Eric W. Weber
- Mailing address:a
- When and where were you born?
1948 in Newton, Massachusetts
- When did you come to Mountain Lakes?
- Tell us something about your family. Did your parents also live here?
My parents had both grown up in Summit and moved to Mountain Lakes during the second year of their marriage, after a year-long stay in the Boston area where I was born. My four younger siblings were born, and one died in infancy, during the family’s stay in Mountain Lakes.
- Where have you lived in the Borough? In which houses?
3 Grove Place from 1949 until 1959, and 160 Laurel Hill Road (which my parents built) from 1959 until my family left town in 1973. I was effectively gone after spring 1970, when I graduated from college.
- What do you remember particularly about the houses and properties where you lived?
At Grove Place, my father rushing to finish an attic bedroom so my new baby sister could come home from the hospital. I was worried that he wouldn’t get it done and she’d have to live in the hospital, where we would visit her periodically. Scaling the enormous (!) rock in the front yard of my best friend Dicky Weiler’s house across Grove Place. Climbing the mulberry tree in our back yard at dawn and sitting up there eating the berries. Making “forts” in a little patch of tall grass and weeds in the back yard. Planting a few bean sprouts I’d brought home from school, and resenting the rabbits that immediately ate them down to the ground. Learning to ride bikes on the dead-end street, where cars were rare in the daytime and the few drivers had little children of their own. Playing hide & seek and cowboys & Indians with the neighborhood kids. Crawling head-first into an enormous hornets’ nest inside the Corvinuses’ forsythia bush next door. (I got dozens of stings and my eyes were swollen shut for a week.) Waiting impatiently to be old enough to walk to school.
- What are some of your special memories growing up in Mountain Lakes?
All the kids of similar ages in the” Village” neighborhood: the baby boom. Learning to ride bikes and playing dodge ball in the road in front of our house. Walking up the path to the RR station with Mom (and later, alone!) on warm evenings to meet Dad when he got off the train. Playing in the woods north of the Grove Place turnaround. Once, crawling all the way through the long culvert beneath the RR tracks there, on a dare I didn’t dare refuse. Walking up to Yakerino’s (I never knew how it was really spelled) Mtn. Lakes Market to spend allowance money on candy bars and gum. Learning to swim at Island Beach. Fireworks over the lake on the 4th of July. Finally being old enough to ride bikes up to Birchwood with friends for a COLD swim. The excitement of our new Laurel Hill Road house project; climbing around the half-finished frame. Sledding all the way down our yard, the Fredericks’ next door, and the Ryans’ below to the sidewalk along the Boulevard. Shoveling snow off our whole long driveway several times a winter until I left for college — and THEN Dad bought a snowblower! Exploring the woods around Birchwood and Crystal Lakes and over to the Tourne. Reading “Scouts of ’76” and realizing that there had been people on the land of Mountain Lakes for a LONG time, and getting interested in local history (still a consuming passion today). Walking to the high school my senior year, hand-in-hand with my girl-next-door girlfriend. Learning to drive with my father on the empty roads of the Rockaway Valley.
- Where did you go to school? What particular memories do you have from your school years? Are there any special stories you associate with that time of your life?
Nursery school somewhere in the neighborhood of Puddingstone Road in Boonton. Kindergarten through 2nd grade at Wildwood, 3rd & 4th grades at Lake Drive (I can still smell the basement gym there), 5th-7th at Briarcliff, where I grew seven inches and four shoe sizes the year I was 13, and Jenny Yonkers solicited my attention by drawing on the back of my neck with a black Magic Marker during math, the one subject in which I struggled to concentrate; and finally MLHS. I think I was the first boy to take four years of art classes at MLHS without being rumored “queer” — something of a feat in those times, though I didn’t realize it until later. Knowing where I wanted to go to college and getting in early, blissfully avoiding the long wait most of my clasmates suffered.
- Where did you and your family shop?
The Acme Market at the end of the Boulevard in Boonton, though then I thought it was in Mountain Lakes. Salny Brothers department store on the square in Morristown, where my sibs and I got all our “good” clothes. Rasmussen’s butcher shop, just over the bridge in Boonton. The Five & Ten in the same little shopping center as the Acme. Yakerino’s, of course. I began and ended an ignominious shoplifting career at Williams Stationery, between the Acme and the Five and Ten. In August of 2000 I stopped in there for the first time in decades and found, still standing behind the counter, the very same man who had caught me trying to steal a candy bar in 1955. I told him about it and we had a good laugh. Having enacted the same sequence of events with scores or hundreds of other children through the years, he didn’t remember me. I sure remembered him.
- What were the roads and the lakes like?
Like they are now, pretty much. I’m the only person I’ve ever known who can go “home” to a town that looks just the way it did 50 years ago, except that now there are full-sized trees in the “Village” neighborhood. The way all of the rural countryside surrounding Mountain Lakes was consumed and transformed during my time there was what eventually made me a land use planner and land conservationist.
- Are there any special people you remember who contributed to the life of the town? Why do they stand out in your mind?
Bill Kogen, certainly. Does anyone know how many adults in the world today can swim because of him? Coach Wilson of state championship basketball fame, whom I didn’t much like or admire, but who charitably admitted me to the team my senior year, even though I had no skills. Mr. Pancake, the minister whose name no one believes when I tell them, to this day, and whose church was generous to kids. Officer Castellucci, the scourge and terror of all young ML evildoers, who tracked me down relentlessly when I had stolen (of all things) a four-pound sledgehammer from a neighbor’s garage, and who sternly exacted monetary reparations instead of hard time in the state penitentiary. I was so grateful for his grim-faced and grudging forbearance that I abandoned the larcenous life forever.
