Malverne Memories

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
Bernie's memories of growing up in Malverne on Long Island, NY

Submitted: June 18, 2019

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Submitted: June 18, 2019

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Malverne Memories

 

We were sitting around on Hays' deck, throwin' the bull, bringing up the old times, talking about everything and nothing, when Richard Theissen said, "Hey, someone should be writing this stuff down." The group included Hays Tiemann, Richard Theissen, John Thomas, Ken Blaisedell and me.

The conversation went on and on, but I just stopped and thought to myself...why don't I write some of this stuff down?

So here it is. Some of the stuff, to the best of my memory -- some of the stuff that made us who we are really...happy to be sittin' around so many years later, talking about our lives. Please understand--the real authority on Malverne is my friend, Mike Ziegler, who now lives in North Carolina. At some point, I'll check out my thoughts with him.

 

 

 

 

In The Beginning

 

I remember the day our family moved to Malverne from the city; from the old East Harlem neighborhood that was my first home; 310 East 120th Street...120th Street and First Avenue, or Pleasant Avenue, as the natives called it.

The caravan lined up in front of our building at about 8 am. It consisted of a mid-sized van type truck with the furniture we took, and three cars carrying the family and a few friends to help us. I sat on someone's lap in the back seat of a car watching several old women perched on the fire escape in the building above us. They wore black dresses--the typical daily attire for senior Italians women, and they were crying and wailing, so sure they would never see the Zaccaro family again.

It took only a few weeks and we were back on that street for what became a constant flow of visits to the grandparents. More on this later. But now, we were ready to move to the country. It was September 4th, 1948. I was almost 4 years old. My life changed forever that day.

Seems like we drove for hours, and on a hundred roads and highways. Some one said, "...two more blocks then make a right..." Finally, the car slowed down and stopped in front of a little white house.

There were no sidewalks on my block. The green lawn came right down to the street. Country, real green country. Even the gutter was nice looking. I loved sitting on that green grass under a fat elm tree. A few years later I was able to reach up and grab the fat lowest limb, swing my legs up around it and climb up onto that tree. I had found my first private country space; my own little world. From that limb I could climb all the way up into the tree, where I had several places to sit, unseen, among the leafy branches. One of the low limbs had a hole, an indentation in the bark, where I could hide my secret stuff--like my little metal race car or my toy cowboy pistol. It felt so cool to have private hiding spots, in a tree no less. Sad to say that elm tree, like thousands of others, became a victim of Dutch Elm disease and had to be felled.

The Woods

The phrase was used for almost any wooded areas containing lots of trees. There were woods all along Ocean Avenue in Malverne, from Southern State all the way through southern Lynbrook to where Sunrise Highway and Merrick Road crossed each other into Rockville Center.

For me and a lot of kids, the Woods in Malverne was home to secret hideaways. We called them forts, but they could be made up of dense bushes or a simple copse of trees, as long as you could hide in them, unseen by the prying eyes of adults or the big kids. In my time, I had lots of forts. I really had nothing to hide; it just felt good to be unseen.

I remember getting a real army canteen; not a toy, a real heavy-duty canteen with a green canvas wrap around it. I'd fill it up with ice cold water and carry it into the woods near Pinebrook Avenue where I hid in some bushes and drank from my canteen. It felt so clandestine.

I was part of the group of kids who built a serious fort, meaning with real lumber, nails and hammers and other tools. It was a tree fort, about ten feet off the ground. The identities of all of the kids in that group escapes me, but I think Frankie Zabatta, Mike Lackey and maybe Al Henkel were involved. Actually, it was a serious fort for another reason--its location along Ocean Avenue, between Pinebrook Avenue and Ray Lane. Right across the street was Mr. Archer's house. Mr. John K. "Jake" Archer was the principal of Malverne High School.

Anyway, this serious fort was really just an 8' x 8' platform we built between three trees where the whole group could fit, sit and bullshit whenever we wanted to; and make fun of Jake.

(If my fragile brain remembers, I'll share some Jake stories down the road.)

 

Santa came to Malverne

on the Long Island Railroad.

