Memories of Summers Past

When I was a schoolboy, maybe 7 or 9 or 10 years old, my parents used to send me to visit my grandparents in Buffalo, NY for summer vacation. I lived in Erie, PA, so this was a relatively short trip. My grandparents were already retired, but they were by no means stagnant. Even now, some 25 years later, my grandparents are just beginning to slow down. Grandma and Grandpa still go bowling and play cards and so forth; my grandmother bowled something like a 255 last year at the age of 89.

All of that is an aside, a tribute to my grandparents’ endurance and zest for life. Worthy of a thread, certainly, but only a peripheral to this one.

No, this thread is about the memories that I have of that time; places that we went, things I owned, times and people and sensations that may never be recaptured.

One of my most cherished memories of those summers (there must have been at least 4) was the trips we used to take to Niagara Falls and Ontario. I used to love going to the wax museums and ‘haunted houses’ in the Niagara Falls area, and of course seeing the Falls. I remember literally running out of one of the haunted houses before even reaching the first exhibit; My grandparents didn’t complain, at least not to me; I suppose if the idea was to scare the bejeesus out of a person, they felt they had gotten their money’s worth.

I had an opportunity to revisit that area last March when I went to Toronto for a concert. My Grandparents, who had long since moved to Florida, were not a part of this experience of course. I’m pretty sure I found that haunted house that I ran away from so many years hence; in the bright light of day and with the illumination of decades of experience, the exhibits seemed laughable now; the scariest moment I had that day was when a transient followed me from location to location for a while, until I ducked into a souvenir shop.

The magic of the wax museums and haunted houses had deserted me; or rather, I had moved on. Now, as an adult, what captivated me more than ever was the Falls themselves; when I was a kid they were kind of neat, but the real reason for the trip was the museums and haunted houses. That day, however, as I walked closer and closer to the observation point closest to the water and the Falls, I recalled Frederick Church’s painting of Niagara Falls and finally was able to appreciate the Falls for what they were.
The Toronto Zoo and the Ontario Science Center were highlights as well, though my memories of those places are not nearly as vivid. At best I remember being assaulted by peacocks at the Toronto Zoo and wishing I had more time to explore the Science Center.
Since my grandparents lived in Buffalo, I actually got to eat authentic Buffalo Wings. I have had some very good wings since then, but they cannot compete with the memory of those wings. I fully acknowledge that my memory may be plastic and that I would probably be disappointed if I were to sample those wings again; so be it. The memory may be better than the taste, but the memory will stay with me much longer.
About three blocks from my Grandparents’ old house in Buffalo was a drug store; Leader Drugs, if I remember correctly. This is where I went to buy candy and comic books and toys, for the most part. One summer, my parents gave me $20 to spend at the beginning of the 4-week vacation; this was a new thing for me, actually having money. I can’t give you one of those “when I was young” type stories about how $20 bought a lot more back then; I’m not THAT old. But I can tell you that I DID spend it, all within the first week. I bought books and comic books for the most part, and also some candy. My grandparents decided that I should learn a lesson about budgeting at that point, so my spending money for the summer was, well, spent. This was the earliest instance I can ever recall of me BEGGING God to let me go back in time and do things over again. It seems now a totally ridiculous reason to be so upset, but at the time I was BESIDE myself. I think that was the first time that I really felt like I had been entrusted with money and had blown it. It was also the first time that I felt like maybe God doesn’t answer prayers based on how fervent they may be.
I remember long hours at my grandparents’ neighbors’ house, watching my Grandma play Pinochle with Agnes and Gladys. Agnes and Gladys had a clock that had numerals on a kind of spool; I don’t know the proper term for it. It’s kind of like a digital clock but the numbers roll over like a slot machine as each minute goes by. I never could understand Pinochle. Agnes and Gladys seemed to be very old back then, and my Grandma didn’t keep in touch with them when she moved to Florida; I assume they’ve passed on by now.
My Grandparents had a rather large house; there was a double staircase leading to the upstairs, where there were four bedrooms and a full bath, and the downstairs had a foyer, living room, dining room, kitchen, and a half bath. My Grandpa, a retired pattern maker for General Motors, had an extensive workshop in the basement. I remember running through the main floor an being scolded by my Grandma,as I usually jostled her prized dining room set, which she had inherited. That same dining room set, table, chairs, cabinet, plates and silverware, are now with my mother, in the house I grew up in. So I at least get to see those again, though the house that my Grandparents owned has long since been sold and renovated and for all I know houses a collection of crack whores. Such is life.
My Grandparents used to buy me lots of little gifts when I was visiting; toys, candy, comic books, dinosaur books…(one book in particular stands out in my mind, and I swear, if any of you can help me find a copy of this book, I will pay you handsomely; a dinosaur book that had to have come out in the late 70s or early 80’s. In the introduction, there was a two-page spread showing various dinosaurs for size comparison. A man wearing distinctively British attire was included for scale. Other illustrations in this book featured the now-debunked theory that Stegosaurus’ back plates might have splayed out to the sides rather then upwards, an illustration of several Tanystropheus “angling” on a rocky coast, and a depiction of how Tyrannosaurus rex might have used those diminutive hands to anchor himself as he arose from a sleeping position. I want to say John Sibbick is the most likely candidate for the artist, but I asked him directly and he doesn’t recall those illustrations. Oh well.) It was from my Grandparents that I got my very first cap gun; and it was from my Grandparents that I got my first Etch-a Sketch. Nowadays, they just write a check when Christmas rolls around. Again, such is life.

There is,of course, much more; I could recall the Independence Day fireworks and parade, the nearby park (which had some bizarre thing which seemed to be just an angled sheet of metal with some handle grips on the high end, so you would have to try to climb the metal surface to get to the top, but on sunny days the metal would get VERY hot and you would end up with mild burns from trying to play on it) and late nights listening to my Grandfather laugh his ass off at Benny Hill. This is enough for now; don’t want to bore you more than this for now.

You have conveyed a lot of thoughts that I have (when driving by my late grandparent’s home). Unfortunately, time does not stand still-you can reminisce all you like -but you cannot go back. Keep your (good) memories-and reflect on them.

Cuckoorex, what a lovely thing to read! Thanks for sharing.

What were the Niagra “haunted houses” like?