- What did you do for fun formal recreation, sports and entertainment in general?
I was a woodsy kid and always loved exploring, catching bugs, frogs and snakes, making paths and forts, climbing trees, collecting rocks. I played ball in the Farm League, but wasn’t an athlete and didn’t really enjoy being on teams. I read voraciously all through childhood and loved knowing about all sorts of things (still do). After we moved up the hill, I had to bike to visit friends’ houses, get to school or go to the store, so I lived on a bike for years. From 7th grade on, I was away at camp in New Hampshire each summer, and the hiking, canoeing and other things I did and the outdoorsmanship and environmental awareness I learned there have been central to my adult life. In that one way, I moved beyond Mountain Lakes while I was still living in it.
- Are there any special events that stand out in your mind?
Only one local event comes readily to mind: the hoopla surrounding the high school’s state championship in basketball about 1963(?). That and all similar parent-driven celebrations of athletic prowess, in which the fleeting achievements of a handful of kids are trumpeted as widely as the quieter, more lasting accomplishments of many others are ignored, later served as a of model of something to avoid as my own children grew up. In retrospect, I’m not sure any parent ever gets the balance right.
- Did your parents and the parents of your friends work nearby? In New York or elsewhere? How did they get to work? How did commuting change over your time here?
Mom was at home with her four children throughout my childhood and beyond. Dad, an engineer selling steam-generation equipment, worked out of an office in the Chrysler Building. He went into the city some days, and was on the road all over industrial NJ the rest of the time. In the Grove Place years he had commuted into the city on the train; later he took the bus that ran along the Boulevard on “office days”. He always drove Oldsmobiles, so the ads of a few years ago (“Not your father’s Oldsmobile!”) resonated for me. Mom’s and Dad’s social life in ML revolved around bridge; they had a circle of friends with whom they got toether several times a month for that. They belonged to the Mt. Lakes Club for a while so I could anchor a Sunfish there and sit becalmed on the lake for hours during the Sunday sailboat races, but they seldom attended events at the club themselves. Dad spent all the weekend time he could with us children, doing projects, going on outings, and helping with homework. During the week he often had desk work to do in the evenings, but always took half or three quarters of an hour to read aloud to us at bedtime. He read wonderfully, and Story Hour was our family’s most beloved tradition.
- How did various laws affect the way people lived?
See above for how they affected me personally. Otherwise, I never thought about them.
- Did you have a sense of Mountain Lakes as a unique place in its lifestyle, its homes, as a community?
Yes, especially after I went away to college and realized how many other kinds of places there were to “come from”. But even while I was living in Mountain Lakes, I saw clearly that the landscape all around it was changing while the landscape of Mountain Lakes was not. I had many close relatives living in Summit, Morristown, Mendham and Maplewood, and we frequently drove through Parsippany, Denville, Chatham, Whippany and Madison to visit them. That major landmarks in some of those places could and frequently did disappear between successive trips a few weeks apart made a real impression on me. (I’ll never forget the time we were coming home from one of those visits and found a familiar dairy pasture occupied not by cows as usual, but by a herd of eight or ten elephants grazing placidly beneath the maples. The circus was in New York, perhaps. The Elephant Pasture, as we called it thereafter, was paved for a parking lot about 1968 — a sad diminution of its potential to host any marvels in the future.)
- How did the world’s events — World War I, the Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the assassination of JFK, Viet Nam, Watergate, etc. — affect you and fellow Mountain Lakes residents when you were growing up?
The assassination of JFK was the first of those events to impact me directly, and then while I was in college I was outraged by the assassinations of MLK and RFK and the Vietnam war. The civil rights movement made little impression on me while I was in Mountain Lakes: not surprisingly, since there were no black people there and no need, it seemed in 1964-66, to be concerned for or about them. Mountain Lakes — small, safe and, to my youthful eyes, unchanging in the best sense — began while I was in college to look small, safe, and unchanging in the worst sense: close, constricting, un-self-aware, and wedded to simplistic delusions. This perception had as much or more to do with me as it did with Mountain Lakes, of course, but after graduating from Amherst in 1970, I didn’t return to NJ. Watergate wiped away the last trace of sympathy I still might have had for the Republicanism that I associated with Mountain Lakes. It happened that as that debacle unfolded, my family left town for good, so I never got back to find out how many people in Mountain Lakes were as sick of Republicans afterward as I was. I’ve never cast a Republican vote in my life, and I don’t expect to.
- What made living in Mountain Lakes special to you, as you think back over your life here?
Mountain Lakes was a superb place to be a child, and my guess is that the 1950s were as good a time to be a child in Mountain Lakes as there has ever been. Our parents’ lives revolved around us. We were insulated from all that was changing for the worse in the world, or so it seemed, and we were even insulated from much that was changing, often quite uncomfortably, for the better. We couldn’t have asked for more stability, for a more trustworthy, dependable environment in which to grow. My wife and many of my similarly-aged friends who grew up elsewhere experienced the Cold War, nuclear-standoff, air-raid-drill years of the 50s as a time of fear and insecurity, but I didn’t: all that stuff made little real impression on me. I wasn’t worried about it. To the extent that the warm cultural cocoon of Mountain Lakes allowed me to focus my attention on discovering the world within and, later, beyond it, I owe it a good deal of gratitude.