 

No, he didn't have a monthly commuter ticket. But every year when I was a kid, a happy little fat guy in a red suit showed up bearing thousands of Christmas stockings jam-packed with little gifts and goodies for all of the kids in Malverne.  Santa would arrive on an ugly LIRR train with an elf or two and would sit on an easy chair in the tiny station house, the chair strategically placed near the wood stove that kept Santa and the whole station house warm, even with the doors wide open.

One by one, a long line of kids would file up to Santa's chair and get a smile and a few kind words from him before he handed you a stuffed Christmas stocking. No matter how cold it was that December day, you were happy to wait in line; a long line that stretched out a long way, sometimes to well past the station parking lot and the Brown Derby, one of Malverne's oldest and finest taverns.

Religion never got in the way at Christmas time in those days. Everybody liked Santa and no matter what your spiritual leaning,  you'd be there that day. My Jewish friends didn't have decorated Christmas trees in their homes. Some had Channukah bushes. But on the day that Santa made it to Malverne, they were on line next to me, just as eager as I was to check out the contents of that Christmas stocking. Lots of loot. There was always an apple or an orange; little wax bottles with some sweet liquid and maybe wax lips; Bazooka Bubble Gum; a little wooden top or yo-yo; a whistle, etc. No major toys, but who cared?

 

 

Geronimo played Santa on

snowy Christmas eves.

 

On heavy snow days, Mr. Zabatta, the cobbler who went by the nickname, Geronimo, arrived on my street, North Cambridge St., in a horse drawn sleigh. He stopped and visited my house because his son, Frankie, was a close friend of mine. It was an incredible rush for the Zaccaro family--especially the kids. We all knew it was Mr. Zabatta, but it didn't matter. We chose to believe it was Santa for a few minutes. He stayed for a very short time because he had lots of stops to make. It was just another thing that made Malverne extra special.

 

The Joy of Little League Baseball

 

The sport of baseball became a reality for me when Little League Baseball became a reality in America. It reached Malverne in the early 50's, where several teams were born, thanks to some benevolent sponsors: The Fire Department was one team; the Police Department another, the Malverne Bakery was another; then there was the 27 Club, and a few others.

A new baseball field was installed on Hempstead Avenue, where the DPW building was located. It was called Harris Field. To kids like me, it was so official. It had a baseball diamond with a grass infield, a backstop, two dugouts, stands on both sides for the fans, and a full outfield with a home run fence around it.

Every Memorial Day weekend Saturday marked the opening day of baseball season. All the teams, kids dressed in new uniforms, marched in the Memorial  Day Parade. The parade route started in the Malverne town center near the train station and ran the length of Hempstead Avenue to Tilrose Avenue, right before Harris Field.

Huge firetrucks blared their sirens; Firemen, the whole Police Department in full uniform, U.S. Military veterans all proudly marched. Bands played brassy marching music and flag waving parents, siblings and friends lined the sidewalks on both sides of the street. Kids who didn't march rode their bikes, decorated with colorful crepe paper. Wood clothespins fastened stiff playing cards to the spokes, making the sounds of real motorcycles. All in all, the parade was comprised of the components of small town America in the 1950's.

I loved those times and I feel lucky to have grown up in that era. It was great to be a kid then; much easier than today in 2018. Life was simpler and we weren't spoiled by electronic entertainment and rampant wealth. If you wanted something--really wanted it--you worked for it.

 

Way Back, Kids Gladly Worked

 

In the 50's and 60's, kids were willing to work for a buck, and there were many ways to do it. Getting a part-time job was easy. Doing odd jobs in the neighborhood was commonplace. I found odd jobs on my own block. If you wanted a new sweatshirt, a new bike or a better baseball mitt, or if you just wanted to go to the movies on the weekend, you assumed you needed to pay for it yourself. No big deal. You could easily make the money you needed. I had a Newsday paper route for three years delivering to 80 some odd homes. A paper route didn't make much, but it kept you in candy bars, and it was an easy job. But there were better ways to make real money. The flow of jobs was seasonal.

