Actually, that’s not entirely true. I found that out just last week when I traveled to the Finger Lakes, home of my lost youth. While I was born and raised in Binghamton, NY, I spent the …
Actually, that’s not entirely true. I found that out just last week when I traveled to the Finger Lakes, home of my lost youth. While I was born and raised in Binghamton, NY, I spent the months between Memorial Day and Labor Day in a cozy cottage on Seneca Lake, tucked away in a cove with more than a dozen like-minded families, and those “wonder years” imprinted me for life. While I ascribe to the theory that “you can’t go home again,” and have always believed that to be true, my vacation, which involved revisiting old haunts, old towns and spending time with old friends, was revelatory.
“Hmm,” I said to my traveling companion Lynne, a cherished gal-pal whom I’ve known since seventh grade. “I never realized how my old stomping grounds remind me of life in the Catskills.” As we cruised past the many farms and through the villages and hamlets that still charm, I told Lynne about how I had considered relocating to beautiful Ithaca, NY, before deciding on the Upper Delaware River region, and that Ithaca still holds a special place in my heart for many reasons—not the least of which is that it hugs the shoreline of Cayuga Lake, one of the 11 elongated bodies of water that comprise the greater Finger Lakes region.
“Personally, I’m partial to Seneca,” I said, “which, at a depth of 618 feet, clocks in as the deepest, something we kids always quoted as bragging rights.”
According to www.fingerlakes.com, approximately two million years ago, during the Pleistocene Ice Age, glaciers “crept through the area and carved deep slices into the land, pushing the earth and rocks south. Gradually,” the website informs, “the glaciers receded, leaving shale valleys of water, which are now known as the Finger Lakes.”
Much of my youth was spent drinking in the magnificent scenery that abounds, and as teenagers, the pack I roamed with could often be found in Watkins Glen, Buttermilk Falls, building a treehouse or snagging grapes from old man Wagner for the kitchen table, per our mothers’ instructions. Wagner cultivated concord grapes for Welch’s, but these days, it’s Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery, one of the oldest and most recognized in the Finger Lakes region, family-owned and operated for five generations.
“Yeah, there were no wineries here when I was growing up,” I said to Lynne as we made our way down to Seneca for coffee and a bagel with one of those old friends. “It’s different now, but somehow still the same,” I said, becoming misty-eyed for a minute.
“There’s no place like home,” I whispered to the dog, who was chomping at the bit to roll in a dead fish.
We strolled along the shore and made our way down to the old family cottage, which was jarring, since it looked sorely in need of some TLC. Part of me wishes I hadn’t seen that, but I guess I needed a reality check, since nothing stays the same, and it’s been more than 40 years since I slept in that knotty pine bedroom, situated in the back of the cottage, far from the prying eyes of my parents.
One of the childhood chums I visited was quizzical. “Let me get this straight,” he said. “You live in the woods by a beautiful lake surrounded by charming towns and bucolic farms—but you drove three hours to spend your vacation here, on a beautiful lake in the woods, surrounded by bucolic farms and small towns?”
“I suppose I did,” I responded, as the proverbial light bulb flickered over my head. I guess I always knew that the allure of living in the Catskills was related to the happy place of my past, but never quite realized how similar they are. Sure, the topography is different, but the overall lifestyle itself remains the same. After spending decades in NYC and Los Angeles, I had to admit that a slower pace and small-town life suits me in a way that must be lived to be understood, and that’s what got me here, in a place that not only reminds me of my youth but became my home away from home.
That was never more evident than coming home last weekend and spending some quality time at Jeff Jamboree, the annual small town salute to pancake breakfasts, tractor parades and duck races, one thing I never experienced during my time spent in the Finger Lakes. While there may be no place like home, I managed to find the next best thing and I’m happy to say that I love where I live. For more photos of the Jeff Jamboree, “like” us on Facebook and visit www.riverreporter.com.
Fun Fact: According to the Seneca Lake Winery Association, the Seneca Lake Wine Trail is in the heart of Finger Lakes wine country. “Our Trail is [composed] of 29 member wineries. Wine isn’t just what we do, it’s who we are.” That’s not exactly how I remember it...