June 9, 2014

A journey into the past.

A week ago, we took a road trip east, and we stopped in Wayne, New Jersey, where I lived from 1964 to 1969, when I graduated from high school. I hadn't been there in over 40 years. I'd lived on Mountainside Drive in Packanack Lake (and looking it up to get a link, I see that Tom Cruise was my neighbor, an elementary school kid when I was a teenager (maybe he noticed me... I never noticed him)).

So it was very strange going back, to that little lake.


I live surrounded by lakes now, in Madison, Wisconsin, but Packanack Lake is mythic to me. Ah! There's the bridge. We walked across that bridge in the evening when we were 18....


How mysterious it all was! Does anyone see me here in 2014, in this place that seems as though it shouldn't even be real, but should be lost in the past, in the summer of 1969, when we spent the whole night out on The Peninsula?


NotquiteunBuckley said...

In summary:

Odysseus' journey is not (just) a tribute band, for Christ's sake.

Michael said...

A place revisited, as powerful as proust's madeleine.

Nice post.

traditionalguy said...

That's nice that it's still there. So much has changed over 45 years of development in urban Atlanta areas. What was once middle class and suburban has been redeveloped around MARTA lines. Schools closed as Boomers finished. Then the properties were recycled into private school institutions, such as Atlanta International School that serves Diplomat's families. They even replaced our Football ROTC and track fields with Soccer fields.

Ann Althouse said...

Packanack Lake was in very good condition. Money had been spent "McMansionizing" some of the houses but it was mostly the same, if not cleaner and neater. It was different seeing it as an adult, though. I saw what my parents saw in it and how they must have thought it would be good for us. But I could also remember feeling trapped in middle class nowhere and wanting out.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

"mythic to me. Ah! There's the bridge."

Growing up near lakes, more than 15,000 from what I have heard, I agree.

It's the beauty of nature, not man, that endures and inspires things beyond ourselves; and man's belief in God Almighty, when it concerns America's Ho·mo sa·pi·ens' production, good.

For ill, see Satan and/or the absence of God.

Makes sense: simple and infinitely-changing-hence-beyond-mere-complexity.

J Lee said...

Growing up across the river -- the big one, not the Passaic -- it seemed as though Wayne, N.J. was one giant lake, because the only time you heard about it on New York TV or in the newspapers was when it was flooding (which, apparently, it still does with regularity).

john said...

Did you notice Gig Young wandering around, looking a bit lost?

Carnifex said...

Okay, I'll get it outta the way...."You can't go home again."

Done. Carry on. ;)

CStanley said...

I saw what my parents saw in it and how they must have thought it would be good for us. But I could also remember feeling trapped in middle class nowhere and wanting out.

An interesting conundrum that I've noticed as a parent. How do you choose what to give your kids, what to expose them to, knowing that they are likely to rebel against some or all of it?

Ron said...

Yeah...there's a bunch of fields near what was a Westinghouse warehouse that's mystic to me....endless summer days of baseball...endless winter days of snowball fights...it's a bunch of fields near a mental institution now. But, hey, that's Detroit for ya!

Fandor said...

Ah, the Garden State. It truly is.

I loved your pictures of Packanack Lake.

Well, for a time Ann, it was New Jersey and you...perfect together.

I hope you come back again.

tim maguire said...

It shouldn't be real, it also shouldn't be New Jersey. It's a funny state--very small (you can drive top to bottom on under 2 hours, side to side in under 1) and yet with 3 distinct parts.

The Northeast, bedroom community to Manhattan, full of people, crime, and sulfur stink factories; the South, divided between Pine Barrens and the Jersey Shore, with some of the country's best Atlantic beaches, and the more rural Northwest, beautiful hills and lakes that most people outside of New Jersey don't know about.

surfed said...

In 1969 we were all trapped in a middle class ennui of nowhere and wanted out. It was the longing of our generation. That's why the movie Easy Rider struck such a chord with us, dopey (no pun intended) though it seems now. For young men it was all about not escaping to South Vietnam. Eventually I went surfing around the globe - "Yes to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands, with all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves, let's forget about today until tomorrow..."

Claire said...

I grew up in Packanack Lake, my parents built our home back in the 50's. It was a special place to me, and had so much to offer for kids back then. We took swimming lessons, ice skated on the lake and slept out under the stars in our yard. The carnival on the Peninsula was always a lot of fun. I remember taking archery classes and having to stop for a minute when a horse and rider trotted by. I walked to tennis lessons (followed by a neighbor's cat, who waited for me while I took the lesson, then we walked back home together). Rowing a boat on the lake through the lily pads at the Penisula was always fun with friends (not so many lily pads now). So many wonderful memories. Unfortunately Wayne has been built up so much as urban sprawl has crept in and taken over, and taxes are through the roof (don't even get me going on that) but Packanack still holds its charm.

surfed said...

