Sharon Springs: a faded memory of nature

Danielle and me
Danielle and me

Sometimes you get more than a haircut when you go to get your hair cut.

A few days ago, I got a haircut from Danielle, my favorite hair stylist at Willow’s Dream in Asheville. We talk about children, hers and my granddaughters.

We talk about trips, recipes and husbands. I knew that Rich, her husband, grew up in “upstate New York”, a very large area that can refer to anything outside New York City. But this time, Danielle got more specific: Sharon Springs.

Sharon Springs?? Why did it sound familiar? “Hasidim Jews went there in the summer for the water,” Danielle said “but now the baths and houses are all dilapidated and falling apart.”

And then I remember–that’s where we went in the late 1950s to get out of the New York City heat. My mother rented a cabin in a bungalow colony in the Borscht Belt, well defined on Wikipedia as follows:

a colloquial term for the mostly defunct summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York that were a popular vacation spot for New York City Jews from the 1920s up to the 1970s.

We’d pack clothes and a few pots and pans and take a special bus that went directly to the bungalow colony. We certainly didn’t own a car. That same bus company would take the men, including my father, up there on weekends and return them home on Sunday nights.

This was my mother’s idea of nature. There was more grass and a few more trees than in Brooklyn. But as a 12-year old, there was nothing to do other than to jump in the pool and dodge a bunch of six-year old boys splashing and kicking in the water. The pool was only open a couple of hours a day.

My younger sister and brother had no problem just running around and playing tag or other games which required no equipment. I found it very boring. There were no trails or safe places to walk. Certainly there were no planned activities. I read a lot. One summer, I memorized the calorie tables.

I remember walking into the village a couple of times on a country road against my mother’s protestations. Something could happen to you if you left the confines of the crowded bungalow colony–a “bad” man, a wolf(??) or other unnamed beast. We weren’t in Brooklyn with its street signs, stores and pedestrian-filled sidewalks. We were in “nature”.

I don’t have any pictures; I didn’t get a camera until I bought one in college. So the picture above is of Danielle, the hair stylist, and me.

Now when I search for “Sharon Springs” “bungalow colonies”, I learn that these abandoned bungalow colonies are a subject of academic research.  I think I spent three summers being dragged up to Sharon Springs. Judging from the web, these bungalow colony summers created great memories for some people. They talk about horseback riding and other activities but we didn’t horses in the basic place, I went to.

Years later, when Lenny and I became passionate hikers, I discovered a completely different part of the New York Catskills. We joined the Catskill 3500 club and set out to hike the 35 peaks in the Catskill mountains over 3,500 feet. Though the altitude seems puny compared to the South Beyond 6000, the Catskill mountains are rocky. The club, at that time, also encouraged members to hike them all in the winter, which we did.

All in all, a far cry from Sharon Springs.

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