

You can’t bottle that.

One of the saddest sentiments I ever heard was when my cousin tragically lost her home in a fire.

She said something along the lines of-
When your house burns down, you lose a place to live.
But when your attic burns down, you lose your memories.

Picture everyone in your closest circle of family and friends having their attic burn down at once and you’ll get an inkling of what losing Up the Lake feels like.

The Lake went far beyond nostalgia though. It was the way it would inspire us to do things we wouldn’t normally do that created most of those stories we were nostalgic for.

My favorite place to read on the planet was sitting in front of the fire Up the Lake. 

I have a fire pit in the backyard.  I have books and flashlights in the house…

But I never read by the fire at home.

Because it’s hard to see fine print, and the flashlight is annoying to maneuver.  
Plus there’s bugs.  
Finding a comfortable position in outdoor furniture and determining the optimal distance from the fire is nearly impossible without igniting my shoelaces.  
Add in having a glass of wine when reading, and surviving the trip from the reading location inside to bed becomes questionable.

Yet all those things also applied Up the Lake.  Not only was I out there every night, but by that shopping cart occupied fireplace, or on the hammock on nights when it was too warm to be right next to the fire, were the only places I could fall asleep (with alarming frequency as I got older) without wearing a mouth guard and not wake up with a massive headache, jaw pain, and flakes of enamel in my mouth from grinding.

The same goes for the kids' constant desire to play card and board games up there.  Even on the occasions they want to play at home, it usually isn’t the same games, and the focus and togetherness are different.

Then there was the daily morning routine.

Breakfast shared certain features almost every day, and let me tell you something,

Or two things:

1) There is no finer tasting coffee than what came out of those percolators.

2) There is no finer tasting toast that what came off of that bizarre little folding contraption.

Yet, none of us lifelong Up the Lake residents make coffee or toast that way at home for ourselves because of the effort, complexity and mess.

The complexity is evidenced by the sheer number of times I tried to be “helpful” and screwed up the coffee on Up the Lake mornings over my lifetime.

I’ve blown the number of scoops, the perking time, and the location on the burner (melting the handle more than once.) 

Even when my Mom set it up the night before, as per usual, I tended to mix up which one was regular and which was decaf. 

On my worst morning, I did everything absolutely correctly, with the mild exception of not noticing there were no grounds inside the baskets, meaning I bubbled and brewed regular and decaffeinated water for eight minutes.

Yet coffee was used as the universal greeting. In recent years the summons was by text message, but well before cell phones existed a Bronx accent tinged bellow would often split the quiet woodland air, “COME DOWN, I PUT THE COFFEE UP!”

This would naturally lead to the aforementioned card and board games, enormous meals, social goofing around and the echoing giggles of children who stayed up too late.

Excellent toast was just as strongly connected to the Lake mornings as good coffee, if not more so.

Sure the system was far messier, burn inducing and time sensitive than electric models.  The camp toaster had the ability to turn raw bread into burnt cinders in the time it takes the person watching it to turn around and ask, “Did anyone see where I put my coffee?”

However, considering we all ate exponentially more toast off those racks compared to a standard toaster, often consuming entire loaves of bread on rainy mornings, surely it would be worth that hassle and mess at home. 

Yet none of us do it.

Part of it does go back to “not the place, it’s the people.”  

Someone was on toast duty each morning. There was no complaining, and no selection process, it just happened. We all knew how much everyone liked toast and whoever started cooking accepted they were keeping watch over output until the waves were done.  And if that person had to leave to confront some non-toast related emergency, a replacement would pop into place immediately and the production line would continue.

The fact that cooking less than five slices at a time threw off the air flow thermodynamics put a little selfishness into the altruism, but everyone still got toast, so it’s OK.

That highlights how Up the Lake combined “stuff you normally don’t do” with “it’s not the place it’s the people.”

The common saying goes, “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.”

That’s probably the least of the reasons we all refer to our “Up the Lake Family.”

Year after year, and generation after generation, we were thrown together to face ridiculous outdoor adventures for the summer.

This created connections that are far stronger than family in many cases with people from cliques (to use a pointless high school term to get the right meaning) we’d likely never associate with back in the Non Up the Lake World.

