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My Sunny Valentine

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August, 1942. My mother, sister and I were spending the summer in Roscoe, New York, at Gitlin’s Beaver Cottage. I never knew why it was called that. It was not a cottage and I never saw a beaver or Gitlin.

In 1942, it was typical of financially almost-middle-class Jewish families to send the mother and kids to The Mountains (Catskills), where they would spend July and August and the father would drive up from The City (New York) or Jersey (New) to be with them on weekends.

For me, those weekends were wonderful. We were a full family again with a car and could drive into Livingston Manor, the big town nearby where there was a five-and-dime (Woolworth’s) with a toy department, an ice cream store and a movie theater.

Then one Saturday, for the first time in my life, Pop took us all to the movies. At night! I had never started to go anywhere at night, and that night, 3,000 linear miles and one million cultural miles from Ketchum, Idaho, I saw the movie, Sun Valley Serenade. Skiing. Skating. Horse-drawn sleighs. Music. Funny people. Sonja Henie. And for me, It Happened in The Catskills. I made up my 10-year-old mind that I had to see Sun Valley and, 12 years later, in 1954, the summer after I graduated from Columbia College, I did.


My first view of Sun Valley was through the window of a snub-nosed yellow bus which I first saw in Shoshone through the window of a yellow and red Union Pacific railroad car which I had boarded 26 hours earlier in Omaha, Nebraska. While Easterners easily imagine being one day in Los Angeles or San Francisco, and may dream of seeing Sun Valley, Idaho, they never think they will ever be in Omaha, Nebraska. More accurately, they always think they will never be in Omaha, Nebraska.

The image of Omaha to a New Jerseyite who never got farther west than Philadelphia is that of the Wild West, while the image of Los Angeles, which is over a thousand miles closer to the Pacific Ocean, is neither wild nor west.

I was in Omaha because that is where my train ride to Shoshone started. Sun Valley, in 1954, was owned by Union Pacific Railroad, and employees coming to work were given free transportation to it from any place on the line. For me, that meant I paid for transportation from New York to the start of the line in Omaha, slept there overnight and took the train over a second night to Shoshone. (The Union Pacific had terminated using its spur from Shoshone to Ketchum).
The 57-mile bus ride to Sun Valley was exciting. I knew I was an hour away from fulfilling a fantasy. I knew I was not going to see the same Sun Valley I saw in Sun Valley Serenade. That was a winter Sun Valley and I was headed to a summer Sun Valley, but the scenery, nonetheless, was beautiful and new to me.
Scrubby sage, black lava rock, green bales of hay, golden fields, and animals, cows and/or bulls, and horses. Mostly the whole area was covered with distance. More than I had ever seen between the Hudson and Hackensack rivers.

As we drove through Ketchum on unpaved roads bordered by saloons, cafés, and sports shops, and the driver made a right at Slavey’s (now The Roosevelt Tavern and Grille) onto Sun Valley Road, I took out a piece of paper with two names on it, Winston and Thomas McCrea. Winston was the director of Sun Valley and Tom was in charge of the lodge. Their father was the dean of one of the schools at Columbia University and when one of my professors happened to mention he was from Boise, Idaho, I rushed to catch him after class and ask him if he had ever been to Sun Valley. He had and I told him of my lifelong dream to see it. He smiled, took me to his office, called Dean McCrea, spoke with him, hung up the phone and within five minutes I had a job as a busboy at the Sun Valley Lodge. I was so elated I never thought to ask, “How much does it pay?” I would be starting Columbia Law School in the fall and the tuition books and expenses would cost me more than $1,200. >>>


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