Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Italian Rockies

They refer to the Catskill Mountains as the Jewish Alps. If that's true, then the Poconos must be the Italian Rockies. As Italian families became more affluent, and there was money for vacations, many made a bee line to nearby Pennsylvania and the welcoming Pocono Mountains. Not only did they travel there just for a week or two in the summer, but many bought affordable vacation homes in the developments that sprouted in the Sixties and Seventies. These cottages, advertised exotically as "A-frame chalets", were an easy drive from New York or New Jersey. There were attractions even in winter like skiing and snow-mobiling that gave families with kids something to do year-round.

A week in the Poconos was one of the first real family vacations we could afford. We stayed in places that were so rustic they didn't even have names. We referred to them simply as "the brown cabin" or "the white house". The amenities were minimal; maybe a lake or pool to swim in, but that was pretty much it. We would hit all the local attractions like Tobyanna Beach, Dorney Park, the ratty petting zoo, the drive-in movie and miniature golf course. We brought board games to play at night. We ate out, but nothing fancy...maybe a Pizza Hut, the Pioneer Diner, or if we were feeling flush, Bradley's Restaurant. These were vacations on a budget, but the kids seemed to enjoy them.  

Later we graduated to more upscale places where you didn't have to bring your own bedding. One of our neighbors bought a vacation place in Lake Naomi and we would rent it for a week. For us, this was heaven on earth, and we went often. Not only was the house roomy and comfortable, but there was a private beach and a nice swim club with a pool. The garage was stocked with bikes and we always had time to ride with the kids around the tree-lined development. The living room had couches, a TV set and a cozy fire place. We could save some money by cooking breakfast in, and making sandwiches to bring to the beach. Looking back, these vacations seem pathetic compared to the ones we were later able to afford, but in some ways they were the nicest.

We also used to visit the area around Lancaster, Pa. a lot. It was fun to see the quaint Amish buggies riding along the streets side-by-side with the hurrying cars. The Host Town Inn was our hotel of choice on these trips. Compared to the places we stayed in the Poconos, this was like the Waldorf. They had their own restaurant, and I remember the waitresses being nice enough to help amuse the kids while we ate dinner. The Dutch Wonderland Amusement Park was a big attraction in Lancaster...kind of a poor man's Disneyland. We ate family style in the Good and Plenty Restaurant. We also stayed at Willow Valley, a lovely place that had only one drawback...no liquor allowed. One New Year's Eve we had to smuggle our wine into the rooms like college kids on Spring Break.

I'm surprised sometimes when the kids don't recall things I think they should from their childhood, but happily these vacations do seem to elicit fond memories. I smile when they start to reminisce about the places we stayed, and tease each other about the dumb things that went on between them. These were special times for our family and I'm glad they are not forgotten.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association


The Whiner said...

You forgot Pennswood..our first vacation ever. It had a pool, a rock in a dirty pond from which we could go fishing, and we were happy. Those vacations were far from pathetic...they were some of the best childhood memories I have. Not to mention that the Host Town did seem like the Waldorf...prime rib twice a week. And a fruit cup. And a salad or soup. I thought that was fine dining indeed. And the waitresses held Matthew while we ate. It got old around his 10th birthday.

Jim Pantaleno said...

Not for him it didn't.