Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..
I’ve been working on a (photo / memory) book for my Mom’s upcoming birthday. I did one for my daughter Andei’s 16th Birthday (Click here to download pdf excerpt) andeibookpdf3 earlier this month and she absolutely loved it. Blurb.com is an amazing online publishing service that allows a writer to design and publish a very professional book without having to purchase hundreds of copies. I am hoping to get more material for Mom’s book from her friends and relatives – I sent out an e-mail requesting family and friends to send me any anecdotes, stories or memories about my Mom to include in the book. I have lots of photos from the past, but hope to get more before this project is through.
Working on these books really is nostalgic for me. Why does it seem that the past was so much better than the present. At least it seems that way for me? I think about my childhood days on Long Island a great deal, and have done a lot of writing about those special, almost magical times. I suppose it’s because they were simpler, less complex times. Things were slower and more innocent (it seemed) back in the 50’s and 60’s. We weren’t constantly bombarded by the constant noise of mass media and didn’t have to constantly keep abreast of technology. I must admit sometimes I long for those simpler times especially as I get older.
The following is a story I wrote while in Ireland about growing up on Long Island. Enjoy!
Einstein Place was a strange name for a street. The green and white sign proclaimed it boldly atop the silver metal pole on the corner of our big green yard. Einstein Place holds a decade of disparate childhood memories that pass through my mind like a flickering black and white newsreel.
We moved to the suburbs of New York City in the fall of 1959. Back then Smithtown, Long Island was nothing but potato farms and dirt roads dotted with newly constructed ranch and barn styled colonial homes. A very different world from the city we were leaving behind.
My parents wanted to escape from the congested city and raise their growing family in a more pleasant, less hectic environment. There were many young families with the same idea moving into Smithtown as the sixties unfolded. Einstein Place represents a snapshot of that era; confident, hopeful young couples escaping the crowded city in search of a slice of the American Dream.
Young Baby Boomer’s blossomed and grew in this fertile soil. Children filled the newly paved streets playing every game imaginable. Stick ball, curb ball, tag, red rover, giant step, and hide-and-seek were just a few.
The sounds of children playing on our suburban street are as vivid as the images that fill my head.
“Red rover red rover let green come over – I got it…I got it…I GOT IT! – Tag…You’re it! Ready or not… here I come.”
It didn’t take long to develop life long friendships in our new neighborhood – playing army with freckle faced Mike Smith and that tough dark Italian kid Johnny Bosco. We belly crawled in the dense woods behind Colonial Oaks yelling,. “Bang! Got you – You’re dead!” Fishing on hot summer afternoons for catfish “catties” at Millers Pond, and going to school hands gripping my Lone Ranger School Bag and lunch box with the neighborhood kids on the big yellow bus that picked us up at the corner of Einstein and Brook Lane.
Flickering home movies play on in my head.
Two ten-year-old boys wearing baseball caps and Davie Crocket tee shirts are building a tree fort in the woods. One is using a hand-sized rock to nail a board across a precarious limb. There is a fight at the bus stop…young boys clench fists, argue and throw punches for no apparent reason. Friends one day – enemies the next.
Uniformed boys wearing bright yellow hats play a little league game at Maple Avenue Park at dusk. People cheer wildly from metal bleachers as I hit a line drive into center field.
Next I’m delivering newspapers in the rain, tossing them onto manicured lawns from a canvas bag slung across the high handle bars of my green sting ray bike.
Memories continue to roll through my mind like grainy 8mm movies. A touch football game is playing in our big corner backyard. I see screaming kids with hands waving and yelling, “I’m open! Pass it to me!” as they go out for the long bomb.
There are bits and pieces of Saturday Movie Matinee’s …Flash Gordon’s flying across the movie screen while noisy children munch popcorn and sip cherry cokes in their sticky vinyl seats. John Wayne is chasing the bad guys through a old western town with six guns blazing, Frankenstein moans with arms outstretched putting fear in us all while some kid shoots tiny gum balls through a straw at the big white screen.
Memories melt together into one vague mental collage…a giant tapestry of pure visual nostalgia.
My brother Dennis sits in his flannel pajamas playing with matchbox cars while Mary Ann, Terry and I sit mesmerized in front of the TV set. It’s Saturday morning cartoons. First farm shows, then Crusader Rabbit, and Raglan T Tiger, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse drive out of their cave, Fury, My Friend Flicker, Little Rascals, Jungle Jim, Circus Boy, then Andy Devine reads the story of Sabu the Indian Boy from a big book and looks up at the audience and says “Pluck your magic twanger Froggie!”
Mom calls us for breakfast – cereal variety packs, “oh boy…I want Sugar Pops – No – you had them last week.” “No fighting over the cereal – grab one and eat – don’t spill the milk.” I ‘m cutting the perforations down the middle of the box and pouring milk in without using a bowl.
My friends and I play endless games of Eight Ball on the honeycomb pool table in our converted paneled basement. We line up our shots across deep orange felt as balls drop loudly into the pockets. “Rack em up! Loser Racks!.”
Beatles music blares loudly on scratchy transistor radio “I wanna to hold your hand!” Our neighbor Mr. Bosco is weathering a hurricane wearing a yellow raincoat while sitting in a lounge chair on the roof of his house. Snow sleds carry laughing children bundled in winter clothes tied to the back of Dad’s Studabaker station- wagon as he drives and swerves slowly through the snowy suburban streets. Johnny’s hunting water rats with his new pump pellet gun behind Miller’s pond while I search for bullfrogs and box turtles. Giggling little girls play hopscotch and jump rope in our driveway, and Mike Smith’s getting up a stick ball game. “I’m captain! No, I’m captain! The odd finger is it -The odd finger is it. You pick first Mike.”
Now I’m walking down Einstein Place at the crack of dawn. My fishing buddy Don Nelson and I made the two-mile hike most Saturday mornings in the spring and summer. I hear the sound of frogs croaking in the distance and song of a bobwhite as we turn onto Brook Lane. Fishing poles and tackle boxes in hand, we walk lazily down the tree lined street towards the dense foliage of Wells Pond; Don with those silly hip waders waddling down the street like a circus performer. I just roll my blue jeans up to my knees and fish barefoot letting the cool wet mud squish between my toes.
Passing the last house on the paved street we enter the well-trodden dirt path that meanders through the woods to the point, our favorite fishing spot on the lake. Bass, yellow perch, sunfish and big silver shiners are jumping – leaving tiny ripples in their wake.. The large pond and surrounding woods are deserted except for the two of us. A mist hangs over the still water and the only sounds come from our feet shuffling down the dirt path. Lilly pads create a yellow – green mosaic around the shoreline. The best fishing is right on the edge between the water and the pads. We are careful not to get our lines tangled in the weeds.
There were family trips to Coney Island, Steeplechase, Freedom Park and Fairy Land. Einstein Place was more than a street…it was our childhood and it ended with a blink of an eye.
Einstein Place is quiet and deserted – everyone is gone. The film spins around and around on the reel – projector light in my mind goes out.
The Vietnam War raged on, protesters took to the streets and men landed on the moon. We didn’t even notice, protected and sheltered from the outside world on Einstein Place – at least for a brief sliver of time.