Monday, November 24, 2014

August 1962

I grew up in a little town in Upstate New York.  The recent photos from Buffalo reminded me of epic snow-storms of my childhood, staring out the window at the delicately-carved canyons created by the wind howling around the corner of our warm, secure house.

Every morning, my mother would listen to the 'CBS World News Roundup' on the radio, as we ate breakfast. I vivdly remember the one magical morning, when Richard (C.) Hottelet announced that 'this morning, the coldest place in the country is Elmira, New York', before moving onto the next story.  We glowed with the sense of being, for a brief moment, nationally recognized.

But I digress.

The flip-side to the brutal winters was the endless, humid, firefly-filled summer.  Our best friends had a house on Keuka Lake, and many weeks were spent there - just the Moms and kids.  The Dads continued working, of course - we never thought about them, just trusted that they would appear on weekends.

The world of adults rarely had any impact on the daily swimming, boating, and explorations that filled our days.  This is appropriate - meals and calamine lotion just appeared, as needed.
Every once in a while, we got a glimpse of a world beyond the lake. One summer, the original cast recording of 'West Side Story' showed up, and we played it over and over, amazed at both the music and Anita's inflection as she snarled 'A boy like that, who keeled your brother..'.

Among the abundant child-centered memories, I can only bring-up two where the adults were front and center. 

One weekend, several of our parents' friends came out, to spend an afternoon at the lake.  I had some long-forgotten reason to intrude on the adults. They were all sitting down by the water, no doubt laughing along with my own entertaining father, who was endlessly cracking jokes and smoking the Parliaments that would eventually murder him.

I approached and noticed one man sitting there who looked vaguely familiar, but, then again, not.  I sort of knew the face, but who was this slightly-chubby man, in the sun-glasses, colorful shirt, and bermuda shorts, chuckling along with the others? 

A pause, and a Revelation.

It was our Rabbi, James I. Gordon, who I had never seen outside of the dark-suit, solemn-intonation, divinely-infused world of our Conservative schul. The world expanded at that moment. 

A footnote:  Decades later, after I had moved to Portland, Oregon, I happened to see a VERY young Rabbi Gordon in an old photograph.  Turns out that, before he went to Elmira, one of his first posts was out here.  At that moment, he and I were strangely linked, both having made a transfer between Portland and Elmira, at different times, in opposite directions, for entirely different reasons.

I digressed again.

The next memory has me in the water, looking up at the dock, where adults were sitting in the sun.  They were quietly talking and one of them held up the newspaper, whose very large headline said 'MM DEAD'. 

I was 10 at that time, and, now, at 63, it's easy for me to imagine folks of that generation getting conversational fodder out of the question 'do you remember when you heard that Marilyn Monroe died?'.

1962 was the time of their middle-age: kids, work, friends, the daily news.

Last summer, the family gathered in Elmira for three busy days, for the funeral of my 101 year-old uncle.  After the burial (full military honors), I walked around the cemetery and visited my parents, all four grandparents, and several of our family friends, many of whom were at Keuka Lake the day Marilyn died.

My only memory of that day is that headline. 

I no doubt went back to enjoying the water and looking forward to dinner, not knowing what I now know:  that Soviet missles were heading towards Cuba, that Lyndon Johnson would be the next President, that John, Paul and George had just replaced Pete with Ringo, and that, more than fifty years later, I would understand the inevitability of my time becoming the quaint, innocent past.

It's only natural to look back at earlier times and wonder 'what the heck were they thinking?'.  Imagine the incredulity of our descendants, when they do the same.