Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

Last week, I explored the roots of the Blumenau family’s summer cottage tradition. While I don’t have a calendar entry to go with this post, this seemed like a logical sequel.

A starter cottage, you could definitely call it.

The place on Keuka Lake my parents bought circa 1980-81 was a no-frills spiritual heir to the lake cottage in Becket, Massachusetts, that my dad visited for several summers during his boyhood.

According to lore, the place on Keuka had been built in a week — or was it a weekend? — by a bunch of like-minded, tool-handy amateurs, back in the days before building permits and zoning inspections. Its septic tank, befitting Keuka’s best-known industry, was said to be a repurposed wine barrel.

There was no heat, except for a space heater. Other operating systems were seasonal: The boat rails, the dock and the water pipe went into the lake every cold April and came back out every cold September.


The Blumenau brothers on maintenance duty, 1981, with the bluff of Keuka Lake’s “Y” in the background.

It might not have been quite as shacky as I make it sound. It never fell over, like a house of cards, and had to be rebuilt.

But it lives in my mind as a place of mothballs, must and mice — regular co-tenants that we would occasionally corner, our sneakers in our hands, and beat to death. A place with a secondhand utilitarian funk I’d never experienced and didn’t much like. A place where what was yellow was left to mellow.

(In fairness, it was also a place where I loved to row a rowboat, chill in an inner tube, clamber up hillsides in search of blackberries, burn marshmallows into blackened goo over a fire, and watch Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola call the Game of the Week on staticky Channel 3 from Syracuse.)

Despite the cottage’s isolated funk — or maybe because of it — my folks were glad to invite friends, relatives, and friends of relatives down to share their newfound getaway. They were never eager to get into the rental game, but guests were welcome.

And, in the summer of 1983, my grandparents and great-grandma joined the roster of guests making the trip down.

They were still living on Hope Street in Stamford then. I’m guessing they came to Rochester and then we drove them the rest of the way to Keuka, rather than force them to navigate the backroads of the Finger Lakes.

I didn’t appreciate the significance of their visit at the time. But now that I’ve thought and written about the rented cottage at Becket, it seems cool and appropriate that my dad would invite his folks (and his grandmother) to the lake.

Like a kind of repayment, or a returned favor … with an element of celebration, too.

You guys introduced me to rustic summer getaways, he might have thought. Now I’m fortunate enough to have one of my own, and I’d like you to come share it. Put your feet up and feel the breeze.

It took a little doing to get them there.

Specifically, you had to climb down a steep old set of concrete steps to get from the road to the cottage. My 96-year-old great-grandma was not denied; slowly, with escorts on all sides, she made it down (and up again).

Here, then, a gallery of pix — some my dad’s, some my grandpa’s — from the Hope Street Blumenaus’ trip to that first cottage on Keuka Lake.

Twenty-plus years past Becket, everyone discovered once again that escape from the world is sometimes the only frill you really need.


My great-grandma and grandma on the pitted concrete porch.


Still life with dock.


Grandma gettin’ in deep. (Note the open toolbox next to the boat. This was a frequent sight.)


Me in the rowboat, dressed for the high seas. My brother fishing (illegally — shhh, don’t tell anybody.) Dad in the water.


View from the porch. Looks like a nice day for a sail.


Always looking for painterly inspiration, my grandpa took a bunch of landscape pix around the lake. Some others appeared in this long-ago post, if you want to see more.


Tom and Huck.

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Tired of going to the beach yet?

This week, we’re going to follow the Hope Street Blumenaus on vacation again.

This time, they’re headed inland — on one of a series of trips that, I think, would have a lasting influence on my family’s life.


On the world stage, the first few days of August 1962 are starcrossed.

They will be Nelson Mandela’s last days of freedom for nearly three decades: The South African anti-apartheid activist is arrested Aug. 5 and remains imprisoned until early 1990.

They are also Marilyn Monroe’s last days of life. Sometime on the evening of Saturday, Aug. 4, the screen icon takes a fatal overdose of barbiturates at her home in Los Angeles.

Drugs also prove the undoing of Tusko, a 14-year-old male elephant at the Oklahoma City Zoo, who dies a seemingly bizarre and unnecessary death on Aug. 3 after researchers inject him with a megadose of LSD. (The researchers were trying to simulate a state of temporary madness that affects male elephants.)

Other matters that will change the world are simmering this week, but not yet ready to break.

CIA Director John McCone is, presumably, gathering evidence this week and building an argument on an important national security matter. On Friday, Aug. 10, McCone will send President Kennedy a memo raising his suspicion that the Soviet Union is putting missiles in Cuba.

Distinguished meteorologist Harry Wexler is looking ahead this week to an upcoming talk about the possible effects of chlorofluorocarbons on the ozone layer. Unfortunately, he won’t get to deliver it: He dies Saturday, Aug. 11, while vacationing on Cape Cod. It’s later suggested that Wexler’s death is a significant setback to the issue of ozone layer depletion; the first scientific papers on the subject are not published until 1974.

And in England, a young man named Pete Best is approaching his two-year anniversary as drummer with the Beatles, one of the most popular “beat” groups on the Liverpool scene and recent recipients of an EMI recording contract. Best will be sacked on Thursday, Aug. 16; none of the rich and often conflicting lore that has arisen around the Beatles suggests that he saw it coming.

In the midst of all this, the Blumenaus of Hope Street, Stamford, Connecticut, are not on Hope Street. They’re getting away from the increasingly crazy world in a little corner of the Berkshires.

Becket Cottage.jpg

Becket, Massachusetts, is a small town southeast of Pittsfield, near the edge of Berkshire County. (Mapquest puts it at about two hours and 45 minutes from Stamford.)