In the winter, you hoped for snow--a lot of snow. When it came, I glued my ears to the little radio in my kitchen listening to the news on 1010 WINS New York. They announced the news you needed to hear--the school closings. When you heard that your school was closed, you screamed in joy and excitement. Yea! It was a "snow day." Not only did you get a day off from school--a gift in itself--you were given an opportunity to make some real money shoveling snow. By yourself or with a pal or two, a day of shoveling snow could bring in a $100. You had to be willing to work hard in the cold. Of course, you first had to do your house; shovel the walks, sidewalks and driveway of your own house before you could start making moola. I often teamed up with Frankie Zabatta. By 7am, we began hitting the corner houses first because we could charge more for them. In my neighborhood, the people knew us well so getting the shoveling job was almost automatic. Especially because we did a really good shoveling job and they remembered that.

By noontime, we'd made a bundle working our way into town, ending up at Andy's Place, the wonderful diner near the train station. Sure, we were cold and tired and soaked--but we were also wealthy by then. We could order any food we liked, like a major breakfast with loads of french fries...the best fries on earth!

After chowing down, we'd walk home and, on the way, we'd pick a few more shoveling jobs to pad the ole' wallet. Making money in those days was just a matter of being willing to work hard. Not today. Kids don't shovel snow anymore. Why not? Don't they need the money? Maybe not. Maybe everything is given to them today. Please, somebody explain it to me.

Many years later, I moved to Woodstock, NY and lived there for about 15 years. I bring it up here because it was the one place I observed teens working hard in the winter when there was abundant snowfall. The town areas were plowed by the local highway department and the sidewalks were shoveled by the individual retail store owners and a few old timers from town. But on farm houses or simple country dwellings all through the rural towns of that Catskills area, heavy snowfall on a roof was a problem. Someone had to 'sweep' the snow off the roof. Young teens often took on the dangerous task, making good money from the work. They'd trudge through deep snow dragging an extension ladder and a very wide broom. Once they could rest the ladder against the roof eaves, they'd climb the ladder with broom in hand and sweep the heavy snow off the roof. It was hard work and it paid well.

 

Warm Weather Work for Kids

 

From early Spring through late Fall, work opportunities for kids abounded, especially during the hot summer months. When I was seven years old, I sometimes worked with my brother John doing lawns. He had a dozen lawns every week within 10 blocks of our place--North Cambridge Street. John used our push mower. He'd flip it over so the cutting blades didn't turn and I sat on the cross bars. I held on to the other tools as he pushed the mower from job to job. My role was to do the edging, the flower beds and the sweeping. Whenever I worked with him I got a few bucks. When he graduated from Malverne High and went on to Springfield College in Massachusetts, I inherited those lawn jobs. At five bucks a lawn I was making good money by the time I was eight.

There were lots of other ways to earn money in the summer: washing cars, changing and washing windows and screens, small painting jobs--but I had a special way to make money. I did garages. I cleaned out, washed, painted and organized garages. I even painted the floors with a grit-based paint. A neighbor had seen me doing our garage and said, "I wished my garage looked like that; I might be able to get my car inside." I offered to do the job for $25 and he readily agreed; he had to pay for the expensive floor paint. Once I had finished my first garage job, word got around. That summer I did seven or eight garages in my neighborhood. If I did a full paint job in a garage, I charged $50.

I also cleaned back porches, painting the floors for extra. I painted fences and washed and simonized cars. The income opportunities were all around. I finally gave up my paper route. You know, some Newsday customers still owe me money. Talk about cheap!

 

Before it became Malverne

 

I don't have all the details but according to the Malverne Historical Society, this quaint little town was first named Norwood. The borders of the town weren't officially drawn in the beginning. This is true for many of the designated villages in the town of Hempstead. The exact borders of Lynbrook, East Rockaway, Valley Stream and Malverne were fashioned during the late 1800's and early 1900's. So, Norwood was the first name until the name Malverne was adopted.

More than any other geographic feature, Alley's Pond carved out the northern edge of the town's landscape. From somewhere in West Hempstead, along what became Ocean Avenue, through the woods between Ray Lane and Scoty, past Pinebrook Avenue and emptying into the once large Reservoir, Alley's Pond was the location of important milestones in Malverne's history.

