Saturday, October 1, 2011

Growing Up in Smoke Rise: Joan Semmler Oravits

The best part for me about the Smoke Rise and Kinnelon Blog is connecting with others who have been touched by the intense sense of "Place" that living in Kinnelon creates. From California and Texas, North Carolina and New Hampshire you've contacted me and shared your stories. Thank you!

Today's post is no exception.  Joan Semmler Oravits, who now lives in North Alabama, recently shared with me the following story about growing up in Smoke Rise. She also forwarded me a Christmas card photo from 1959, when she and her family moved to Kinnelon.

Growing Up in Smoke Rise: Joan Semmler Oravits

Christmas Card 1959. Joan and her sister are on sleds, an early Christmas present.
Note: no drapes on the windows given the recency of the move.
Hello Christine!

I have been enjoying your Smoke Rise Blog email news for quite awhile now and always come away from reading your articles with fond memories of the years my family lived there. My parents, Rita and Fred Semmler, moved all of us into the then new house at 153 Green Hill Road in December of 1959. My twin sister and I were in the middle of our third grade year at school so it was a mixture for us of the excitement of a new house and having our own bedrooms for the very first time as well as the not so exciting part of having to fit into a new school & a class with other students who had already completed half of that school year. 

I have many happy memories of growing up in Smoke Rise during those years and looking back on it now I can appreciate what a magical place it was to grow up there. I remember the fun we had at the lake and how when we first moved there the Smoke Rise Club had boats that could be taken from the docks and used by community members and there were club chairs and tables on the rotunda area that were available for use also. Dad bought us a rowboat so he could go fishing on the lake and my sister and I would use it with our friends to row over to St. Hubert's Chapel where we would play. In those days the chapel was kept locked but we knew how to climb in one of the windows where we would sit in the little pews and put flowers in the stone clam shell by the carved angel figurine. We loved that chapel and the island. We would sometimes play with the Talbot children there. 

In the summer there were swimming lessons in the early hours of the morning and my sister and I dreaded having to plunge into the cold water before 9 a.m.! We took water ballet lessons and there was a recital at the end of the summer where parents and grandparents were invited to watch us perform in the water - all of us wearing the then fashionable matching swim caps with plastic flowers on top and swimming to music piped in over the rotunda loud speaker by one of the parents.

Later on when we got older a group of us took advanced swim lessons and tried out for our Red Cross Swim badges where as part of the trials we had to swim across the lake to the other side and back. The swim coach would follow us across in a rowboat with a life preserver towed behind. 

The best part of the beach then were the life guard stands that were attached to the docks. After regular beach hours we would go down to the beach and climb the life guard stands and jump off them into the water below. Sheer fun as only a handful of adults were ever there taking a dip after a hot day working in New York or talking to neighbors and friends. 

In the winter we would ice skate on Hoot Owl Pond. Parents would sometimes take turns shoveling the snow off the ice so we kids could skate and there was always a fire roaring so we could keep warm in between skating. It was one of our favorite things to do in the winter. I remember several parents who lived on Hoot Owl Pond in those days were more than generous and one of the Dads would hook up a record player and play music for us when we skated and one of the Moms made hot chocolate and cookies and brought them to share.

In the early years of living there we had a particularly bad winter with lots of ice and snow and we were without electricity for several days. We all camped downstairs in our family room before the fireplace, which my sister and I thought was really fun while Mom and Dad worried about frozen pipes and keeping the house warm.

I read the comments that Diana wrote in your blog about the Barclay ballroom dance lessons! My sister and I had to attend those also. I used to dread it as we had to dress up in Sunday best dresses and wear white gloves and the boys had to wear suits and ties. The mothers took turns being chaperons and they also had to wear their best dresses and white gloves as well. At the end of the dance lessons the girls and boys had to line up and file past the line of mothers and shake their hands and thank them for attending.

The dance lessons were given by a Mr. Conway and his Assistant Miss Lynn. He was in a tuxedo and Miss Lynn was decked out to us like a movie star in chiffon & heels and the trendy beehive hairdo. They would start each lesson by twirling around the floor to whatever type of dance they wanted to teach us that night. Once they completed their dance the boys would have to line up in front of us girls who were sitting in our chairs and at Mr. Conway's command they each were to pick a girl to dance with and walk over to where she was sitting and make a bow and ask her if she would be his partner for the next dance. It was all so formal and sometimes funny as several boys all tried to get to the same girl before the others. Sometimes one of the fathers would show up before the class was over and I suspect now it was to get a look at Miss Lynn who was quite an eyeful. While we were not that thrilled to have to do waltzes and fox trots every week Mr. Conway did break out of his formal mode once in awhile and at the end of the lessons he would put on a Chubby Checker record and let us all do the Twist !

I also remember the little Smoke Rise library that Diana wrote about. I had forgotten all about it until I read what she had written and my memory was jogged.

My mother and father sold the house on Green Hill Road and retired to Florida in the early 1980s so the Smoke Rise chapter of our lives closed then but we all had wonderful memories to take with us. Mom is now 91 years old and in a retirement home in Florida but she is still in contact with several other former Smoke Rise friends from those happy years.

Thanks for letting me reminisce a bit, Christine! Keep up the good work with this blog !

Kind regards, 
Joan Semmler Oravits


Joan, thanks so much!

Has Joan reminded you of similar stories? What do you remember from growing up in and around Smoke Rise and Kinnelon? Who else took dance lessons at the Inn?

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