In the darkest days of winter, when the dog refuses to go outside and the car is encrusted with brown ice, the Chautauqua Season seems like an impossible dream, the one gift that is too much to ask for.
Congratulations. Your gift has arrived.
On your first evening stroll, it seems that everything on the grounds is just where you left it. That is part of what draws people back year after year. If this is your first visit, you may feel awash in a strange nostalgic déjà vu, as if you have been here in another life.
Hold on to this moment. It is a present, and a small army of dedicated people worked for months to wrap it up, just for you.
Gwen Papania is in her office putting the final administrative touches on the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, making the registration process as simple as possible for parents. She knows that Club is not just about giving kids someplace to go; it’s also about giving parents some time to themselves.
At the Sports Club, Trey North and two other workers are prepping the shuffleboard court.
“We are stringing up a tarp over the shuffleboard courts,” North said. “I think it makes it real comfortable out here with the shade.”
A woman with white hair is strolling down South Lake Drive as North fastens the tarp to the frame. She stops next to the court and takes in the scene.
“When can we start playing?” she asked.
North tells her that everything will be up and running by Sunday. She smiles and glances down at the clean surface of the court before walking on.
Work trucks clog narrow roads better-suited for golf carts and bicycles. Several streets are closed, blocked by old Chevy Silverados or Ford F-250s, some covered in the rust and dust of years of labor. The smells of mulch, diesel and sawdust permeate everything.
Some houses are getting fresh coats of paint, others are undergoing entire Joan Rivers-level facelifts. Somewhere a bandsaw shrieks. Its call is answered by a nail gun’s pssstchoop several blocks away.
By Children’s Beach, a young Institution worker named Mike Stanley is shoveling soil from the back of a pickup truck into a wheelbarrow. His forearms tighten like rope with each load. Most folks probably won’t notice the fresh dirt, but it is there.
Midday at the John R. Turney Sailing Center, dozens of boats rest on trailers in the grass.
Gary Snyder, director of the Institution’s Sailing Department, is overseeing a small crew that is working on a particularly sexy craft.
“We are rocking,” Snyder said. “It’s time.”
He looks at the boat the way a car guy would admire a Ferrari.
“This thing is like a rocket ship,” he said. “It was touted to be the fastest monohull there was. It’s called an E-Scow.”
The staff at the Youth Activities Center is folding stacks of the signature Fla-Vor-Ice T-shirts. The food is ordered, the menu board is up, the felt on the pool table is smooth and scuff-free. Al Dibs is the director of the YAC. He looks mostly confident.
“We’re all set to walk in here on Monday, flip the switch and get started,” Dibs said. “That’s what I’m hoping.”
At dusk, a woman walks down the street with a bucket full of cleaning supplies, slightly hunched under the weight of what she carries and the work she has done. She will probably never have her name inscribed on a building here. That said, for the family now living in the house or room she cleaned, she is crucial to their experience on the grounds.
In the words of the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, “Look outside; I know that you’ll recognize it’s summertime.”
The streets are paved, the gardens are verdant, the kids are off to Club. You hopefully arrived to find a nice, clean home. Out on the lake, the E-Scow is cutting through the water at an absurd clip. At the YAC, kids are carrying fistfuls of plastic-wrapped confections and making new friends in a rapid-fire way that most adults can only envy. At the Sports Club, shuffleboard players are sticking around for one more game, undeterred by the brutal sun, which is being held in check by a heavy-duty tarpaulin shade.
You could have gone anywhere this summer. Quality time spent with those you love or nestled with a good book is always a gift. But not all gifts are created equal. This one was handcrafted by a group of hardworking folks who probably don’t know you, yet somehow knew exactly what kind of gift you wanted.