There has been a lot of attention paid to Oakdale Lake in Hudson, NY, recently but nobody has mentioned cream cheese and grape jelly sandwiches with sand. I will do that here.
Oakdale is a beautiful five-acre, spring-fed lake with a small sand beach and an old-time beach house. Nearly 100 years old, this public park has been neglected in recent years and hence gained the nickname “Croakdale" (at least in our house). Nonetheless, it is a diamond in the rough, complete with surrounding trails and a small playground.
My mother would take us to Oakdale for swimming lessons starting when we were about six years old. You started in beginners. If you passed that two-week class, you went on to advanced beginners. I never made it that far. I am the world’s worst swimmer.
Here are my excuses. The green waters of Oakdale at 8 a.m. were frigid, even in July. Getting in beyond your knees caused full-body shivering while you waited for other victims to practice “blow bubbles, listen to the fish” breathing exercises. Also, “bobbing” up in down in the water to practice breathing seemed more like practicing drowning. I refused to release my grip on the dock. Finally, I was preoccupied about how brilliantly white my skin was. It was a distraction for everyone, including me.
Recognizing that I was an aquatic failure, the instructors would take me to the shallows and try to teach me to doggy paddle. I got pretty good at it and I decided it was the only skill I needed for water survival. When the instructors tried to teach me the crawl, I would pretend I was doing it by putting my hands on the bottom of the lake and pulling myself along. No one was fooled.
At the end of the two weeks, it was suggested that I repeat beginners, while my brother Ken was promoted to advanced beginners. This verdict on my swimming abilities was delivered several more times and, over the years, I became perhaps the oldest student ever in the beginners class at Oakdale.
My ineptitude was all the more humiliating because my sister Valerie was a great swimmer and loved Oakdale. She became a volunteer instructor at age 12 and later, a lifeguard. She was following in the footsteps of our Aunt Bitsy (Elizabeth) Sheffer, who was a lifeguard and waterfront director for many years and part of a staff of many of the coolest kids in town – my cousin Susan Borrelle, Famous Tillman, Tim Carr, Susan Nero, Giffy Whitbeck, Paula Cook, Jimmy Warfield, Harvey McWhorter and many others.
Not all my memories of Oakdale were bad. After the day’s lessons were over, my mother would return to the beach with lunch for the Sheffer kids. We were sometimes joined by her best friend, Fran Brady, and daughter, Sue. The main course was cream cheese and grape jelly sandwiches with an emphasis on “sand.” They were wrapped individually in aluminum foil and by the time we unwrapped them with our wet fingers the sandwiches included a sprinkling of beach sand, which provided a nice crunchy quality. Not exactly Michael Phelps’ diet but it energized us for the afternoon.
We’d stay at the beach for a few hours. My hydrophobia would vanish after lessons were over and, while I didn’t go in the water above my chest, I had a great time with my family and friends.
Despite the painful memory of my failures there, I am glad to see Oakdale has new friends. I hope they will have ice skating again on the lake. I was much better at this sport and was thrilled when the city put out a green flag near the beach house door to indicate the ice was safe for skating. One night after skating for a while, Val, Ken and I decided to walk home – about a mile – in our skates. This did not impress our mother.
Oakdale is a little thread-bare and deserves some love. Maybe my contribution will be a food truck that I’ll bring to Oakdale. I’ll call it The Sand Man, featuring cream cheese and jelly on white bread. After all, I’m probably 20 percent sand after those gritty summer lunches at our fabulous little beach.