Sunday, July 30, 2006

The winners ... Posted by Picasa

Smallwood Day

July 30, 2006

Yesterday His Holiness won second prize in the annual Smallwood Day costume competition. There were three things in his favor. First, he is hands-down adorable. I’m not saying that just because I’m his papa - everyone I’ve come in contact with in the last 2.11 years has confirmed this fact and I have no reason to think they weren’t telling the truth. Second, he was dressed as a fire truck and in this neck of the woods all things related to the fire department, however modest, are revered. Third, and this was the tough to admit but impossible to rule out fact, that aside from a handful of unfortunate fairies whose costume wings had long ago lost their luster and who had spent far too much time opening and closing the refrigerator door before arriving over-ripe at the age of ten, he was the only English-speaking contestant in an otherwise packed field of Russians.

First prize was no surprise because Alice, who also won last year’s competition, is a natural super-model in the making, confident, cute as a button and has a grandmother from Minsk who each summer fashions a costume from whatever happens to be lying about the cabin and inevitably creates the most refreshing and original item at the event. I have a suspicion that this Grandmother from Minsk was a costumer in the Red Ballet back in the day or something of that order. Whoever she is or was she has aged about as gracefully as it is possible to age thanks in huge measure to the most strikingly brilliant blue eyes I’ve seen on a civilian i.e., someone who isn’t a paid on-screen personality whose ocular brilliance is always suspect in this day of colored contacts and transplants and sun spots, but that’s another discussion.

Third place went to another grandchild of the former USSR, the bold and beautiful Lily, an indefatigable three year old who sported a purple pillbox hat with matching dress and magic wand. Lily will be the CEO of a major corporation one day, either that or Secretary of Defense.

I mentioned the fact that HH was the only English speaker in the group (aside from the over-fed fairies) and this may seem odd in a small, rural community in the southern Catskills of New York but for reasons I have yet to ascertain, Smallwood has become the vacation location of choice for a growing number of folks who at one point or another immigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union. Each morning a handful of large Russian grandmothers arrive at the lake with small round children in tow, Tupperware containers filled with of every imaginable variety of potato and no sun block. A note here: I’ve never seen a Russian apply sun block to themselves or their children or grandchildren; when they come to the lake they come to cook. On Friday afternoon the young professional parents of all these children arrive from the city – from Brooklyn primarily - and for the balance of the weekend you could close your eyes and think you were on the Baltic coast. The lake at Smallwood isn’t that large to begin with, it has a modest beach ringed with a handful of large old maple trees and a sloping bank that rises up behind it with swing sets and jungle gyms and seesaws for the children. The Russians have laid claim to the area directly under one set of trees at the far end of the beach in which the picnic tables are located. At the other end of the beach, near the front gate and the ice cream shed and under the oldest, broadest trees sit the Irish. On a nice day in late summer you will see a cluster of white-haired ladies sitting in a broad semi-circle, many knitting, some with books on their laps. These are the ladies whose families have been coming to this lake for the last seventy-five years, they are the old guard, the wives of firefighters and cops, school teachers and transit authority workers, people who kept their jobs during the Great Depression which arrived just one year after Smallwood was founded back in 1928. Many of them speak with a distinctive Irish-Bronx drawl. They are the stewards of this place and see to it that each year the beach is clean, the picnic tables painted, the grass mowed. They are also the folks who judge the costume contest on Smallwood Day, when the lake is opened to all comers, and there are games for the kids and hot dogs and sack races and it feels like the great clock, wherever it resides, has stopped for a moment and maybe even rewound a bit. And these ladies love HH and watch over him as if he was their own.

On my very first morning at the lake, on opening day a long while back, I was standing at the water’s edge when one of these women walked by. I can’t place her age exactly but I would guess she was well, well beyond her retirement. She wasn’t paying attention to me as she slowly moved toward the water but she was talking, to herself or the Great Spirit, and as she waded out into the lake she said, “This is just the way I remember it, as a girl, nothing has changed. God, I love it here.”