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Summer of my Youth

Elizabeth meant hot and dry and summer-perfect

The coming of summer inevitably brings up memories of Elizabeth, New Jersey, which leaves my senses tingling.

Some memories are fuzzy, some so detailed I can almost touch them.

My father, a pediatrician, had a practice in Elizabeth. During the year, he’d make the drive to and from our Brooklyn home each day. In the summer, we all moved into the large, white Colonial house — complete with black shutters — on Park Avenue. Elizabeth was the capsule that held the months of late June through late August.

Despite the short drive from Brooklyn, as soon as we crossed the Verrazzano Bridge, we knew we were crossing over to a different world. Things were brighter, more expansive in New Jersey. Maybe because it was summer, maybe it was the general neighborhood, but everything was more easy-going, people were more laid-back. You felt the out-of-town-ness in the greetings people gave each other, in the way the barber knew your name, in the complete lack of competition and focus on externals. Elizabeth meant a release from pressure.

We’d drive up the long, narrow driveway, lined with sunflowers bending their heads in greetings. This was our little piece of paradise, with lots of land to run in. Before even exiting the car, I could feel the tickling scratch of dry grass beneath my feet. Elizabeth meant hot and dry and summer-perfect.

 

It was an immediate race to the gorgeous pool. Year-round we waited for that pool, the feeling of a wet bathing suit clinging to skin all day, the splashes and shrieks. I learned how to dive in that pool at the age of four. We ran around the perimeter (“No running!” an adult would invariably scream), slowed down a little, then cannonballed in to avoid the person who was “It.” Elizabeth meant raisin fingers and shivering as the sun warmed us.

During the long Shabbosos, we spent hours in the basement playing make-believe. The previous owner had built a home bar that took up an entire wall. We would line up the bar stools, spin them in circles, faster and faster, erupting in giggles. The “waiter” would take our order, pulling down a nozzle to distribute fresh, cold drinks. The game never grew old, the beverages were always delicious.

When we tired of that, the house, with its nooks and crannies, were perfect for hide-and-seek. In the living room, I was certain that wrapping myself in the gauzy white curtains would provide me with an invisibility cloak, and I was always surprised when I was found there. Elizabeth meant creating new worlds and growing dizzy from imagination.

Most days, we brought our scooters and bikes and rollerblades to the enormous parking lot that abutted our home. There we’d lick an endless supply of ice pops, watching as it dripped down our sticky hands, creating a puddle covered within seconds by sugar-craving ants. Bells from a distant tower would ring loudly, alerting us of the time.

Once we were home, there would be fresh watermelon from the farmer’s market, tart strawberries slathered in sour cream and sugar, Mommy’s potato salad (the one dish she cooked; our housekeeper was generally master of the kitchen) left over from Shabbos. These were the tastes of summer. Elizabeth was a multisensory experience; music and noise, sweet and tart.

 

I try to recreate Elizabeth in my own home in Yerushalayim. Yet an above-ground pool just can’t compete with an in-ground one, and although we have a lovely ginah, the dimensions are pitiful compared to its American counterpart. Igloos and shlucks replace Haagen-Dasz ice cream, and nowadays you can’t even buy fresh strawberries.

The one welcome change is that in place of church bells, we have the bells from the school next door — an upbeat song that streams through the street.

I’m so happy to be living here, to be able to grant my children the the incredible gift of growing up in Eretz Hakodesh. But sometimes, as dusk settles over our home, and I catch the whiff of summer, I miss Elizabeth, and wish I could grant my children the serene summers of my youth.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 703)

 

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