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A foot in each world

Being a second-home owner in Sullivan County

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I turned 65 this past February, which makes this summer my 65th in the Catskills. Yeah, we missed one. My father was a public school teacher, later guidance counselor in the NYC system. Dad was a jock, told everyone he met that he was voted most athletic boy in his class at Brooklyn’s Eastern District High School.

He wanted to teach physical education, but when that wasn’t an option he chose summer camp. Delmar before I was born, then Monroe (1955-59), Tannersville (1961-62), Mountaindale (1962-64), Ellenville (1965) and Swan Lake (1968-81). In 1970, fed up with living at camp with nothing to do all summer, my mother convinced him to buy in While Lake Homes (née Estates). The land and construction cost him $19,500. Of course, his annual income was $15,000; it must have been daunting for a depression-era child to take on a $95 a month mortgage.

But here we are, more than 50 years later. In 1999, just moments away from selling it, my parents gifted the house to my wife Jamee and me under the condition that we start paying the taxes and upkeep. Seemed like a reasonable offer. Kauneonga Lake has been my primary residence for the past few years since semi-retirement and technology made my physical presence in Brooklyn less necessary.

It’s hard to believe now, but my sister and I hated going to camp. Staff brats usually do. Bugs, bad food and no radio reception for Yankee games. We would have been happy staying in the city, which she did once she old enough to stay there on her own.

But as we grew older, we came to love coming to “the mountains,” especially after our parents bought the house. My wife, son Gabriel and I, as well as my sister and her family, vacationed in Kauneonga Lake during both winter and summer. We also spent many weekends there throughout the year. It was the peace and quiet of the “off-season” that was always alluring—and still is.

If my fate as a lifelong Catskillian wasn’t already certain, Woodstock sealed it. Not so much the original festival that took place when I was 14 and was surely a seed, but when the plans for Bethel Woods were drawn. With a concert venue, arts programs and a museum devoted to my favorite era two miles from our front door, any talk of leaving ended. We have been members of Bethel Woods since its inception.

What else brings us back? Four years ago we became involved in the Bethel community. I emceed the Kauneonga Block Party from its inception in 2016 through 2019, am on the board of the BCA and a member of the Bethel Democratic Committee. My son and I play at open jam night at Dutch’s a few times each year (thank you, Steve Schwartz). As a result, we are, for the first time, cultivating relationships here.

I am loathe to characterize the relationship between second homeowners and locals in generalizations. There has always been a shred of resentment felt, but I attribute that to the small-mindedness of some from both camps. On an individual basis, I have never felt that long-time residents were resentful of myself or my family. Perhaps that community involvement has diminished any sense of that.

Good thing, because we love Bethel, and as I am fond of saying about many aspects of my life, I won’t be leaving here until they’re looking down at me and saying “boy, don’t he look natural.” After that, good luck trying to get Gabriel out of here.

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