It became a weird mix of similarities and differences as the families all started from the same place, but grew in varied directions, generating unexpected friendships and an extensive knowledge pool.

I still know all the lyrics to “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, one of the most culturally important hip hop songs ever recorded, despite having no interest whatsoever in the genre.

Similarly, I introduced friends (and their kids) who would have never heard them in their usual geek free circles to novelty music featured on Doctor Demento Show.  "Shaving Cream" is funny to a ten year old regardless of upbringing, location, or decade.

I’m not, nor will I ever be a gambler, but I know a huge number of poker rules, strategies and derivatives.

And I’ve introduced four waves of kids (my age, my daughter’s age, and two in between) to Dungeons and Dragons, TSR Marvel, and other Role Playing  and strategy games.  It fills my heart with pride when one of them comes back as an adult reminiscing about the fun we had.

I learned random survival methods, and a bunch of off the straight and narrow path skill sets and occasional sneaky ways I’d never pick up from the nerdly crowd I fit in with at home.

On the other hand, during planning for some of those “sneaky ways” adventures at night, I’d answer questions about astronomy and cosmology under the unspoiled and star filled night sky to friends who would never consider them, or be able to see them in their less science oriented and light pollution filled home environs.

Cell phones and digital signal availability cut into the isolation a bit after a while, but in general, the main focus of every one Up the Lake was each other and the environment we were in.

That meant there were no differences we couldn’t work through, and no similarities we couldn’t bond over.

And now, it’s over.

Fortunately, the attic analogy is way off in one key respect.

We haven’t really lost our memories.
We’ve only lost our mementos.

Our memories will live on for the next five generations, and the next five after that, and well beyond, because any time more than two Up the Lakers gather- the stories flow freely and unconstrained, bringing back all the laughter, tears and love that generated them in the first place.

It’s far too painful to work on them now, but rest assured, there are SO MANY Up the Lake tales to come on this blog. The surface of all our years of compassionate insanity has only been scratched.

Until then, in true Up the Lake Tradition which matches how the cabins were built: cobbled together out of whatever was handy and modified to fit our purposes, here is the Up the Lake song fashioned from popular music, army cadences and campfire tunes dating back to the childhoods of the First (a.k.a. the Greatest) Up the Lake Generation.

We are the boys and girls from Indian Lake you hear so much about.

The people stop and stare at us whenever we go out

We're noted for our decency in everything we do

Most everybody likes us

We hope you like us too

Whiiiiiile we go maaaar-ching and the band begins to play 

Rah! Sis! Boom! Bah!

Youuuuu can hear us shouu-ting

The boys and girls from Indian Lake are on their way

Give a cheer for the Lake, give a cheer for the Lake, 
Give a cheer, give a cheer, give a cheer for the Lake

If you want to have a good time just come to Indian Lake

By the light, by the light by the light of the moon

By the light of the moon, by the light of the moon, 
By the light, by the light of the Silver-y (*) Moon.

The End

*-Note Depending on whose Up the Lake Grandmother you asked, the ending was either “Silvery Moon” or extra syllables in a final “Moooooooon.”  
I realize this note totally blows any shot at a poignant ending but:

1) It shows how the most basic of actions Up the Lake would easily transition into endless debates and discussions of how to do it, how our Grandparents used to do it, if there’s a new way to do it, and why we shouldn’t change the way we do it, leading to new stories.

2) It shows that while we came from the same starting point we were all different, but we don’t care and all love each other anyway. Sure we’ve all probably had our own jerktastic moments when those differences got out of hand from time to time, but things patched up quickly, because Up the Lake water is thicker than blood.  
(And in the excessively few and remote cases with individuals that were unpatchable: Man! did they give us buckets full of stories before they left)

3) It shows that there will never truly be a “The End” to Up the Lake, because the tales naturally chain off of each other in a constant flow of memories, friendships and togetherness.


Up the Lake Index


Theresa said...

This was Perfect, Jeffrey. To All My Up the LAKE Family, I Love You and will miss you all terribly.

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx for reading and commenting. We're all going to have to lean on each other to get through this one.

