My mother's father—that was another story. He got out of Ukraine by the skin of his teeth. The family owned a horse-breeding ranch. The Germans invaded and machine-gunned the family down in front of my grandfather. "Everyone out of the house!" Bb-r-r-r-r-a-t! They gunned down his mother, father, and sister. He got away by jumping down a well and managed to grab the last steamer to America.
Trow-Rico is where I spent every summer of my life until I
was 19. On Sundays my family would throw a picnic for
the guests. My uncle Ernie would cook steaks and lobsters on
the grill, and we'd make potato salad from scratch. We served all
the guests—which came to what? eight families, some 20-odd people—
in our heyday. After dinner, while the sun was
going down, we'd fill in the trailer with hay, attach it to the back
of a '49 Willys Jeep, and take everybody on a ride all over the
360 acres. We also had a common dining room where we served
them breakfast and dinner, and guests would do lunch on their
own, all for, like, $30 a week. Sometimes $6 a
night. And when the people
left, my whole family got pots and
pans out of the kitchen and banged them all together—behold
the origin of your first be-in!
As soon as I was old enough, they put me to work. First it
was clipping hedges. When I snapped back, "What do I have
to do that for?" my uncle said, "Just make it nice and shut up."
He used to call me Skeezix. He'd spent most of World War II in
the Fiji Islands, so he knew how to take care of business and
anything else that gave us any trouble. I helped him dig ditches
and put in a water pipeline over a mile of mountain and dug a
pond with my bare hands. I washed pots and dishes at night and
mowed the lawns with my father when I was old enough to push
a mower. I cleaned toilets, made the beds, and picked up all the
cigarette butts that the guests left behind.
We would rake up the hay with pitchforks and put it in
the barn below the lower 40. The downstairs of the barn was
empty except for maple syrup buckets and wooden and metal
taps for the trees that some family had left before we lived there.
It was quite an adventure going down there—full of spiderwebs, stacks of buckets, glass jars, and artifacts from the '20s and '30s—all those dusty, rusty things kids love to get into—me in particular.