First, a little about Scoty--an unusual name for an unusual place. The land that became Bob Whelan Field was once just part of the woods on the other side of Alley's Pond. In those woods you'd find several wooden shacks inhabited by poor folks--mostly old good-natured black men, with smiling toothless faces. I crossed over Alley's Pond and ventured into Scoty a few times and sat with those old folks and heard their sad life stories.

The area between Ray Lane and Scoty was once referred to as Skunk's Hollow, because it once was a large swamp filled with skunk weed which emitted a foul, rotten odor. Some unsubstantiated folklore says that during the American Revolution, native Indians relied on the fetid odors of Skunk's Hollow to keep white men from the area.

As it turns out, Long Island was originally settled by many Indian tribes. The nearness to the ocean and close proximity to the mainland offered ideal conditions to tribal groups, many of which were sub-sets to the Iroquois. Just check out the Indian names of towns such as Wantagh, Mineola, Cutchogue, Yaphank, Massapequa,  Manhasset and many more; all native American Indian names.

 

The Unique Legacy of the Malverne Theater

 

The Malverne Theater was a tiny little room but very early on it developed a great reputation for showing an amazing mixture of foreign or exotic films as well as the middle-of-the-road Hollywood fare. People travelled sometimes long distances to see special films there.

Back in the old days, a Saturday afternoon was an exciting time for kids. For just 15 cents, you'd get an afternoon of entertainment, not just a movie. First came the cartoons (at least two), then a  current newsreel, then a "short" which in 10 minutes might have presented the latest auto designs from Detroit or Europe, and then you got a double feature; maybe a western starring someone like Gene Autry or Guy Madison, and a second film with American GIs marching through war-torn France or Italy. Four hours or more after you walked into the theater in bright sunlight, the screen went dark and you filed out of the theater, sometimes blinded by the sunlight. During your afternoon of movie magic, you consumed several doses of popcorn, soda and all kinds of candy; including Goobers, Raisonettes, Good & Plenty, Red Hots, Necco Wafers, Root Beer Bottles, Chuckles, Mounds, Baby Ruth bars, Snickers, Milky Ways, Bit 'O Honey, Mary Janes, and the list goes on and on. When you refused second helpings at dinner that night, your parents couldn't understand why.

At the movie theater candy counter, this candy was expensive; maybe twice as much as the candy store price. Right next door to the Malverne Theater was one such store--Charlie Green's. Charlie had a wooden leg, but it didn't stop him. He hustled all day long behind the soda fountain counter making up sodas from thick flavored syrups and seltzer. For a time, Charlie's featured a big barrel of Rochester Root Beer. He'd take a frozen mug out of the lower fridges and fill it with that delicious, aromatic Root Beer soda. The icy outside of the glass was too good not to lick. Kids got their candy at Charlie's before going into the theater. He even had a mid-sized popcorn machine that filled up a little white paper bag with hot, buttery popcorn for a dime!

People from all over Long Island, Queens and further away knew about the Malverne Theater. It made you feel important somehow, because your movie theater was well known.

 

Ice Cold Water Fountain

 

The best ice-cold water in old Malverne was found at the High School; the old school that became the Junior High when the Senior high was built. I believe they named the Junior high after Mr. Herber who was an institution at Malverne. In fact, he was there when my brother John went there ten years before me. Behind the school on the field near the fencing there was a stone water fountain--a bubbler fountain. You could walk up to the fountain, turn the handle and the ice-cold water would rise about four to six inches. So, so cold and so delicious. It hurt your teeth. Or, you could ride your bike up to the fountain and lean it against the stone while drinking. Oh, it was soooooo cold.

I haven't been to that field for ages, but I pray that the fountain is still there. Every sport I played-either a school team or friendly unofficial group-brought me to that field and that water fountain. I remember several occasions in the hot summer when I was off somewhere riding my bike either with a bunch of kids or all by myself, when a deep thirst screamed in my throat. I made a beeline for the high school and that water fountain...ahhh, salvation!! Sometimes, I drank so much of that ice-cold water I had to dismount from my bike and lay down in the grass near the fountain, feeling as though my very life had just been saved.

