Trolling about The Batavian I discovered that Godfrey’s Pond hunting and fishing club outside of Batavia is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary this summer.
As the temperature here at 20 Prospect is soaring into the upper 90’s, with humidity torn from the pages of a Faulkner novel, it’s a good time to head out to the Pond for a dip. Growing up in B-town, we did not belong to the club. Not because we couldn’t have afforded it, many families did and still do. Just because my Dad was not a hunter or fisher, and my folks preferred to spend their money on family driving trips in the summer time. My trips to Godfrey’s came courtesy of the Carmichael’s up the street, who used to graciously pack the neighborhood kids into the station wagon and truck us out there on days like this to beat the heat.
Godfrey’s is a tiny little place when you look at it from this perspective…
But my memories of it are much bigger than an aerial photograph would indicate. The green waters of the pond were my only experience of lake swimming as a kid, which sounds odd to my Midwestern friends who grew up surrounded by fresh water lakes. There were few thrills as big as a jump off of the high board out at the pond. It seemed liked it was 20 feet in the air! I remember the seeming eternity it took to hit the water when executing a cannonball. I’m not sure if I ever had the guts to dive in head first from it.
When we weren’t swimming, we were hiking the trails, or sneaking up onto the train tracks. Our favorite activity was to hide when the engines passed, then jump out and try to throw rocks through the open doors of the boxcars. Looking back I’d like to grab myself by the collar and shake a bit of sense into me. God knows Mr. Carmichael would have taken a yard stick to our backsides had he known what we were up to.
As I grew older and drifted from the kids on the street, I still had occasion to go there from time to time with friends from school. I once remember being asked to go in the presence of another good friend of Sicilian descent. He declined to go along with us because his folks had never been allowed into the pond as kids. I can remember being floored by the revelation that only 20 years earlier Italian Americans were not welcome there. Having gone to St. Joe’s with lots of Italian and Irish kids, I had no idea that there was such discrimination in Batavia’s past. My folks had moved us to Batavia in the mid 60’s, and we had little personal history of the place before that. It was only in my teenage years that I began to realize the class divides within our town. Working class Catholic’s like us had once been pariah’s to the established WASP community. By the time of my youth, our class divides had turned into economic ones. Even Italian kids could grow up on Naramore Drive, and come to look down on the unwashed “greasers” from St. Anthony’s. Such is the price of progress.
Although I’m sure the folks at Godfrey’s don’t like to speak of it, the pond is a part of that regrettable past. It is a sad reminder that the warm memories of community we like to hold in our mind had flaws that time has blurred from our vision. It is something to remember, lest we start to imagine ourselves perfect. No, even innocent kids of 9-10 can do things they later come to regret, like heaving rocks at a passing train. If we air brush out the bad parts of our past we leave ourselves prone to repeating our mistakes. So I salute Godfrey’s on 100 years of history, and hold my bittersweet memories of the place with an asterisk alongside. Just as Shoeless Joe Jackson may never be admitted to Cooperstown, but can be lovingly remembered for his talent and grace, so too will Godfrey’s remind me of both the grace, and sin within us all.