Unknown said...

I love this! Thanks for sharing...
I rarely express feelings about The do so brings a true finality to it for me. However, as I read this and comments that have been posted on FB...I realize it's time to face that finality.
I find it so irionic that one of my most fond memories of being Up the Lake relates to Teddy. I always loved and very much looked forward to going with her to clean and organize her kindergarten classroom. Finding leaves to write her next year's students names was a true treat. The task brought out the natural organizer in me and I relished in every moment of it (to spite having to spend a day being referred to as "Auddie").
Now, I (rather begrudgingly) tear up at the thought that my kids will never know what it is like to leave the cabin after breakfast and not come back until sunburned and hungry for dinner. I will never know, as a mom, what it's like to be truly okay with having no idea where / what cabin / what field my kids are in for hours prior to bed time. They will never experience the bond of summer-time friends and family that I knew and cherish to this day. Those bonds brought me years of comfort during the roughest of life's situations.
I am in awe of our grandmothers who handled numerous angsty teen grandchildren all summer long. That cabin is my Nanny, to me. It is my aunts, my uncles, my represents unconditional love, precious memory, and family (blood-related or not).
Again, thanks for sharing - as quiet as I tend to keep about it, I feel as so many do about The Lake. It genuinely saddens me when I allow it to creep into my thoughts.

Unknown said...

I just realized this published as Unknown...I have no idea why...but, the "Auddie" comment alone should tip you off as to who this is! Who shortens the name Audrey??? It's two much shorter does it need to be???

Unknown said...

By far your best blog ever Cuz! That really gave me such a great feeling inside despite the animosity that has been building inside of me since Memorial Day weekend. Thanks for a wonderful trip down memory lane. Much love to all my Up The Lake Family! XO

Patricia Fletcher said...

Well said Jeff, you have a true gift!! Thanks for the memories my Lake Family 💕❤️

longbow said...

Pouring out a forty for the lake.
I only went twice (I think.. maybe 3 times) and even I have a "I can't believe we almost set ourselves on fire" story and a "AHHHHHHHH!!!! there's a creature in the kitch... oh it's just Kim who slept there for some reason" story

Jeff McGinley said...

Audrey, wonderfully put, that connectivity and that knowledge that the kids were ok wherever they happened to be was an amazing thing. Mom always said there was something about Up the Lake that made it seem like those we lost were still there.

Eric: Thanx, glad I could help. and thanx for being an important part of that Memory Lane. We wouldn't have spend as much time growing up together without it. Ungawa, kill the alligator!

Patricia: Thanx much, and once I get my head back on straight there will be more memories.

Scott: That was the magic of the Up the Lake story generator, even those who visited once or twice was roped in. I'm pretty sure those college Labor Day weekends generated at least 3 "almost set on fire" stories. Propane is heavier than air...who knew?

Gary Victor said...

Truly the end of an era.
Very sad but......Now it's time to forge ahead and start a new.
Not like before but a new start. A new story.
Find a new place and start your own legacy.
Future generations will thank you.

Antonia said...

Oh my goodness. Great post. Heartbreaking and triumphant all at the same time. can't imagine what this has been like for you. Thinking of all of you, please keep the Up the Lake stories coming. Maybe fashion it into a book. I would buy that!

Jeff McGinley said...

Gary, Thanx much. that is the way to do it. Which we will, once a little more recovery time has passed.

Antonia, thank you for your thoughts, and encouragement. The whole reason I started writing was the idea of an "Up the Lake Book." Though now I spend so much time writing for here, I don't have time to book stuff.
Plus engineering has a better medical plan.

Theresa (Terilli) said...

As you all know I am 68 and have been going up the lake my entire life. I learn to swim when I was three. I learned to play underwater mermaid when I was about 7, with Pammy of course. When I was about 12 Pammy taught me to french kiss by sticking her finger in my mouth. Panty is also the one who told me about reproduction. Delores is the one who taught me to dance, kept me an endless fits of laughter, and taught me kindness. It is hard to describe the closeness I felt to these girls as we were growing up. Gail Carol me Pammy and Dolores, what a crew!! The relationships were so simple and yet so complex. And here we are grandmothers together. It is one of the most unique experiences I've ever had. The lake will live in my heart forever. From the blessing of the lake to Labor Day parties, the people, my family, will never be forgotten.

