THE IDYLLIC ISLAND FROM MY CHILDHOOD – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I had a chance recently to go back to a place I had loved in my childhood, more than 55 years ago.

Wendy was my best friend from fifth grade through seventh grade. Best friends at that age understand the true meaning and importance of a best friend. I always remembered that intense friendship as a high point in my long life of friendships. Wendy and I spent a lot of time at each other’s homes with each other’s parents (we were both only children). Also, both of our fathers were psychologists and knew each other.

Wendy and me on the motorboat at the island in 1959

Wendy’s family had a summer-house on a three acre island on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. We spent glorious days there playing in the woods and on the water. I rode in her motorboat and her motorized rowboat, both of which we named. The motorboat was Wendy Bird and the rowboat was Tinkerbell, from Peter Pan. I learned to water ski behind the Wendy Bird.

Wendy and me in the rowboat at the island with the house in background

We cleared a path into the woods, complete with signs. The path led to a wonderful tree, right next to the water. That tree was easy to climb and wonderful to sit in and we often played Mad Libs sitting on its branches.

I renewed my friendship with Wendy, through Facebook, this past year. We now speak on the phone almost every week and have become close once again. I always believed we had a strong connection. I guess it must have been to have survived for 55 years!

So Tom and I drove the six hours from Connecticut to the northern end of Lake Winnipesaukee. I was excited to revisit a childhood happy place. Wendy picked us up on the mainland with her brand new motorboat. I saw the island and had an immediate sense of familiarity. When the house came into view, it was just as I had remembered it – except that it seemed much smaller. I’m not that much bigger now than I was at the age of twelve. But I think my memories had enlarged both the dimensions and the magic of this idyllic spot.

My memories of the living room, the master bedroom and the room that Wendy and I had slept in, were totally accurate. In fact, I noticed that the beds in both bedrooms had been moved. Wendy was amazed that I remembered exactly where they had been in 1960!

I ran around looking at all the old photos of Wendy and her parents that decorated the house. My memories were again confirmed as accurate. After dropping my bags, the first thing I wanted to see was what little was left of our path into the woods.

The main remnant of that labor of love was, coincidentally, named “Curley.” “Curley” was a tree at the beginning of the path, where the beach meets the woods. The tree has a huge branch, shaped like a giant ‘j’, which we ‘rode’ like a horse. We had taken strings and created a set of ‘stirrups’ we could slip our feet into to mimic riding a real horse. The stirrups were still there! Wendy’s children growing up, and her grandchildren now, all rode “Curley” using our old stirrups. What a wonderful surprise!

This is our tree horse, “Curley”. If you look closely, you can see the stirrups on the right, below the branch

We talked the whole time we were together. We reminisced and shared stories about ourselves and our families through the years. I brought Wendy some old photos of us that she had never seen. I also brought my old diary from when I was ten to twelve years old, the Wendy era. I read Wendy what I had written about her and our mutual friends and teachers from school. LOL!

View from the porch, where we spent most of our time

Wendy shared a memory with me that I had forgotten. She said that at around age eleven, I had admonished her that she should stand up for herself and not let people walk all over her. “Don’t let yourself be a dishrag” I had told her. The funny thing is that while I don’t remember saying any of that to Wendy, I do remember my mother saying those exact words to me! I was apparently passing on to Wendy, my mother’s good advice to me. Neither of us took the advice for much of our younger lives. But I think we’re getting there now.

We also spent time riding on the lake in both boats. Everything was as beautiful as my glorified memories. Tom was impressed. We sat on the porch, looking out at the lake, talking about the games we used to play on the table there so long ago. Games like Scrabble, Sorry, Risk and Mad Libs (a favorite). Wendy showed me the online Scrabble game she plays now. I showed her Shanghai, my favorite computer game. We bonded all over again, on the site of our shared past.

I’ve talked about Wendy’s island paradise for years to my kids and to Tom. It was great to go back again, this time-sharing it with Tom. Also through photos, I got to share it with my children.

I wonder what my kids will want to revisit when they’re in their sixties.

18 thoughts on “THE IDYLLIC ISLAND FROM MY CHILDHOOD – BY ELLIN CURLEY

  1. There is nothing like reconnecting with childhood friends- I have also done it through facebook too , and that shared understanding of childhood memories makes a bond that lasts forever. Wonderful. And what a beautiful place!

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    • Ellin, it’s wonderful to know that sometimes you CAN go “home” again. I’m delighted to hear that so many of those childhood memories are still real and engaging. Most of all, I’m happy you found your childhood friend again and resumed that bond. It’s a technicolor movie with a happy ending.

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    • I have kept Wendy in my thoughts for over 50 years. It has been magical to reconnect and see that we still have a real connection. I have also thought about the island and my kids grew up on stories of this magical place on a lake. So going back was soul satisfying on so many levels!

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  2. If I went back to an Island, it would be the Vineyard which sadly, is so expensive now it will never happen. It was getting very pricey even while we were there, but there were still bargains, like the little house we were renting when you guys visited. By the time we gave up, that $750/week rental was a $2000/week rental and that wasn’t the ceiling. Too bad. I loved the Island. It was its own world with a carousel in the middle.

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    • We went to Martha’s Vineyard this summer and weren’t that impressed. I’m not sure what the allure is for so many people. We found it crowded and commercial, although the harbour itself is beautiful. We stayed on a firend’s boat so we didn’t have to worry about the high price of hotels.

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      • We stayed mostly off season, though we had a house on the water. The longer you stay, the more it gets to you. We used to be there for two weeks in June and another two in September and weekends through the rest of the summer. It was great. We had a better social life on the Vineyard than we had in Boston.

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      • Ellin, my/our Vineyard summers were from the 70’s through the 90’s. Different era. We were accepted as regular summer people, not just touristas.

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    • What made this weekend extra special was the fact that my memories were not idealized or exaggerated. Everything was as beautiful and peaceful and magical as I remembered. It was also extra special to see all the old photos that Wendy had around the house of her parents and her from way back when. It was a real blast from the past! And it was a gorgeous and idyllic present as well.

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  3. Thanks, Ellin! Beautifully written. I especially loved the pictures and the references to Peter Pan…second star to the right and straight on til morning!

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    • Since Wendy was a character in Peter Pan, we named everything with a Peter Pan theme. The boats and also our birds. Wendy had a parakeet named Petie and I had a canary named Tinkerbell. We loved everything Peter Pan. And the island was like Never Never Land to us.

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  4. Oh, Ellin, This was absolutely lovely and wonderful to read…I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading it! What a special thing to rekindle a childhood friendship and go back to a place of special memories.

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    • Sande, you get how special this was for me! I had such clear memories of Wendy and the island in my head, which turned out to be pretty accurate. I could tell Wendy many of the things that had been changed since my time. And I was always right. It was particularly funny to realize that we had named our tree horse “Curley” – since that’s my name now too! Me and the horse!

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