Addendum - There is much you left unsaid.

Tank said...

So, did you attend Wayne Valley High School? If so, you and I might have both been at some high school football games (you were a cheerleader?). I could have been on the field, in the band, or in the stands, depending on the year. I think my Junior High School played yours' too.

@Tim. You can't drive top to bottom in two hours unless you're driving about 100 MPH. Still, pretty small state. If you get to the bottom, you're in Cape May and you should stay there. Great beach town. Yes, NJ actually has some of the best beach towns in the world. Really. And better beaches than a lot of very famous places.

Hagar said...

Doesn't "Fantasia" have a scene with an outline something like that?

MadisonMan said...

Was there a high school reunion to attend? My sister's 45th is coming up (She's 3 months younger than you).

I also grew up in a town that was IMO stifling. It boggles my mind that classmates have never left.

And yet, when I go back to visit Dad, there's a powerful pull to stay, to move back. The scenery is just so fundamentally familiar and comfortable. And Meyer Dairy is still serving up superb ice cream.

Peter said...

The neighborhood I grew up in in New York City looks much the same as it did 45 years ago. That is, practically all the buildings there are over 45 years old, the streets haven't moved (and no new ones have been built) or widened, etc. Everything looks much as it did 45 years ago.

This contrasts with some suburban neighborhoods in which the built environment has changed so much over 45 years that one would have to look very hard indeed to see traces of what existed 45 years ago.

Yet my old neighborhood, even though it looks the same, is in fact completely different; the difference is money. 45 years ago one could rent an apartment there for less than $100./month; today, rents start above $3,000./mo (if you can even find a rental among the $million+ co-op/condo apartments).

So, physically it's pretty much the same, yet culturally it has become unrecognizably foreign.

(BTW, Google Earth now offers "the time slider." Although it won't slide back 45 years, it can be an interesting way to view changes.

https://support.google.com/earth/answer/183758?hl=en )

Ann Althouse said...

"Addendum - There is much you left unsaid."


Ann Althouse said...

"So, did you attend Wayne Valley High School?"

Yes. I was the valedictorian in 1969.

"If so, you and I might have both been at some high school football games (you were a cheerleader?)."

I think I went to about one football game, and I was the opposite of a cheerleader.

"I could have been on the field, in the band, or in the stands, depending on the year. I think my Junior High School played yours' too."

Anthony Wayne Junior High School.

"Yes, NJ actually has some of the best beach towns in the world. Really. And better beaches than a lot of very famous places."

I got many second degree sunburns in Ocean City in the early 60s.

JOB said...

Oral History of The Navesink River

I do not like this river’s voice.
Blue-edged with the bite
And chill of the Atlantic Ocean
And so lazy with too much Dutch
From days when the Navesink
Was part of New Amsterdam
Owned by the siblings of William of Orange.
Nothing British remains now
Except names branded over
The patents of the Leni Lenape
Floating forever among fossils:
Flint arrowheads and bits of bone.

And when, in late autumn, storms
Whip down the Puritan coast,
Rip through a regatta on the river,
Its stripped masts and icy rigging
(‘Nor’easters’ in New England,
But just called ‘really bad stawms’
When they reach the Jersey Shore),
The Navesink has the high trill
My Newfy grandmother had,
A brogue flecked with salt
And great hunger on the sail
To her beloved Newfoundland.

Even at this concluded distance
From the tidal-wash of teen-aged years,
17, 18, and some of 19 . . . .,
When I lived those last summers
For river lights at evening,
And pecking a girl’s cheek
In the neck of New Jersey,
I can still hear the river’s voice
Spilling its slow oceans of silt,
Still hear it go on, a recording
Played back, unsettling, ugly, alien,
Endless. I do not like this voice.

Even after California cadences,
Fried and neutralized by sun,
After tang Texan twang, stringent
As steel strings and stand-up bass
In an Abilene bar and grill,
Even after settling down in
This muskrat’s hole, this mighty
Wilderness of Wisconsin rivers,
My own river will still span vowels
By consonants’ slow drag, two oars
Unattended, left to drift the waters
And French kiss their reflections.

It is a family trait, racial,
Punctual as malarky in my own voice
And the common sense
Rebuttal in my siblings’:
A pathology resistant to book learning.
Or amid the storm of bickering
And cold soup for breakfast
It jumps its own metered banks
Flooding our rival voices.
But it never lasts and its voice
Finds its proper level, not to mention
The silence of our own.

