Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from a specific decade.
“...’til Niagara Falls”
I wiggled my fingers so the sunlight would play with the pearly shine on my nails. The platinum-color polish glistened. My dad really didn't like the iridescent hue, but it was a statement that I seemed to be making: I’m grown up. It is 1952!
The Hotel Niagara had a strange shape, but my parents were told that it was the best place to be on the American side. Since they were treating the family to a celebration of my older sister's wedding, they wanted her extended honeymoon to be the best.
Niagara Falls. A place for lovers. My older sister, Carole, is in love, and Joy, my younger one, too adolescent to understand; I wanted what Carole was feeling so I simply called attention to myself with those icy-cold nails which everyone hated. Me too, but I, of course wouldn't reveal that.
"Are we going to Canada for the Maid of the Mist?" I sipped at my chocolate milk that I poured over ice.
"The Cave of the Winds looks dangerous. Slippery." My mother mentioned after glancing at the tour pamphlet.
“Good." I perked up and stopped annoying everyone with my fingernails. "Let me see the brochure."
Carole smiled at her husband, Bennet, as if they had some special secret between them. "The college girl wants danger."
"How about rolling in a barrel?" Joy, age 14, asked me.
"Yuk, yuk," I said sarcastically. "Go ahead everyone. Pick on me because I like trying things. I also want to go into a wax museum, ride on that gondola thing over the water in Canada.”
My mother cut me short. “We all know your zest for things.” The words came out with some admiration and not chiding.
“Okay. Let’s cross the border. Mom and I will watch you from above. The Cave of the Winds should have slippery spots so be careful.” Dad protected us with his sentences.
We left the shop and walked across the Rainbow Bridge. My parents paused between two country’s flags and I snapped a picture. I wished that a real rainbow had suddenly appeared in the sky, and I wouldn’t even have had to caption the processed photo. The name was romantic. I couldn’t really believe I was leaving the entire United States, an actual country, and crossing a border into a foreign one. A pretty-named bridge that I strolled across wasn’t like going to places I learned about in history books where crossing a border had guards and wooden wands going up with security approval/police dogs/ and suddenly everyone is speaking a language I don’t understand. This was more like going from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Only the change of flags made me consider this was a connection between, well, two places I was supposed to think were different.
I loved the heavy, yellow-colored, rubber slickers, and the spray of water from the falls wetting my face, the slippery feel on wooden steps of the Cave of the Winds. I wished I had someone I loved to share this with. Sure, I loved my family, but not like what Carole had at that moment.
“It’s scary,”Joy grabbed a wooden railing on the steps.
“It’s supposed to be,” I remarked. “The Maid of the Mist won’t be, since we won’t even get off the boat. But there’s a long drop in an amusement-park like car on a cable to get us down to the boat. That’ll be the only scary thing there.”
“Why are these steps so slimy?” Joy clutched the bannister.
“You’re walking on wood that’s always soaked, and slime grows well on that.” I pretended I knew the answer. I noticed Bennet was helping Carole by supporting her with his arm. I didn’t want to admit I was jealous.
“Are we really under the falls?” Joy kept her head down. “Will we go into a dark cave?”
“It’s called Cave-of-the-Winds,” I sounded out each syllable, “because we are under the cascade in this one area where the sound is as loud from the steep falling water onto rocks, and the splatters, as the real wind moving around.” I looked up but my eyes caught forceful spraying water. “We can touch the falls. What an exciting thing!” The water’s sound was incredible. “Mom and Dad are really missing this. I’m really part of the rushing drop and not just standing on some observation desk looking down at it.” My clothes were damp under the slicker, and my hair quite wet. I loved the sensation.
Later that evening, after dinner, we saw the falls lit up with pretty colored lights. My parents hugged, as they always did anyway. Carole and Bennet made silly faces at one another. Joy talked about the wax figures in the museum and how very real they looked. I thought about the porcelain cups and saucers with red roses decorations, and my mother, who told me I should put these away for my trousseau and remember buying them at a pretty China shop in another country. Was that supposed to make me feel better about being a middle child? Well, I’d 'used’ that middle-child thing a lot and couldn't play on her sympathy for being ‘caught’ in a never first/never last situation. I don't think she realized I was in love with the idea of being in love until I blurted out, “I hope my next vacation won't be with family but rather with a husband of mine.”
The eight-hour train ride home was as quick as that going. We got on a sleeper, in our private compartment attached by doors to the newlyweds on one side and my parents on the other. We had dinner on the train, went to sleep, and awoke in New York City.
Silly wishes sometimes become realities; my father died two years later and I never again did take a family vacation. And two years after that, I walked down the aisle with my mother, and a void my father left that couldn't ever be filled.
Platinum polish lacked warmth. And Niagara Falls always reminded me of statements that can reach Fate's ears, yet I live, now, only 90 miles from that area.
Summer 1999, my daughter and her family drove up from Cincinnati, Ohio, so my husband and son-in-law could be golf partners in a country club tournament in Rochester, New York. She wanted to go to the Falls and show her two children this wonder , while the guys were on the links.
We put on thin blue plastic ponchos for The Maid of the Mist, and the spray in my face made me feel both happy and sad. I still liked water spraying on my skin. Her children, David, age 12, and Jennifer , age 9, were giggling, and we captured our expressions using a throw-away camera. I told them about the heavy, yellow, rubber slickers. An elevator took us to the boat, but I mentioned the cable ride of 1952, and how I thought it might not quickly stop before crashing since it seemed to speed downward.
I watched from an observation spot as they walked on wooden steps, Cave of the Winds, but elected not to chance slipping or navigating so many stairs. I saw my sisters and myself in my mind.
At lunch, from the highest restaurant tower we found on the Canadian side, my daughter, Sheryl, was completely taken by the exquisite view from so many stories up: I noticed the Hotel Niagara. It looked old, and the odd shape seemed more peculiar. Windows, once so modern,
were rectangular eyes and I wondered if the guests inside were looking across the border at the tower we were in. Was it shabby behind its brick facade? Did any other hotel ever copy its strange, yet unique form? How many happy/sad stories did plaster walls hear? Was another girl, taking parents' love and life for granted, prancing around the lobby showing off her pearlized nail polish? I mentioned I'd stayed there in 1952, and it was a pricey place then. Then. So long ago. I didn't want to spill out my immature actions, and hurtful statement about not wanting anymore family vacations as if I were ‘cool’, but found my lips revealing such.
So long ago. Words that I've regretted. Parents dead. The Falls area changed. A casino, more roadways and congestion. My grandson had bought a computer mousepad at a gift shop after the Cave of the Winds walk. Computers. Certainly didn't exist in 1952. Neither did air-
conditioned cars, cell phones, camcorders, for starters.
But the falls keep falling. Water keeps rushing. Visitors with similar wishes, or feelings, or regrets, or cooing at new mates move between two countries without needing passports. Change, yet unchanged.
My grandchildren listened to my outpourings with wisdom I didn't have when older than they. David said it was all right now, and Jennifer said she loved me. Sheryl has always been available to hear my tales about my past as I presented a real me with flaws as well as assets. She was glad I was sharing this with her children. I was more than Grandma.. . multi-dimensional with sensitivity and sometimes self-anger.
The Rainbow Bridge connected and confronted me with an unresolved past. But I knew now that the 90-mile trip would be one made often because there are memories of a special day with Sheryl and her children.
©2000 The Jewish Press