Thursday, January 09, 2014


Eagles Mere, PA, is a little resort town in the "Endless Mountains” which are part of the Appalachian chain and near the Pokonos.  I spent a summer there (1960) as costumer for the resident repertory theatre, which meant I was soon so pressured and exhausted that I barely knew what was going on around me, much less found it a magical place to relax! Nevertheless, for many people it was something like the movie “Dirty Dancing,” but we were hardly operating on that scale and didn’t worry about being oppressed because we were so filled with fervor, dedication to the theatre, and high hopes for the future.

The old rooming house where we lived was pretty minimal with plumbing that made strange noises and the only cooking stove an ancient wood range.  Next door was the church above, where a string quartet practiced during the week and church services included a lot of singing.  I couldn’t hear the sermons, but our cook for the second half of the summer was an evangelical Christian who told Bible stories on the porch just out my window.  The mostly Jewish actors listened politely.  I went home with her at the end of the summer, since I was penniless, and canned her tomato crop for a week of room and board.  I can’t remember how I got back to Chicago.  She lived near Gettysburg, the battlefield, and I have vivid memories of that broad field and a woodchuck I chased across it.

The Sweet Shop on the other side of the boarding house.

The cook for the first half of the summer was a small alcoholic black woman who could not manage the woodstove.  In fact, she was barely managing her life at all.  Some of the more devilish among us set up a doppler effect railroad simulation in the hallway and turned it on full-blast when she came staggering home from some place only she knew existed.  The next day she left forever, which was how we got the Sunday School lady.  For a few days we had no cook and survived on the resourceful skills of Jerry Zeismer who said,  “I’ll make a pot of chili that will last us a week -- trust me.”  He was quite right -- it was so hot that a few bites were enough to drive everyone with the resources over to the Sweet Shop.   (Jerry has been a major success in Hollywood.)

Street shoot: r.  Jerry Zeismer, Stu Hagmann, Maria Moriates, Katina now married to Austin Pendleton.

Normally I wasn’t around the actual playhouse very much.  It was a converted barn at the edge of a swamp and the stage was small enough that one had to cross by going outside the building, where one had to be careful of footing.  I don’t remember mosquitoes much so there must have been insecticide fogging going on, or maybe there were simply enough bats to control the problem.  Stage lighting confused them, so occasionally one dropped onto the stage or the actors.

A red eft

The distance between the boarding house and the playhouse was a mile or so and few of us had vehicles, so I often carried costumes over via the path along the lake, which was a pleasure except when it was dark because of the many trip roots.  The surrounding woods were full of paths but I don’t remember seeing deer -- just tracks.  One memorable moment was spotting a red eft, a tiny scarlet salamander.  Another was being pursued by an elderly gentleman slashing at me with his cane and accusing me of being up to something immoral!  I left too soon to figure out who he thought I was.  

On another day Laird Williamson and I went bushwhacking, nearly losing ourselves in the beautiful but over-thick azaleas, but finally reaching this spectacular gorge, which is sometimes even compared to the Grand Canyon.  The summer I was there it rained so much and everything was so damp that a nice crop of mushrooms raised itself in my best Papagallo pumps.  The tallest ‘shroom was about five inches.

Lucy and AK went out on the lake on Sunday afternoons, Lucy rowing and AK scribbling.  The rest of us mostly slept -- together or apart -- whenever we weren’t onstage one way or another.  But once I rose to investigate strange kitchen noises in the middle of the night and found a couple of drenched actors pinning their pocket contents and what clothing they could spare to the lines strung over the woodstove and trying to stir up a fire with very little success.  There was no other heat in the place.  The actors had a strong sense of order: dollar bills pinned up in order of denomination and so on.  But a weak sense of boatsmanship: they had pushed off in the night in an unsound rowboat which luckily sank close enough to shore to wade back.

There was a memorable late evening visit from AK in her nightgown with a shawl thrown over it and her hair spread over her shoulders.  She’d been obsessing over something about the play in rehearsal and had come over to roust some actors for experiments and information.

Lucy and I wrestled with the compost, which was more like soup.  Both of us had only a foggy notion of what ought to happen, but nothing was digesting no matter how much we stirred.  Likewise, “plastic steel” would not heal the woodstove in spite of the optimistic copy on the tube.  At least we were partners in failure.

The sign shop, where Laird created beautiful silk-screened posters on cardboard, had originally been the ice house and was sunk into a hillside so it was possible to walk onto the flat roof, a perfect place for sunbathing, but we were forbidden to go there because traffic made the roof leak.

When I was so exhausted that there was no possibility of falling asleep, I would walk over in the night to the riding academy where there was a team of big farm horses who pulled hay rides in summer and sleigh rides in winter.  Tied into their stalls and busy munching hay from their feed boxes, they didn’t mind if I climbed onto their backs and napped for a while, rocked when they shifted their weight.  It was enough physical reassurance and comfort to get me through the season.  I have always been grateful for the comfort of horses.

1 comment:

northern nick said...

Writing is like graffiti on the walls of life, leaving a mark to say, in some strange kilroy way, I was here. In the end (and isn't this what it's all about, to make sure there is no end: that our lives don't stop, a revenant lingers), who will call out, and say, I remember? I love your work for this quality.