Stuck out in that vague middle distance
Wide tidal rivers always seem to have,
The Navesink’s voice
Is a piled crop of old iron and rock,
Part of a never finished bridge
Stud-piercing it’s own tongue.
It is the sad quality of words
Which best endures this river’s rust
And wear of steel and stone.
But the same tidal crush of speech
Brings salient wonder like sandshark
And robinfish amid the net’s haul:

I do not like this river’s voice.
But when I read to my children at night,
‘I am Sam. Sam I am. . . .’, I hear
King William’s montage of bloods
And local summers by the river,
The cackle of toothless old men
Heaving up steel-wired boxtraps
Hissing and clicking with crabs,
Boiling over with a full catch, and I hear
The deep suck of the Atlantic
Moiling away at the river’s mouth
As gulls drive home a trawler’s wake
White with the sea, laden with meaning.

Still, summers by the river,
I return. The sun spangles its waves
With the definitive flow of vowels,
And I cast off all lines
To head for the river’s mouth,
The crash of sea against jetty rock
Hard as consonants
Is running deep beneath it.
A cold current withers away
The near approaches to the sea
And river cuts against prow
In the sea’s own familiar tongue.

Tank said...

Tank was not a valedictorian. LOL. I was a crappy student (meaning a B student doing no work) until about five years after high school, which is when I started college.

You should post your valedictorian speech, if you have it.

madAsHell said...

Does anyone see me here in 2014, in this place that seems as though it shouldn't even be real, but should be lost in the past, in the summer of 1969, when we spent the whole night out on The Peninsula?

The Peninsula? Capital T, capital P??

A bridge?

You picked this place for the symbolism.

...and no, if you see you there in 2014, I'm calling the cops.

Biff said...

I grew up in northern NJ, twelve miles from Manhattan and within sight of the skyline, living there from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties, with periodic temporary stints in the 90s (though the latter were job-related, not returning to the family nest). For many people, the lushness of NJ flora comes as quite a shock, but even close to NYC, NJ can be a remarkable green state. I have wonderful memories of camping in NJ as a boy, and now I am reliving some of them as I accompany my nephew on camping trips with his Boy Scout troop.

Rocketeer said...

So, yeah. TMI.

Mark said...

@tim maguire - I don't mean to be argumentative, but you can't drive from High Point, NJ, to Cape May, NJ, in under two hours. That drive is easily over three hours. I've done it many a time. And by the way, High Point and Cape May are both beautiful.

Freeman Hunt said...

I grew up going to Ocean City every year. We spent most of the time at Fenwick, but we'd always go to Ocean City for a day or two.

However, none of this was around 1969. More like 1989 or 1999.

Paula Behnken said...

JOB, Wow!Thanks for this! Is it yours?

Paula Behnken said...

JOB, Wow!Thanks for this! Is it yours?

Ann Althouse said...

"You should post your valedictorian speech, if you have it."

No, sorry, but I have attempted to describe it (in some post somewhere).

JOB said...



Glad you liked.


Paula Behnken said...

JOB--Stunning! Superb! Is it part of a collection? Published? Can I share it with some other ex-pats?
My family goes back to the original Dutch/French Huguenots, who entered Nieuw-Amsterdam in 1666. If you know what to look for, you see those two cultures all over North Jersey and Central Jersey, don't you? Every time I go down the GSP, I want to stop off in Paramus to reclaim or file for restitution for the family land, a/k/a, the French Patent (from the Lenapes, as you note). Apparently, you grew up further downstate, but still within the Dutch purview. I would recommend Russell Shorto's The Island at the Center of the World, if you haven't already read it. Best wishes and thanks for sharing your very fine work.

tim maguire said...

From top to bottom, I'm talking 95. Driving normal speeds in light traffic, it was 90 minutes from the Holland Tunnel to Delaware. I'm sure there are slower ways to do it.

Like the GSP back when every county had a toll booth. You'd barely get out of one toll line when you had to stop for another.

Mark said...

@tim maguire - ok, that's true, but that's not the way a local views New Jersey. That's pretty close to saying that "New Jersey" is simply the land between Philly & NYC. Ben Franklin supposedly said that NJ was a keg with taps at both ends (NY & Philadelphia), and that's the point you're making, as well. But frankly, many of the nicest spots in NJ do not fall within the area you're talking about as "New Jersey." Even Wayne NJ (the town where Ann lived) falls outside that way of looking at Jersey. Anyway, not a big deal, but just wanted to do some Jersey stereotype-busting.

JOB said...


Oh, by all means share it! It is not, alas, part of a collection as I have yet to find an editor to take on the "malarky in my own voice."

It sounds like you know a great deal more than I do about NJ's origins. I depended on John T. Cunningham for my info - and look forward to reading your recommendation. You must have read John McPhee's book on the Pine Barrens? Read that by way of a return to NJ last year...



Paula Behnken said...

JOB--Thanks so much! I want to send it to my brother, who is a mystery writer, and two friends who are environmental scientists. Naturally, I would want to put your name on the poem first (in fact, you should have it watermarked into the text! It's that valuable!), so if you don't want to disclose your identity to the entire blog, you can send it to phbehnken at gmail dot com.