Camelot: Our Shangri-La with a Blue Screen Door
It’s not easy to believe in something you haven’t seen. Without ever experiencing the workings of a television set or a cell phone, one would be hard pressed to believe that from the comfort of one’s living room, you could watch men walk on the moon, or that it was possible to flip open a cell phone, and speak to another individual that was living on the other side of the world. Sure, it would take faith, a lot of faith, but in today’s world, where science has practically demystified the creation of life itself, the belief in miracles and the belief that an absolute state of bliss could exist, sounds like just a wonderful fairy tale, out of some magic existence: like in the Arabian nights, where with a fervent wish in person’s heart, a jinni in a bottle is willing to whisk one away on a magic carpet to a Shangri-La, a place where no more harm can befall him, a place where a person can drop his guard, worship nature, and be free to simply be. Yes, it would take a lot of faith, but seeing something once—getting even a small glimpse of what heaven could be, can start a person believing in a way that blind faith never can. My hardworking father and mother gave our family such an experience of heaven, but getting there took more than a wish and a magic carpet ride: it took driving cabs at night after my father’s blue collar day job to get his family their little piece of paradise. That paradise was a little cabin on Foster Memorial Beach (Long Beach). A place where we would go on the weekends, and stop human doing, and start human being—and if seeing is believing, then heaven was a Shangri-La with a blue screen door on eastern long island. We gave it a name Pine Haven, and it has stayed Pine Haven evermore.
Did Pine Haven ever exist? At some point in time, no one will be left to ever know. Like in the movie, Camelot, when King Arthur begrudgingly goes to battle with Lancelot. His heart breaks knowing that the wonderful times that he had been living through would now come to an end. Then he meets a young boy who believes in the same dream that he does. It is to this boy he tells the story of the special place he briefly lived in called Camelot. He does this because it becomes clear to him, that as long as there is one person who also believes, the dream will never die.
I am passing on some of my boyhood recollections of my family’s weekend journeys to Camelot. These memories are so etched in my memory, that like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, I feel compelled to tell my story to anyone who’ll listen, and by doing so, affirm that what I experienced was more than just a fading dream, but maybe through the telling, a dream that will never die.
Friday always brought high hopes and anticipation, and the country to our minds. The air seemed to be even heavier and the pressure of the week seemed more of a grind. But we knew escape was eminent and the word was we’d soon be free. We were trading sandy earth for concrete and hot sidewalks for shade of tree. We packed our bathing suits, our shorts, we threw in our favorite games; my father had a ‘63 Red Ford Monterey and we’d ache to be on our way. The drive there from the Bronx was always amazing—you could feel the air change from thick—to light and salty! With the windows down and the wind in our hair, we’d drive by Long beach; the sky solid blue, egrets flying over the rippling tide that sparkled with light on every curl of the waves. Oh, man! We made it, once again to paradise. The morning sun was shining—just like the radio said, ‘like a Red Rubber Ball!’ There were no phones, no junk mail; just the sound of the breeze, rustling through the leaves, and the occasional Blue Jay’s call.
When we’d get to the cabin, we’d point out the pines we’d planted, and cry out, ‘Look, how big mine has grown! I remember the sound of our tires crushing through blue stone gravel, and the smell of those pines—much sweeter than wine. When our Keds’ sneakers touched the earth, we might as well have touched down on the moon, but it wasn’t craters we’d landed on, but huge pine cones. We’d arrived at our fortress. I was young; my parents were in the blush of youth; in a word, we were invincible. I would run over to the sun room entrance and pull the oak door open by the ring in its nose. The air rushing at my nostrils was musty, but we knew we’d really made it, when the blue screen door shut behind, but wouldn’t close.
We’d spend our days on Long Beach; eating fried chicken and dough (made with a special recipe my uncle had handed down). By day’s end, we were all happily tired; with white beach sand in our sneakers and a healthy glow on our skins.
And the nights, Oh, those nights! My family would fill the air with song. (Not exactly in key, due to the Anisette laced coffee and Italian liquors!) Evenings were alive with the crackle of log fires: their sparks jumping out into the sweet night air, and quickly disappearing. (This wasn’t the Bronx, where flames in the night meant danger, and the blaring sound of sirens and the slamming of fire truck doors).
Then, sleepy and sated, we’d wonder back to the cabin, guided by the hanging yellow, bug lamp above the blue screen door, that always shut behind but never would close.
But leaving, oh, boy! Leaving was always the hardest. How do you leave paradise?! We had experienced love, joy, and family—on a Long Island paradise. Why couldn’t we be marooned there? Like Gilligan—I would have even settled on being Thurston Howell the 3rd –just, please, let us stay.
We pack our bags and configured them in the big car’s truck—like puzzle parts. Everyone would get in the car, while my father hid the keys; but something was calling—it beckoned, ‘Don’t go!’ not a voice but the wind through the leaves.
He’d walk to the cabin and linger, shut the oak door by the ring in its nose.
And we really knew we were leaving, we’d be back no sense in grieving,
When the blue screen door would shut, but not close.
Did this Pine Haven of mine really exist? Did such a Camelot once exist for you? In this world of enormous technical sophistication, the innocent enjoyment of just being, seems only like a dream. But maybe we can keep our dream alive if we follow the advice King Arthur gives to that young boy. “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”