The only water I ever drank that was colder was in the back roads of Vermont. In my freshman year in college at UVM, three friends and I chipped in ten bucks apiece and we bought a car. It was a 1955 Oldsmobile we found at a used car lot in Burlington; $40 bought us an ugly heap that ran pretty well. We'd go for drives through the Vermont countryside, trying to get lost. On one of those jaunts we spotted a mountain stream trickling down a hillside. We stopped the old Olds on the side of the road and scooped up hands full of water; cold, clear water that was so cold it hurt your teeth to drink it. But we suffered through it because it was so pure and delicious. Other than that time, my favorite cold water was the fountain at Malverne High School.

 

 

When Little League Football Got Big

 

I loved football immediately, more than any other sport. Throwing the ball came easy to me because I had big hands and could grip the pigskin easily. I also  had a strong arm which made it simple to throw pretty far in a spiral. I was standing on the side of the field when an errant pass bounced my way. I chased it down and threw the football all the way to where the coaches stood, maybe 30 yards away. The pass surprised me and the coaches. One of them called out to me, "Hey kid, come over here." It was the start of something big for me.

Pop Warner Football became part of my life when I was seven; during the same era that Little League Baseball took root. Before I knew it existed, Malverne was fielding a team--The Lions. I rode my bike to Harris Field, where the team practiced and played home games, to investigate. Sure enough, there were a few dozen kids a bit older than me on the field with some adult coaches drilling them.

This football activity was divided into two age groups; 10 through 12 was the Midget Division; 7 through 9 year olds were PeeWees. I was about to turn 7, so I met with the PeeWee coaches who signed me up, handing me a permission slip for my parents to sign, to be returned to the coaches before I could actually play with the other PeeWees. At first, my mother wasn't willing to sign, sure the sport was too violent. Well, providence stepped in that day when Mrs. Schenley visited my mom. Her son Bobby was with her. He was already a Midget, which swayed my mom to sign. Ahh, I was going to be a Malverne Lion PeeWee football player. I couldn't wait to go to my first practice the next day at Harris Field.

I tried out for the quarterback position and won the job. My coaches were great, all three of them; all dads of some of the players: Joe Anacreonte, Mr. Buchanan, and another man we called Big Joe. From time to time, other coaches showed up to help out. They were terrific coaches, terrific supporters, terrific men. Through the years our teams did very well, but the real story to tell is about the team that Bobby Schenley was on, which won the World Championship of Little League Football. The night they won the final game 39-0 against Long Beach California, they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show!

After a lot of effort I finally convinced Norman Goldsmith to try out. Begrudgingly, he did. At the first practice he attended, on the first play, Norman broke his leg. He never played football again. Good thing--Norman became a great basketball player--reaching the highest level in high school. He went on to become a major player for Syracuse University, playing with the famous NBA pro players Dave Bing and Norm Pencile, and the famous Syracuse coach, Jim Boeheim. More thoughts about Norman will follow these pages.

 

Delivery Trucks of all Kinds

 

On a typical day in old Malverne, a half dozen delivery trucks had reason to drive into our neighborhood: Oil tankers, the Milk Man, The Duggan's Bread Man, the Krugs Bread Man, the Good Humor Ice Cream Man, the Bungalo Bar Ice Cream Man, the Cannon Linens Truck, The Sewer Pumping Truck, The Blade Sharpener Truck, Norden Drugs Store, and Fiscetti Landscapers made daily or regular appearances. There were others, but they escape my memory right now.

My favorites were the early morning guys. The milk man was the earliest. We had a milk box which sat on the one-step stoop by the front door. The man would climb out of his truck and head for the house. He'd open the box to see what empties were there; usually two empty glass bottles. He'd put them into a metal carrier in his hand and put two new bottles into our milk box. If I was out there early, I'd follow him back to his truck. Sometimes he'd grab a small chunk of ice from the milk cases behind his seat and give it to me. Ahhh, delicious! The day had started off right.

