How The Night Moves In Years Past

If you weren’t living by the lake in the 1970’s and 80’s, you have no idea what you missed.

It was a rare time here-a certain era-where music and life seemed to be one and the same, where a summer song you hear today can place you at Midway or the Casino as a teenager — at a time now when life’s goodness seems to be in great shortage.

In the summer of ’77, finding a way to Bemus Point on Friday was your prayer starting Monday.

If you lived, say, 10 miles away, securing that ride was your life’s purpose for the entire week.

All you wanted was a ride to Bemus on Friday. If you had to wash every dish in the house or paint a backyard fence, you wouldn’t complain as long as you had a ride to Bemus on the weekend.

All the cute boys for miles around would be at Bemus at the end of the week. Everyone would have saved their quarters for seven days so they could hang out and play the pinball machines at the Casino. Some of the games were cutting edge, and like good youngsters attracted to a coming age, we devoured them with chore money.

When we tired of the Casino, we’d walk down to the Surf Club, and when we were old enough, we’d jostle our way in through the door like a million other people, so happy to have found a spot near the band. I heard Natalie Merchant at the Surf Club for the first time.

There were things that happened in Bemus Point during those years that set the tone for a generation. Natalie Merchant was one of them.

A few times, when I’d be hanging at Bemus on a summer weekend night, my mother’s class reunion would be going on and I’d spend an hour or two on the Lenhart porch talking to the people she graduated with more than 20 years before. I look back now and realize what an amazing thing it was to talk to my mother’s friends and ingratiate myself to a different era of time. In this way, summers at the lake were a journey to the past and the present for me — a place where I could still buy a beer for a dollar and remember my mother’s friends as she did when beer was a quarter.

One of my neighbors during my teenage years had a crush on a guy who worked at the boat slips across the street from the Lenhart.

There were tall trees lining the shore where we would wait for him as the sun set and his work hours ended. In some inexplicable way, we became a part of the time that passed there, the moments of summer that breathed in and exhaled out in such a way that made it ours.

Sometimes, when I walk by now, I see us waiting beneath the tree that has long since died. I realize now that we never expected to grow older. One night was a whole life then.

As time went on, we moved the teenage nighttime experience to Midway-but that’s only because we dared to motor that far in my family’s boat. Sometimes the gang would be there-eating hotdogs or cotton candy, or getting their fortune read by the now-infamous fortune teller in the glass case, or proving who was who in the bumper cars.

Midway was a long way away from our little cottage. And still is.

I am not as brave anymore.

What I know now is that the night moved in a certain way on Chautauqua Lake in those years. It had some ethereal quality to it. Maybe because there were so many more bats in the sky and an infinite number of fireflies. Or maybe because there were fewer lights and so the stars shown with a special quality. Or maybe because I was coming of age.

We appreciated what there was to do here instead of wishing there was more. We wore the jewelry bought from little gift shops strewn about the lake.

Our jeans were from Big N. Our goals were attached to orange buoys nestled not too far from shore.

We strove to swim to them and then swim right back to kitchens full of corn and great grandmothers.

What I knew about growing up here in the summers is that there were waterfalls and caves and pizza shops and places to buy earrings. There were boys and summer camps and marshmallows and sparklers. And the best things that happened here happened when the sun went down: fireworks and flares and friends and long boat rides home at night from old merry-go-rounds.

Ain’t it funny how the night moves?

I don’t think it will ever move that way again.