Heartbreak Hill

When I was younger I spent most of my summer at a place we called ‘the Camp’, a bare bones — no frills house set on a hill deep in the woods of Boylston, Mass.

From the front porch you could see the ripples of the pond below sparkling in the summer sun; it was a pond we swam in, boated in and fished in (all we ever caught were kivers, pickerels and hornpout, hate them, they always swallowed the hooks).

I remember so many damn things about the place.
There was the musty funk that greeted you on that first visit after the eternal New England winter and there was the exposed wooden beams where my mother would hang wicker baskets and ‘past their prime’ life preservers that had changed from a vibrant orange to a washed out Abercrombie & Fitch melon color.
The old upright piano with real ivory keys and the authentic outhouse with a crescent moon cut lovingly into the door added to the ancient décor of the place. (and we used it)

On the screened-in front porch my twin sister and I slept on military style cots covered with the softest and warmest blankets known to man.
At night, the hundreds of bullfrogs on the pond would serenade us to sleep, their throaty calls drifting up the hill on the invisible fingers of the warm, summer wind.

My sister and I would talk of our secret dreams and hopes, the adolescent ramblings of curious children.
Some nights we even had the same dreams. Maybe that’s how it is with twins.

Most weekends were filled with a gathering of family and friends for an all day cook-out followed by a bonfire in the backyard, my personal signal to take out my guitar and sing a few songs.
I remember learning “Little Green Apples”, by Roger Miller to appease the crowd.
It was such a care free and wonderful time in my life that all but disappeared when the place got sold due to extenuating circumstances beyond my control.

Before it was put on the market I happened to be picking apples with the Pamela and the girls at an orchard that was a stone’s throw away from the place.
We left the orchard and took the turn towards the Camp.
They all knew where I was going.
And I just had to see it one last time.

Walking up the hill I caught a glimpse of the long dormant camp on the hill and my heart did a quick stutter-step and it surprised me.
There were so many sentimental moments locked deep inside this innocuous structure that it frightened me, the sacred ghosts of the past welcoming me back in a way I hadn’t expected.

The mind is a funny thing because the only thing I could think at the time was that my mother and father were so happy and healthy here – this was hallowed ground as far as I was concerned for a multitude of reasons.
I got out of the car and took it all in, every fiber of my being moving back in time towards the warm summers of my yesterdays.

It’s all still here, I thought, swallowing hard.

I was silent as I walked around the perimeter of the Camp soaking in all the weeping details; the chipping paint and overgrown weeds intensifying the loneliness and heartbreak of a place I could no longer call my own.

A part of me wanted to somehow embrace the little boy still inside me but I realized I’d grown far too old and jaded in my ways for that simple courtesy.

I asked Pamela to walk down the hill with the girls.
I couldn’t do this with my girls watching.

I stood on the porch where I’d spent so many star-filled nights dreaming about my up and coming wonderful life and I wept; I wept for a life that had turned out quite differently than I’d expected.
I’d lost so very much but then I thought about how much I actually gained.

What surprised me was that there were possibly more happy tears than sad ones.

The Camp was unexpectedly giving me back a precious gift.

I know that now.

I walked down the hill to the car and gave one more glance up the hill where I saw my mother flitting about watering her flowers in the sun and my father turning burgers on the decaying charcoal grill that he always talked about replacing.

He was drinking a can of Bud and laughing it up with old friends, just like old times.
And they were good.

As the billows of smoke from the grill moved past the front of the Camp, I could almost see the silhouette of a little boy on the porch waving goodbye.
In my heart, the Camp will always be there for me.
I only need to close my eyes and remember.




8 thoughts on “Heartbreak Hill

  1. Another trip down your memory lane that has no choice but to merge with mine. I too have fond memories of a no frill house on a pond, it’s where I fell in love with the my husband…… and where we spent that precious time before reality caught up with us (not that that’s a bad thing, but I think you might know what I mean).
    Thank you.

    I do, I do.
    And I like your thought of reality catching up with us.
    Boy, it catches up fast, huh?


  2. memories such as these always seem to bring out the child in us don’t they? i have many of them, but every time i try to put them into words the tears start and cloud my mind…one day perhaps…one day…
    great post….

    Tanks, Moe.
    If you do enough writing like this it starts flowing and is virtually impossible to stop.
    Like yesterday for me.
    I started writing and didn’t stop until I got off the train in Boston. Kind of cool.
    Write it down, Moe.
    Well, keep trying to anyway . . .


  3. A beautiful post! Loved the part about the little boy dreaming his little boy thoughts about his up and coming wonderful life that turned out to be much different that what he expected. Isn’t that the way it happens for us all…

    That little boy is me.
    But I have a feeling you knew that. 😉
    Thanks for the visit, OBS


  4. The summers spent at the lake Our family had a place in Spencer my mothers father at one time owned 8 cottages in a cove and over the years it dwindled down only one remains in the family my folks sold their property last year was sad to see it go. Held so many memories of the family gatherings evry Sunday all the cousins and when we stayed there we also has an outhouse must have been the thing in that time era we would go trucking there sometimes at night with the flashlight. We had a 2 seater no waiting……….and uinisex 😉

    A 2-seater, eh? Lucky boy.
    You guys must have been rich. 😉


  5. Michael,
    Isn’t it great that we all have wonderful places to go to in our hearts and minds? Amazing how an odor can bring back memories…a song…a certain look? Once in awhile..it’s like an out of body experience where we can see ourselves as a child. I hope I’m able to go to that place when I’m old and lonely. Thanks for the memories!

    Sense of smell is an amazing thing.
    Smell a box of crayons.
    How far back does that bring you? 😉


  6. Lovely. I theorize that east coast places are particularly evocative because it’s moist there, and that traps scent, which is such a great trigger for memory and emotion. I only went to college in Massachusetts for three years, and it wasn’t a particularly emotional time, and I have since lived elsewhere…but I went back this spring and everything *smelled* the same and all these weird feelings bubbled. Totally fell back in love with it. Now I have a definite plan to come back for leaf season.

    Where did you go to school?
    Just curious.
    And it’s very easy to fall back in love with New England.
    I do it every year.
    btw- I blogrolled you, TS
    I want that damn Luna Bar 😉


  7. Michael,
    I shed commiseratory tears for you on this one. I think I remember when this happened – and how upset you were about losing the place?
    My family had a place like this – in Maryland that was actually built by my dad, his dad and his brother. The cabin is what they called it and it had the outhouse, the woodburning stove, the big porch, rafters and the lake at the bottom of the hill. I spent a few summers there and I know how you feel about letting something like that go. It isn’t just the property, but the memories, the laughs, the tears, the pure joy of it slipping through your fingers and moving on without you. Yes, I really do understand.
    But as you said, you have only to close your eyes to get a good hold on them again. May you grasp never loosen on those.

    Thanks, kiddo.
    I was trying to think if I’d written about it on the blog. Odd that I haven’t.
    Like your ‘camp’ my dad and his brother built ours.
    I still really miss it. Always will.


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