Next came the Duggans Bread truck. I'd often meet him on the sidewalk to ask for what my mother wanted that day. "Loaf of white bread, a pound cake and the corn muffins." If you stood there by his opened door van, you were rewarded with the sweetest smelling air produced by a vanload of still-warm fresh-baked goods. Aromawise, the Duggan's Bread truck was superior to the Krug's Bread truck. Or maybe I just choose to belive that.

The same thinking defines my preference in the afternoons, when my street was blessed by the arrival of the Good Humor man. I preferred it to the Bungalo Bar ice cream truck. First, you heard the bell ringing from the next street. You could be deeply involved with a game of tag, but when you heard that bell everything stopped. If you didn't have money in your pocket, you raced home to beg some dough from your mom. The ice cream truck stopped wherever the most kids, including me, were lining up. As each kid made a choice and told the ice cream man, you watched him open the little door on the side of the truck and reach into the frozen compartment. Somehow, without seeing inside it he'd come out with the right one, and say, "Okeedokey, here's your chocolate pop or vanilla cone." He must have been an ice cream magician or wizard. When it was my turn, even though I had many options, I always requested the same thing. "Toasted Almond, please." They were my favorite as a kid, and I'd say they still are.

Not every day, but at least once a week, a little green truck with open sides and no windows would appear, clanging a deep-sounding bell. He'd drive zero miles per hour, seemingly moving one inch at a time. It was the Blade Sharpener. This guy could sharpen anything: hedge clippers, lawn mower blades, lawn edgers, kitchen cutlery, ice skates...anything. He had special tools mounted on the truck behind his driver's seat. On more than one occasion, I brought things out to him and watched him go to work, using his grinding wheels and emory sharpeners and who knows what else. Before too long, he'd hand your items back to you, you paid him a few bucks and then you'd go back inside your home somehow feeling important--well, at least sharper than before.

 

The Cataldo Family

 

In the early 50's a new family of four moved into a small ranch type house on Alden Court--the Cataldo's. I soon became friendly with Raymond Cataldo, the younger of two boys, who was one year older than me. His brother Stephen was two years older than Raymond. We had lots in common. We were all Italian and we all liked playing sports...and all of us were New York Yankees fans. Somehow, that made the friendship closer.

The Cataldo's quickly became special celebrities among the kids in the neighborhood. You see, Mr. and Mrs. Cataldo owned and operated a candy store. Oh my god, imagine that!!! A real live candy store. The store was located on Grand Avenue in Baldwin, a few towns away. Both boys often helped their parents at the store. A few times, I went with Raymond to work at the store. Needless to say, it made me feel really special--almost like an adult. More than once, Raymond, Stephen and I would make up our own soda drinks. Incredible! I absolutely loved the Vanilla Coke--a blend of Coke syrup and vanilla syrup with real seltzer shot into the glass. All day we'd snatch treats; a Clark Bar or a Baby Ruth, licorice, long pretzel rods, Bazooka Bubble Gum, and more soda fountain libations. We stocked the shelves, swept the floor, washed the front windows, etc.

One day, when the Cataldo brothers didn't go to work in the store, we hit the street to throw a baseball around. When lunchtime arrived, Raymond invited me to have a sandwich at their house. In their kitchen, Stephen took something out of the fridge...a long, uncut salami. From their breadbox, Raymond took out a loaf of white bread; not sliced bread...a whole uncut loaf. I watched in curiosity and amazement when Raymond used a long sharp knife to cut slices out of that loaf and I was stunned when Stephen used a very sharp knife to cut three half inch slices of salami, one for each sandwich. These actions took all of two minutes. We sat at the kitchen table eating those salami sandwiches and drinking glasses of ice-cold milk. That was the only time in my life I consumend a sandwich made that way. It tasted great, every awkward bite and I loved it. I tried to convince my Mom we should have salami sandwiches like that, but she thought I was crazy to ask.

The Cataldo's didn't stay in Malverne for long. When the boys reached high school, they moved away. I'm not sure why or where they went, but I had so suddenly lost two good friends.

