Issue 61

In Search of a Childhood Memory, Part II

“The alarm rings at 4 a.m., barely rousing me from a deep sleep as I roll out of bed. My left brain questions what the hell was I thinking?, while my right brain counters with all the bravado it can muster at this obscene hour, reading from its teleprompter the previously scripted sense of commitment to the plan.”


FullSizeRender  With that same half of the brain in control  I grab my smart phone to record the first documentation of this adventure in search of a childhood memory by taking a pajama clad sleepy-eyed selfie.

Throwing some water on my face and the clothes on that I laid out the night before, I grab my stuff and slowly make my way downstairs. The smells of freshly brewed coffee and bread in the toaster wafting through my brother and sister-in-law’s house are the notes from a snake charmer’s pungi, hypnotically leading me down the dimly lit stairs into the bright lights of the kitchen, another rude shock to the system.  The coffee is just to prime the engines – It’s really way too early to be eating; we plan to stop at a roadside rest stop after daybreak for breakfast.

My brother is dressed and ready to go. This is ironic because while the pre-dawn start was against his better judgement, he reluctantly agreed that it was an important element in the recreating of our mid to late 1950s family vacations. Stella, his dog, is back from her morning pee and while perplexed by all this early morning commotion to start her day, nonetheless seems excited about the pending adventure she senses. Her joining us is a departure from the Kalb Family vacation script – our mom was not much of a pet lover and we never had a dog or a cat.  Twigs, the parakeet never joined us on the road.

IMG_5760The car is loaded and shortly before 5 a.m., we head north along Brooklyn’s darkened, still quiet streets. Before long we’re on the BQE overlooking the NY harbor.  Lady Liberty’s torch is still burning brightly as Manhattan’s skyline to our left squints into the dawn’s early light.  And the view as we cross the newly opened Kosciuszko Bridge is spectacular, the two majestic wings of her cable-stayed design in flight and soaring in the morning twilight.  Even at this ungodly hour we are far from the only ones on the road on this Monday morning and traffic is moving quickly.  Soothed by the motion of the car, Stella is curled up and fast asleep in the back seat like I was wont to do as a child.

FullSizeRenderMeanwhile, miles to the east, our sister and brother-in-law are already well under way. Departures in the darkness have become de rigueur for this snow bird duo’s semi-annual southern pilgrimage to and from Florida and frequent drives from Florida to Texas to visit family.   We hoped that we’d arrive at our destination around the same time but did not synchronize our watches or departure times.

By the time the sun officially rises to start her day at 5:39 a.m., we have about 30 miles under our belt and are cruising past Yonkers on the NY Thruway heading for Rt.17. Google Maps told us that of the available routes, going through Pennsylvania would save us about 18 minutes.  But considering our dad had only paper, service station road maps to guide him we thought that was a bit like cheating.  Besides, the PA highway network Google suggested was not even built back then.

IMG_5777Shortly before 7 am we pull into the Sloatsburg rest area on the Thruway and take the dog for a walk, gulp down some coffee and egg sandwiches at the Starbucks concession, and soon hit the road again. Our stop got the two cars more closely synchronized and when it was time for another rest stop they had caught up and we met for hugs and a road side photo op.

IMG_5824We continued to make good time and by 10:30 reached our first destination of Havana Glen Park in Montour Falls, just south of Watkins Glen. While smaller and less dramatic than many of the other parks in the Finger Lakes region, this one is a gem in its own right and was a great place to start our tour.  As we began to walk along the rocky path through the gorge, the feeling of déjà vu seeped through the rocks and dripped on our heads.  The rocky trail curves along the series of McClure Creek cascades swooshing loudly beside and below you and in a matter of minutes you come upon the dramatic 41 ft Eagle Cliff Falls.  Just as we did 61 years ago, we stood beside the shallow pool at the base of the falls watching in awe and snapping photos to capture the memory.

IMG_5842After just a ten minute drive north we arrived at Seneca Lodge, the focal point and our home base for the trip. The large log-cabin style restaurant/bar/office was immediately familiar and the friendly staff eager to hear our tale.

When I showed them the photo of my seven year old self in front of Cabin 61 in 1959, it created quite a stir.  One staff member told me the cabin was still standing but was not being used any more… However, when I excitedly went off to find it, I was disappointed to find only its neighbor, Cabin 62, remained.  The others had been torn down to make room for newer cabins and A-frame chalet-style accommodations.