I’ve not been there that I can recall, but from the sound of things, it’s a nice woodsy place where camps and cottages mingle with artists’ colonies.

In the ’50s and ’60s, a guy with the marvelously euphonious name of Heimo “Hoot” Huhtanen and his wife Olive owned a cottage on Center Lake (a.k.a. Center Pond) in Becket.

My grandmother was an old friend of Olive Huhtanen’s, and through that connection, the Blumenaus of Hope Street sometimes rented the cottage.

From the looks of it, it was no-frills but cozy, with boating, swimming, walking in the woods, and lying in the sun the chief attractions.

Becket 23


Becket 21.jpg

Swimming. (FWIW, these pix are from a visit in the late ’50s sometime, not August 1962. The place didn’t change too much, I don’t think.)

Becket 26.jpg

Walking in the woods. There’s the conical (not comical) sun hat again.

Corine and John

Lying in the sun. (My grandma is enjoying the collected short stories of John Steinbeck.)

My dad recalls the place thusly:

Yes, Becket was pretty basic.  The terlet was essentially a large porta-potty, which we had to take out to a specific site in the woods every day and empty.  And there was no running water; perhaps you’ve seen the picture of Elaine or me pumping the water.  But it was a great vacation cottage; I loved it.  And the old AM radio could get stations all over the eastern U.S. at night; I specifically remember listening to Albany and Troy stations as a portent of things to come.  Great stone fireplace where Drawing Boy would make a fire and make popcorn.

June 19, 2011: Dads.

Let a man come in and do the popcorn.


My aunt on pump duty.

I suspect the Huhtanens’ cottage in Becket planted seeds in my dad’s mind regarding the pleasures and relaxing possibilities of a vacation cottage.

In the early 1980s, as a grown man with a family and a corporate job, he bought his own cottage in the Finger Lakes of central New York. He didn’t feel like renting it, so he sought to get as much out of it as he could; and it became a regular part of my family’s summer weekends to spend time at the lake when I was growing up.

(I don’t know if he gave any thought to buying in western Massachusetts. Probably not; it’s too far from Rochester for a relaxing weekend trip.)

A few years later, seeking more comforts and fewer hassles, my folks sold the first cottage and bought a nicer one. And just a year or two ago, they sold up in Rochester and moved to the Finger Lakes full-time.

So, that first week in August 1962 — as well as other, earlier visits to Becket — would shape the next generation of Blumenaus’ routines and experiences.

I didn’t take to roughing it as comfortably as my dad did, and I never enjoyed the place in the Finger Lakes as much as he did. So I don’t have a summer place of my own, either owned or rented.

But my kids have always enjoyed going to see their grandparents at the Finger Lakes. So maybe someday they will get away to a shack on the water, and the tradition of Becket will leap a generation and continue.

The lake in Becket is still there, of course, but the cottage that helped to start all this may be lost to history. My dad, again:

Went back there a few years ago, circled the whole damn lake and couldn’t find the cottage.  Probably just as good; it lives best in my memory!

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It’s that time of year when some of us grab one last opportunity to sneak away for a couple of days before the school year starts again.

My grandparents’ youngest kid was in college in 1968, so they weren’t under the same pressure to get out of town — or, more accurately, the same pressure to get home again.

Still, they chose the end of August for a brief break, heading north to escape the steamy temperatures of Stamford in the summer.

And, because we wish we were there instead of here, we’ll tag along.

August 20-22, 1968.

August 20-22, 1968. The Mets are not in last place; that honor belongs, surprisingly, to Walter Alston’s Los Angeles Dodgers.

My grandparents (and presumably my great-grandma with them) had made a similar trip to Vermont the previous August. I’ve written already about the car trouble they encountered there.

Apparently they loved Vermont enough not to hold that against it. They were back again the following year for a whirlwind three-day, two-night visit.

The Candlelight Motel in Arlington, where my grandfolks stayed that first night, is apparently still in business and looks charming enough.

Nowadays, the nearby attractions include a recreation of Grandma Moses’ studio, as well as the Norman Rockwell Gallery. As an artist, my grandpa would have found both destinations of interest. I’m not sure either one was there in 1968, though.

The next day found them heading north along the western side of the state, through Rutland and Proctor, home of the Vermont Marble Museum … then across the state to the villages of White River Junction and Quechee, on the New Hampshire border … with the day ending not far away in Woodstock.

(The name “Woodstock” still meant “Vermont” to a lot of people in August 1968, not yet having been co-opted by Jimi Hendrix or Charles Schulz. I think the Woodstock Motel might still be in business, but if it is, it doesn’t seem to have a website.)

On the 22nd, they headed back home, stopping along the way in the town of Chester and presumably admiring the granite houses there. They were back in their own beds that night.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the big trip. I’m sure my grandpa took some, but to my knowledge, they’ve not been scanned in. My grandpa took a lot of pictures in his 90-plus years, and we’ve generally focused on scanning in the ones with family members, not the ones with scenery.

I’m sure Vermont in the Sixties was even more placid and rural than it was 30 years later, when I visited once or twice. If I couldn’t be there in 1968, it would be nice to see pictures of it. Maybe I’ll check the family photo albums next time I’m in the same room.

(I did find this picture on Flickr. I suspect my grandpa, a fan of trains, would have liked to have taken it. Perhaps he saw the same station, or even the same train.)

Rural Vermont might have been an especially appealing place to be in the summer of ’68.

In a year of war, assassinations, riots and unrest, Norman Rockwell’s America seems — at least in retrospect — like a welcoming place to which to escape.

Alas, the real world called my grandparents back, as it calls so many of us back at the end of August.

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