When Catholic boys reach a certain age--maybe 10 or 12, they are confirmed in a church ceremony. When you are confirmed you're allowed to choose another name to be added to the one you already had. I chose Raymond. My name became Bernard Anthony Raymond Zaccaro. BARZ for short.

When I reached teen age, my name became Zacc. I have three brothers. Each of us were called that, even though the spelling changed for each of us. Sal spelled it Zach; John became Zack; Joe spells it Zac.  I used the name Zacc. That way we were the same, but different.

 

Sleigh Riding Down Dead Man's Hill

 

There were dozens of places along Ocean Avenue that were good for sleigh riding. But the best of all of them was Dead Man's Hill. About 50 feet from the corner of Ocean Avenue and Pinebrook Road there was a break in the fencing, and a steep drop to the path below. After every good snowfall, we'd drag our sleds to that spot to ride down that slope, along with too many kids. You'd fly down the hill over and over again, until the snow on the hill was worn through. If you were lucky the thrills would last a few hours. Then we'd look for other trails to slide down.

My sled was an American Flyer, acknowledged as the best sled available. The steering slat at the head of the sled had a hole on each end. Kids put a piece of rope through the holes and tied a knot on each end. It provided a pulling rein allowing you to drag your sled behind you. Sled maintenance included waxing the metal runners with used candles. It seemed to increase your sled speed by at least a million miles per hour.

We sought out sledding possibilities all along Ocean Avenue, between Pinebrook Road and Malverne High School. We found a few places where you could ride down a hill while standing up on your sled, holding onto the rope. Whenever you rode down a hill standing up, you felt obligated to brag out loud to your fellow sliders.

Of course, another obligatory activity during snowfalls was the random snowball fight, especially when the snow had "good packing" qualities. Some kids made formidable snowballs; hard, round missiles that really hurt when you hit pay dirt, meaning a kid's face or back. Thinking back, it's amazing that there weren't many serious injuries during a snowball fight.

One Summer Snowball. The Simon family lived across the street from us on North Cambridge Street. There were three children: Emily, Arthur and Barbara (everyone called her Sissy). The two older kids were okay, but Sissy was a little brat, who whined about everything. Sissy had the ability to cry automatically in an attempt to get someone in trouble--usually Arthur.

On the street in front of my house, we played kickball all summer, usually in the evenings. One time, we had a marathon kickball game in progress.  Sissy sat on the curb watching the game, whining away. I'd had it with her. Well, the game was put on hold so the players could take a bathroom break. I raced into my house to take a leak. Before I went back outside, the devil stopped me and told me to open the freezer in the kitchen. Sitting there, way back behind some stuff was a frozen snowball. It had been there for months, but I hadn't even thought about it until that evening. I grabbed it and went outside holding the snowball behind my back. Sissy was now standing in the street. I screamed at her and she began to run toward her house. I couldn't resist throwing my snowball at her, hitting her the small of the back. She screamed bloody murder, ran home and told her mother that someone hit her with a snowball. Arthur later informed me that Sissy had been punished for lying to her mom. It was one of the best days I'd had in my entire life to that point.

 

Three Block Marathon

 

My address was 115 North Cambridge Street which emptied out onto Alden Court. Alden connected Ocean Avenue and Rolling street. Two other streets were in that connected space and they were were parallel to my street. The next street over was Sterling Place, then Doris Place. If you drew a line around the three streets, you'd have a big rectangle  and the line would be a half mile.

One summer evening, three guys in the neighborhood decided to test our physical strength by running around that three-block rectangle until we couldn't run any more. One guy in the trio was a friend, Steve Horblitt. He lived on Alden, no more than 30 yards from my home. The third kid's name escapes me at the moment. We started the run where North Cambridge hit Alden, forming a "T". Around and around we went, for a long time. It became a spectacle, attracting lots of kids and maybe 20 sets of parents who sat on folding chairs on the sidewalks. After sunset, when the street lights came on, the spectators were cheering us on.

We ran that 1/2-mile circuit 60 times which was the equivalent of 30 miles; the distance of a regulation marathon plus four miles. As we approached an imaginary finish line and finally stopped, the crowd was applauding us. It felt pretty good, as stupid as it was.