We then settled into our relatively modern one-room air-conditioned cabins with full bath, which were sparse but both cozy and comfortable.


IMG_5975After lunch in the Lodge we walked across the road for a hike at Watkins Glen State Park. You cross the deep gorge over a scenic suspension foot bridge and follow the twisty Gorge Trail.  When you exit the spiral staircase tunnel built right through the bedrock, prepare to get a little wet as you pass under the rushing falls of the 120 ft Cavern Cascade that empties into Cattaraugus Creek.  The view is simply indescribable.  One major difference on this visit in contrast with our first trip is the ability to take unlimited digital color pictures and video that reinforce and lock the memories in time.

FullSizeRenderAs luck would have it, we finished our hike and were back at the Lodge when the skies opened up for a persistent, afternoon-long deluge. So we headed for Corning, about 25 minutes southeast to tour the Corning Museum of Glass and check off another stop on the Childhood Memory tour.  Live glass blowing demonstrations and the 200 inch reflecting mirror for the Hale Reflecting Telescope in Palomar, CA (the largest piece of glass made at the time of its production in 1934) were vividly recalled.  The museum first opened in 1951 and was expanded several times since, including a gut renovation needed after Hurricane Agnes dumped a week’s worth of rain which caused the nearby Chemung River to overflow its banks and pump more than five feet of water into the museum.  Although stunningly contemporary in its architecture, in some respects the not-for-profit museum remains “old school” in that it was built as a gift to the nation to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary –  Its mission is not to advertise company products and services but simply to tell the story of glass and its important historical role in art, commerce, and construction.  Before leaving I wandered the huge gift shop laden with glass tchotchkes in search of the toy periscope my parents bought for me back in the day, but came up empty handed.

IMG_5922We dined at the Seneca Lodge restaurant for all of our meals. The food was standard fare, unremarkable but fresh and plentiful (e.g., all dinners came with a salad bar) and the service friendly.  One notable exception was the tasty homemade craft beer microbrewed on site. The log cabin design and décor of Seneca Lodge, which hasn’t changed one iota since our original visit, brought back a cascade of recollections, especially the Tap Room whose walls still feature a unique mash up of Native American and Watkins Glen International Speedway memorabilia.  As a kid I came home with an arrowhead spear and checkered flag…additional souvenirs purchased in their gift shop.

The racetrack was built in 1948 and has been an important fixture of the local cultural scene ever since. The Lodge has always served fans, drivers and support personnel associated with track.  In fact most of the other guests while we were there were members of a sports car club which had rented access to the Speedway so its members could take their souped up race cars through their paces on the track.  In the morning we headed over to track where we were welcome to sit in the grandstands and watch exotic Lotuses, Lamborginis and Maseratis face challengers in everything from high end Porsches and BMWs to more affordable Subaru WRXs and even Mini Coopers.

IMG_5938The next day’s agenda also included more stops from the 1950s itinerary: more hiking along the gorges and water falls at Robert Tremen State Park (unfortunately forgot our suits and despite the hot weather were unable to take a dip in the inviting pool of water beneath the falls like we did as kids) and Taughannock Falls State Park on the western side of the lake, with a short visit in between for lunch with our friends who live on a house overlooking Cayuga Lake in Ithaca.  We were exhausted and spent on arrival back at the Lodge and after a relaxing meal slept well in our air conditioned cabins (probably the most significant improvement since our previous stay).  In the morning, we took one more hike through Watkins Glen State Park for good measure before hitting the road back to the City.

Weeks later, as I glance into the rear view mirror to write this, the journey down the highways and back roads of our memories was hectic but well worth the trip. Fort Ticonderoga or Niagara Falls anyone?

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Published on September 4, 2017 at 11:56 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Having heard a lot about the build up to the trip from Bob, it was nice to hear all the details…sounds like fun!


    Editor’s response: Thanks Steve. Quite an adventure indeed.


  2. I so enjoyed reading your piece. You have some wonderful memories and it was a great idea to revisit them. I got a kick out of your mention that your mother was not a pet lover. Her sister was actually afraid of cats and dogs. Growing up in a different era and a different culture helps us to understand.

    Editor’s response: Thanks Jack, Interesting that both Katya and Zelda were fearful of cats and dogs – I wonder if there is a common back story.


  3. Vivid imagery….nice integration of current and old photos….rich expose…..inspiration for perhaps a trip of our own.

    Editor’s response: Thanks Rick. Wish we had had time for the Woodstock museum as per your recommendation. Maybe next time…


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