Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..
My brother Terry called yesterday to tell me what a great experience it was to visit our childhood home on Einstein Place. I had gone by there during my last visit to Smithtown, Long Island last month and was very impressed with how the new owners had fixed up the yard. Apparently my sister Mary Ann and her son William were visiting our parents and took a drive over to our old home.
Mary got out of the car and saw a woman shaking out a rug from the porch and called over and said she was just reminiscing about growing up on Einstein Place and next thing she knew the woman invited them in for a tour of the house. Mary later told me she got very emotional as her childhood memories flooded through her.
I also have many wonderful and vivid memories from growing up in Smithtown back in the 1960’s. Looking back it seems like it was another lifetime. My memories flicker through my mind like an old scratched up black and white home movie. My family left the New York City for the suburbs of Smithtown, Long Island back in 1959 and we moved again to the next town in 197o when I started college. I remember the big yellow bus that picked us up for school every morning on the corner of Brook Lane and Einstein Place. Johnny, Mary and Margaret Bosco, Mike Smith, the Turner boys and the Murphy’s would all wait on that corner for the bus that took us to Sweetbrier Elementary School. We called our bus driver Chickita Banana for some reason – I just remember that tidbit for some reason.
Sure…we usually only remember the good times growing up, but I must admit I had some difficult times as well. Being a pudgy redheaded kid I got my share of teasing and had to fend off many fist fights back in those early days of childhood. That was all part of growing up and I don’t see it as a bad thing like so many people think today. Johnny Bosco and Mike Smith who lived across the street and adjacent to our corner house would gang up on me when the bus dropped us off in the afternoon.
They would push, shove and punch me around until one day I had enough and tackled Mike and slammed him to the ground and started wailing my fists on him just like the scene in A Christmas Story. Johnny tried to pull me off and I went after him as well. At least that is what I remember. They are both have since died so I can’t ask them what they remember about those early days. I don’t recall getting picked on as much after that incident except for the occasional name calling of “fatty patty” and Keooooo!
What I remember most vividly from those days is all the kids that were always outside playing in the neighborhood. Not like it is today where most children stay inside playing video games, posting to Facebook and texting on cell phones. The culture has changed dramatically in less than 50 years and I don’t believe for the better. It truly was a different world back then – a more innocent and wholesome environment for children to grow up in – kids could be kids and not have political correctness shoved down their throats and were not subjected to blatant sex and violence on television. As the talking heads say in their song….”how did I get here” – well how did we get here? It happened very slowly and incrementally and our culture is continuing to be undermined and debased as Americans go about their business trying to make a living and survive in this tough economy. It’s so easy to turn a blind eye to the destruction of our culture and this great country because most people don’t want to make waves or call attention to themselves for going against political correctness.
When we weren’t in school we were riding around on our Sting Ray bikes with banana seats in search of friends to play with. A few blocks away from our house was the entrance to “the woods” where we played army and/or explored all day long. We made tree forts, shot sling shots and searched for turtles and salamanders in those woods that eventually led to a magical place called “Spooks Pond”. Mike, Johnny and I captured box turtles, painted turtles, and Bull Frogs in the swampy pond that had 2 very small Islands in the middle of it. Spooks pond wasn’t the best for fishing, but it was teeming with toads, frogs and turtles. We did most of our fishing at Miller’s Pond and Weld’s Pond where we caught shiners, sun fish “sunnies”, blue gill, perch and the occasional big catfish. Catties were the big prize we all fished for, but hated to take the hook out of their mouths for fear of getting bitten with their small sharp teeth.
There was always so much to do from the moment we left our homes after breakfast in the morning until Dad whistled for us to come in for dinner. Parents didn’t worry about their kids being out playing in the neighborhood. Mom would just say…”where you going?” – We yelled back… Out to play!
I delivered the Newsday paper to make a little spending money after school and then spent it on comic books, balsa wood airplanes, vanilla sodas, ring dings and devil dogs at “the stores” around the corner from our block. No wonder I was a pudgy kid. Man those hostess pastries tasted great washed down with a cold bottle of Hires root beer after delivering my papers.
There was a small clump of woods next to the stores adjacent from George’s Stationary store (where the IRS building stands now) that we all called George’s Gyp Joint where we’d sneak off to smoke cigarettes pinched from our Mother’s packs. I showed up with Lark’s (yuck!) and Mike’s Mom smoked Raleigh’s. God they were strong! I can still recall that harsh tobacco taste to this day. Mike and I sat on an old tree stump in the center of that wooded area smoking and planning our next adventure. Mike was like the Eddie Haskel of the neighborhood. He was very good with his hands and could convert an old discarded lawn mower into a go cart or mini-bike in an afternoon. I can still see him zooming up and down Einstein Place on his make-shift go cart – steering with his feet on the front axle. No helmet by the way. Yes…those were the days when kids could be kids. Mike loved working on engines and eventually became a mechanic before dieing of carbon monoxide poisoning in his foreign car garage.
Yes there was always something going on in Colonial Oaks during the decade of the sixties. After school and on weekends we played stick ball, curb ball, kick ball, stoop ball, or a game of catcher fliers up. At night it was hide & seek, ringalevio, tag, giant step, red rover, and my personal favorite “who dies the best”. Kids made up all kinds of games and activities back then. No one stayed indoors unless they were sick or being punished for smoking or disobeying a parent – yes…kids were actually punished back then, something that happened to me on more than one occasion
It’s so hard to believe that was almost 50 years ago. I can close my eyes and still visualize Mike Smith doing wheelies down Einstein Place on his silver Sting Ray bike, Johnny Bosco shooting his pellet gun at bottles lined up in his back yard, my sister Mary Ann playing with her dolls with her best friend Mary Faye on our front stoop while the Good Humor Man rang his bells as he drove around Colonial Oaks.
My family moved to St. James (just 5 miles away) in 1970 and essentially that chapter of my life ended as I prepared to go to New York Institute of technology. For some reason the 1970’s are only a blur to me. (ya think?) I don’t have nearly the vivid memories from that decade as I do from the 60’s. I suppose its because I was focused on succeeding in college and then surviving my years in the US military. From there it was a teaching career and then I blinked and 50 years flew by and I am recently retired and sitting at my kitchen table in North Carolina writing this blog post.
I feel very blessed to have had such a wonderful childhood experience and will always have special memories of growing up on Einstein Place.
The only thing left as a reminder that my memories are real is our names carved into the light post that sits on the corner of Einstein and Brook lane
It’s 2012 and America is no longer the America I grew up in.