For the Love of George
By Tina Portelli
We could not afford to fly in those days. Vacations had to be car friendly.
It was the decade of the sixties that Lake George was the place to be for
the Portelli family. We loved it! The four of us would look forward to
this yearly trip as some would look forward to a trip to Europe. We were
equally enthusiastic for this simple adventure away from home, parents and
Not being able to sleep the night before the trip from the anticipation of
leaving, we would be out the door and on the road by 5:AM. Watching the
sunrise as we drove north towards the mountains was a beautiful sight.
Even as a young girl I had developed an appreciation for the beauty and
serenity of nature.
In his black and red 64' Plymouth, my Dad would pack a weeks worth of
household goods for the lakeside cabin that would be our home for five
glorious days. At the cabin, I would have my own room, a luxury that I did
not have at home, having to share my space with my younger brother.
My Dad, being a perfectionist about everything he did, would have this
entire road trip mapped out, including how many times we would pull over
at the rest stops. Then the big stop, breakfast at Ann's Diner. We would
see the big yellow and red neon chicken perched atop of the restaurant roof
and knew we were an hour away from the lake. We knew we'd be eating the
best breakfast of the year.
It was that breakfast stop on the road that told us we were really on
I will never forget the smell of the pine walls or the aroma of the bacon
and eggs, pancakes and hot coffee. It seemed the food had an enhanced and
robust flavor that we did not taste in Brooklyn. Waitress's seemed nicer,
taking the time to chat about where we were from, although I think our
Brooklyn accents gave that away. As years passed and we became annual
regulars, the waitress would greet us in a special way, catching up on
family events of the past year.
After breakfast, and on the road again we would start to see all the
familiar billboards vying for our attention. Come visit Storytown, Gaslight
Village, Ski on the Lake, Boat Rentals, Fort William Henry. My brother and
I would compete as to where we wanted to be taken, while he liked the rides
of the amusement parks, my choice were the historical sites. We would both
get our way.
As we drove, we would see new restaurants pop up every year while the old
ones struggled to keep their customers. Although we would cook in the
cabin most nights, we did dine out a few evenings we were there, saving our
best meal for our last night. Mario's Italian Restaurant. The food wasn't
the best Italian food I ever had, not like grandmas, however, it was still
the best Italian food in town. The meatballs were the size of golf balls,
too small to be authentic Italian style, but it was still a big treat.
The center of town was where all the action was. After dinner, we would
stroll around town, stopping for ice cream, browsing the souvenir shops.
I would always emerge with a pair of hand made moccasins. Once, we came
upon an artist with a stand set up. He was drawing charactertures for a
few dollars. At the urging of my parents, I sat to pose while
onlookers stopped to observe. The end result of this portrait was my
famous buck teeth dominating the finished drawing. This did not make me
happy, nor was it flattering. I was reminded by my parents that it was
just a cartoon drawing, nothing more, and not to be so sensitive. I have
since had my teeth fixed.
Waking up at the Lake in the morning, hearing birds instead of traffic, was
a wonderful thing. I'd get up early, jump in my shorts, grab my coffee
and my book and run to my chair by the lake. I'd sit with my mom while my
dad and brother enjoyed swimming in the lake or playing ball or Frisbee.
That's how we'd spend the day.
On one of our days at Lake George, we would take a ride a few miles north
to our favorite antique shop, The Red Barn. This musty old house with junk
strewn all over the front yard was our joyful treasure hunt. Everything
was cheap as grass. We'd come home with arms full of junk that my dad
would re-finish and restore to their original beauty. I'd always wanted
one of those old rocking chairs sitting on the lawn, but, there was no way
to get it home, or a place at home for it to rock. I remember my Dad
saying, "Wait until you get old, you'll have plenty of time to sit, then
you can rock yourself to death".
My Dad would give himself the treat of the year by taking one night of this
vacation for himself and drive fifty miles to Saratoga Racetrack for a
night at the races. While my Mom stayed with us, she did not mind him
going without her. He deserved a night off to do what he loved, betting
the horses. I remember hearing all his "almost" stories on the following
morning and we would all laugh at him, ribbing him about being a loser.
He'd always bring back fresh spring water from a particular Spring in
Saratoga. We would haul the gallons home and he would enjoy his months
supply. He was crazy about that water. To us, it tasted like minerals,
flat and metallic, but, he loved it. It was a ritual for him to get it
Seeing my parents interact with each other was great to watch. It was
obvious to me that my parents were in love, enjoying this family time
together, away from the stresses of work and home. Playing ping-pong or
pool in the resorts game room, they would act as if they just met.
Sometimes, we would all sit out on the property lawn, blanket spread out,
and watch a movie with the rest
of the guests. We would gaze at the stars, which we never saw in our sky.
These vacations were not expensive, but in retrospect they were priceless.
Thanks to the Bell & Howell and my Dad, the memories and adventures of
these trips to the Lake are forever available to me. We had fifteen years
of this ritual and never tired of it.
Sometimes these old Bell & Howell movies are sad to watch, the nostalgia of
what was, seeing people who are no longer in my life, but I am still happy
I have them. It is a reminder of how lucky I was to have had such great
It has been thirty- five years since I have been to Lake George. Will I
ever go back? Do I want to see the progression of change or do I want to
hold tight to my old images of the place?
Sometimes it's best to keep the memory and leave it at that.