JoAnn said...

So sorry to hear your up the lake time has come to an end. I can truly relate after being fortunate enough to have lived on Skyline Lake for almost 40 years and how I felt when I knew the time had come when I had to leave. But what you said is so true, no one can take away your memories. You were part of a very special bonding with family and friends, and no one can take that away from you. There is something truly magical about being "up the lake".

Alyssa said...

Thanks for this, Jeffrey. Also, thanks for the many years of juggling and balloon animals. & to your cabin for introducing all the kids to pull the rug out...also to Dolores for the acorn pipes...and the road by your cabin for having the best salamander spots!

Jeff McGinley said...

Theresa: Thank you so much for sharing your legacy story. There are so many of them from up there and they will all live on.And thanx for bing the musical leader down the lake for several generations!

JoAnn- Based on where you lived and talks we had, I knew you'd be one of the non -Up the Lake folks who would really understand, thanx for your support.

Alyssa- You're very was all wonderful. And thanx for supplying such wit to the Lake, like the time you suggested I hold the baking soda and vinegar rocket in the air to make it go higherr, and then deadpanned, "That wasn't so intelligent," when it blasted all over me on takeoff. I almost drowned I was laughing so hard.

Monica said...

Couldn't agree with you more ��

Monica said...

Thank you for writing this for all of us. There are so many stories of all the generations. My favorite place to me is up the lake for my entire life and I still can't believe we can't physically go anymore but will cherish the memories thank you Jeff

Jeff McGinley said...

You're welcome Monica, and Thank you for reading and sharing. We all lost our favorite place so we'll have to lean on the memories. Thanx for helping to create them.

Cousin Michael said...

I can remember our annual summer trips to New York. Dad's shop always closed down for the first two weeks in July for the annual summer vacation. We were on the road (Route 301, long before I-95 was built) at the crack of the next dawn. It was our mission to see Grandma and all the Frissora's in the Bronx, visit all the Cappetta's in Hartford and.... be up the lake to deliver the Fireworks we picked up on the road in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. (South of the Border) I remember Chick saying if we get in an accident lets hope it’s not somebody hitting us in the rear. We’ll all go up in Sparklers and Roman Candles!
Anyway we always spent the 4th of July weekend up the lake. It took care of seeing all the Frissora’s that were there for the summer from the Bronx. Some first time life experiences for me that I’ll never forget happened up the lake.
1. Sleeping in one bedroom with 6 to 8 adults that snored so loud and at the same time I thought I was in a haunted house.
2. Swimming in a lake that just thawed out from the coldest winter ever recorded in the history of the earth. (At least that’s what it felt like to this southern boy)
3. Fireflies. Never seen anything like them in my life. OMG. Bugs with headlights. Is this cool or what?
4. Making a fire after being told my whole life not to play with matches. Then getting to start a fire under the supervision of every Uncle and Cousin along with each of their own very special advice on how to do it.
5. The “Out House.” Words can’t explain so I won’t even try.
6. Saving the best for last would be the card games and all the other games played at Aunt Ray and Uncle Morgan’s kitchen table. Listening to all the Aunts, Uncles and Cousins tell the most hilarious stories of events that happened up the lake while they were growing up. And… Aunt Ray making specifically for me and for me only her world famous “Pinwheel Cookies.” And believe me I told everybody “NO” when they asked if they could have one. I guarded them with my life because I knew I wasn’t going to get anymore until next summer and that was a life time away.
I could go on and on but those were always the highlights. Everything comes to an end. It’s sad but the old cliché always seems to come true. The sad part is the way it happened. It could have been handled in so many other ways … for the better of everybody. There is no other choice but to move on. At least we all have memories and nobody can take them away from us. Amen!

Jeff McGinley said...

Michael. Thank you for sharing all those great memories. Even "guest appearances" Up the Lake led to memories that last a life time.

Thanx again for telling the tales and being a part of the Up the Lake family.