This is the time of year when I usually get depressed. No, it’s not because I have a biochemical seasonal diagnosis. I call it Post Traumatic Grossinger’s Disorder. And I know I’m not the only person who suffers from it. Every year before Pesach, I speak to my cousins with whom my parents, sister, and I shared a Passover table at Grossinger’s, the famed Catskills resort. They agree. Passover has never been the same since Grossinger’s passed. And when I speak with Esther, the friend with whom I spent hours upon hours roaming the lobbies of “The Big G,” she is equally melancholy. And it’s not because she’s slaving over a hot stove preparing seders at home. Each year she flies for the holiday to locations far more exotic and luxurious than our digs were in Liberty, NY.
It’s hard to explain to those who weren’t regular Grossinger’s-goers the joy you’d feel when you caught sight of the hotel at the top of the hill as you approached Exit 100 on Route 17. It was our Oz. It was our home away from home. It was our domain for eight days during which our parents let us run free except to come together at multi-course “gezunte” meals. It was where year after year you’d see the same faces, many of which you didn’t necessarily acknowledge but you recognized from past visits. And because guests generally sat in the same area in the vast dining room, you’d grow accustomed to knowing where to spot certain families and become familiar with who was related to whom. We all read about each other in The Tattler, the daily dispatch distributed at our tables. (My sister Carol was always described as an “eyeful” and I was “radiant Miriam.” Some things you never forget.) We all ate way too much and, in the most Duddy Kravitz-like atmosphere, we often splurged on an extra entrée or dessert by asking the waiter to “please bring an extra ‘for the table.’” At Grossinger’s, the tables were very hungry.
I met a few of my boyfriends at Grossinger’s. They weren’t always guests. One was a busboy. Another visited a friend as a day guest and struck up a conversation with me in one of the lobbies. That was the thing about Grossinger’s. It had an endless number of lobbies! It wasn’t like hotels today where if you sit in the lobby atrium, you’re expected to buy a drink. This was a hotel made for schmoozing. These were the days before everyone had a cellphone in hand. We actually just hung out on lobby sofas and in the Pink Elephant Lounge…and talked…and talked…and talked. Many of the friendships sparked by those conversations continue today.
There was an intergenerational beauty to Grossinger’s. Some of my friends’ parents were Holocaust survivors. I can only imagine now the sense of triumph and relief they felt to have their big, thriving families celebrate the Jewish holiday in such a warm, safe, and comfortable environment. My friends and I got to know each other’s parents in the warmest of ways… literally. At 4 p.m. each day, just about every girl and woman showed up in the women’s health club. Women from their teens to their 80s, towels or sheets wrapped around their bodies, flitted in and out of massage rooms and then into the sauna and steam rooms. That’s where we all sat—with decades between us—teens like me, moms like my mother, and grandmothers… schvitzing, telling stories, and always laughing.
To this day my cousins, my sister, and I break into giggles at the memory of the “exercise” belt we each took turns using. It was supposed to vibrate away the fat from our thighs and hips. And we still find it hilarious when we recall all dipping into our very first hot tub together—that was smack in the middle of the exercise room.
Those were good times. And, like many things we get used to, we expect they’ll go on forever.
But, in 1986, Grossinger’s closed. Now I find myself periodically skimming the Grossinger’s public page on Facebook where former guests and employees wax lyrical about the old days, and post images of vintage postcards, photos, tcochkes and videos. On Facebook and on YouTube people have published videos from Grossinger’s heyday and from its present—in all of its crumbling decay and devastation. I don’t think my husband knows what to make of it when I mournfully show him videos of the moldy indoor Olympian pool, abandoned coffee shop, and grass-filled ice skating rink, and explain how glorious it all was back in the day. I know, though, there are others who share my wistfulness for what was our version of a Pesach Camelot.
Miriam Arond is a writer, editor, and president of Miriam Arond Consulting, LLC.