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Published June 15, 2021

Summer of 1969

Mother, son take American-style vacation in Catskills

By John Toth / The Bulletin

Hello summer.

It’s my favorite time of the year. I can’t get enough of it. I can smell it, feel it and taste summer. I can stand outside on a hot summer day and take it all in as the warm wind brush across my skin. I don’t care if it’s humid or dry, hot or very hot.

Because it brings back good memories of my first real vacation.

It was the summer of 1969, and my mother and I decided that we were going to take a real summer vacation together, something we had never done.

My mother was too busy with WWII, a revolution in Hungary, raising me behind the Iron Curtain and then finally escaping with me to the West.

Now that we were settled in the United States and the pressure of hopping from country to country was gone, we decided that we were going to become Americanized some more and treat ourselves to an American-style vacation.

The only problem we had was money. So my mother went to our church and borrowed it - all $500 of it. The church loaned money to members who didn’t have a checking account. At the time, we didn’t know what that was.

We had the money and were set to go to the Catskill Mountains to a little town called Fleishman. We couldn’t afford the hotel with the pool and restaurant. We needed more than $500 for that, plus we still had to get there.

So, we booked a room in another place that was a lot cheaper, but had no pool, restaurant, or private bathrooms. It did have a common kitchen area where families could cook and eat, and in the backyard it had a ping pong table.

We boarded the Greyhound bus and got the heck out of the dirty city for a week. It was nice to leave it behind and go into the green world.

We walked past the fancy hotel and remarked that one day we’d be booking a room there. We played ping pong and went on hikes. We chilled out, enjoyed the mountain air, ate in a small cafe in town, ate with other families in the massive kitchen and dining room, and for hours at a time, did absolutely nothing.

We talked about the way things used to be and the way things turned out. We could have done this without going on vacation, but it had more meaning that we did it during our vacation - because we were on an American-style vacation.

The days were long, and the nights were quiet, except for Bingo night near the hotel, where one of the guest’s granddaughters won $250. We didn’t win anything, but it was fun figuring out the bingo board, which we had never seen before.

I became friends with a boy my age whose parents rented the house next door and remember thinking how wasteful it was to rent a whole house when one room and part of a kitchen would do. We listened to his dad’s old records on the console in the living room. Then we played some more ping pong.

We had a TV in a common area of our hotel, but I never watched it. I could watch as much TV as I wanted back home. That was not real vacationing. Sitting on the porch with some of the guests at night and enjoying the cool evening breeze - that was vacationing.

“What are you doing tomorrow night?” asked the girl who won the Bingo money the night before. “My grands are going to a movie. Would you like to come with us?

Sure. It was the last night of my real vacation, and I had not made any plans. I was just going to hang out at the hotel.

I don’t remember what the movie was about, only that I stuffed myself with popcorn and Coke and sat next to the lucky girl who won at Bingo. I can still smell her grandma’s talcum powder. I have since excluded that from my list of summer smells.

I have never returned to that hotel or stayed at the fancy one nearby with the swimming pool and restaurant. All I have left of this week are a few pictures and memories, which probably make my first American vacation much grander than it was.

There have been many more since, but that week in the Catskills will always remain special.

(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)