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Summer in New York meant long drives on the state thruway, huddled with my friend Angela on two little seats my dad had built for us in the backseat of the family pickup truck, which was black, just like the one I drive today.
We’d listen to Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40” with the windows down. I would pet the labrador’s giant head while my parents talked and sang “Peggy Sue” or “Spooky” up front.
I was young – 7, 8, 9 years old. Every summer, we’d spend as many days as we could in the Adirondacks, a beautiful, forested, mountainous, 6.1-million-acre patch of lakes, bears and cabins in northeastern New York.
My grandfather, Bill, owned one of those cabins. It had a kitchen with its own elevation change. It had a bed with at least three soggy mattresses piled on top of it, onto which Angela and I would leap, over and over, yelling “Hiya! Polka!”
You don’t have to be cool or try to act grown up when you’re in such a place.
We learned this from the adults.
They’d stay up all night playing poker and spend most of the day drinking beer in a rowboat called “Queen Mary.” One time, they sculpted a hefty, wooden cow in the front yard,
“It was a mountain cow,” my mom said during a recent explanation. “With the mountain cow, the right side is shorter than the left side so when the cow walks on the side of the mountain, it’s always balanced ee It’s really pretty silly.”
Some days, we’d head up to the store, where my mom and dad would buy me an ’80s-colored rabbit’s foot, and on the way home we’d stop at this one plunging, dune-like hill and Angela and I would run down dozens of times, screaming like we were charging into battle.
I have almost entirely happy memories of the Adirondacks. Waking up at night and looking out the window at a pair of bear eyes, boating out to our favorite island and finding it submerged under water, except for a few suspicious, floating locks of maple leaves – even the spider bites make me smile now, as I rock on my porch swing in Los Alamos, in my 30s, thousands of miles from my parents, having no idea what ever happened to Angela and knowing all too well where our labrador, Sandy, is buried.
I still have a photo of the four of us – Angela, my parents and me – with our arms around each other’s shoulders, all of us wearing sweatshirts reading “Adirondacks, N.Y.” on the front.
It’s in an old album I have that begins with photos of my family at the island during a dry year and ends with my freshman year in college.
Anyhow, the album is not what brought on my nostalgia. It was “Dirty Dancing.”
I’ve long held a cherished spot for this movie on my fold-up Wal-mart bookshelf. Nevertheless, every time I watch Patrick Swayze gyrate on my laptop screen, I wonder why I liked the film so much when I first saw it, why I added it to my tiny DVD collection and why I keep pulling it out to watch again.
I have no delusions that it’s a great movie.
I no longer have dreamy, embarrassing thoughts about Swayze.
But as I again endured his mamba earlier this week, I realized it was never Swayze or even an adolescent identification with the lead character, 17-year-old “Baby” Houseman, that drew me to the movie.
It’s the opening scene, when the Mr. and Mrs. Houseman and their two daughters sit in the family car, listening to the Ronettes on the radio and driving through the Catskills, a mountain range just a bit south of where I grew up – or rather, where I didn’t have to.
E-mail Kelly your Adirondacks photos at firstname.lastname@example.org.