Steve Horblit was a one-of-a-kind guy. He lived on Alden Court, his house facing mine. Steve was two years, and two grades, older than me--but we were good friends and hung out together. He was a workout freak, doing calisthenics every day. Not just a few push-ups, sit-ups and neck bridging; he did hundreds of push-ups at a time, any time, many times a day. Steve was very short; maybe five inches shorter than I was. But he was in body-builder shape, and tough as nails. In fact, Steve was the left offensive guard on Malverne High's football team for three years. And he was a great wrestler--hardly ever losing a match. He inspired me to stay in good shape, to work out daily and to run a lot. Wherever he is today, I wish him the best in life.

 

The Perfume of Burning Leaves

 

Autumn brings out the best of Mother Nature. Cool, refreshing air after the hot slimy days of summer, clear blue skies, and the remarkable colors in the trees. As a kid and even now, I am stunned by the incredible beauty. Then those colors began to drain away, and the leaves dried up and fell to earth. In the old days, it meant raking up the leaves over and over, for as long as it took the trees to drop them all. The raking was needed from late September through early December. Sure, it was hard work, but it was also good fun because you could burn the leaves in the gutter in front of your house. The fun came from managing an actual fire, legally. The good came from the wonderful smell of burning leaves, especially when some of the neighbors were at it too.

Before I started high school, this chore took place on Saturday mornings. There was special entertainment while you stood there in the street watching the piles of burning leaves disappear. You could hear the high school band banging out some Sousa sounds as they practiced playing and marching for the football game later that day. For me, it made the chore enjoyable, as I dreamed of playing in those games someday.

 

Toy Makers All

 

I'm not a trained craftsman, wood carver or engineer. While I am listed as an inventor on two products, they have nothing to do with toys. In the 40s and 50s, I did make some of my own toys. So did most kids. You did this work yourself or you couldn't join in the popular game of the moment.

Here's an example of what I mean. Nobody in my neighborhood had a skooter or a cart, but everybody liked speed. Once you heard about or read about soapbox derbies and you saw news clips about them on TV, you were hooked. I was one of those kids. To "invent" your own vehicle, you first had to gather the materials, so you searched your garage, basement, work shop, closets, junk piles, etc. You needed to find the following items:

- a 2 x 4 piece of wood that was about four or five feet long;

- a pair of old metal roller skates;

- a wooden orange crate (with no oranges in it);

- two wood sticks each about a foot long;

- some nails, a hammer and maybe some paint.

With this stuff, you could build your own soap box cart by attaching the skates to the underside of the 2 x 4, the crate to the up side of the 2 x 4 on one end, the two sticks to the top of the crate to help you steer the cart, and if you were really cool, you'd paint the finished cart maybe bright red or totally black. You might add streamers to the end of the steering sticks. Some kids attached a flashlight to the front of the orange crate for night time races.

We'd gather on the street in front of my house where the concrete was smooth. With one foot mounted on the 2 x 4 and one foot as the motivator you could fly down the street pretending you were in a real speedway. Your cart was admired as long as the skates remained attached and the skate wheels faced forward. To be honest my cart didn't last very long. Might have stayed functional for a month. But that's all right.

A new TV hero, Robinhood, staring Jon Hall, on channel 11, inspired me to make my own bow and arrows, which required very few raw materials; if you had some string. About the same time as Robinhood and his merry band of men appeared in Sherwood Forest, another hero's show hit the TV airwaves. This was a hero from Australia. The show was called Tim Tyler's Luck. His team of good guys raced through the forest on the Jungle Cruiser, a large jeepish thing that was enclosed and very fast, mate. All you needed to join that group was a stick that doubled as a rifle and a sabre.

Sometimes, a group of us played 'army.' If you could find or build a rifle-like weapon, and if you had some kind of helmut, some binoculars, a walkie-talkie, which didn't have to be real, you evolved into a fearless American GI, ready to halt an enemy from invading the neighborhood. I made my walkie=talkie from a six-inch long piece of 2 x 4 and a large nail driven into one end to serve as the antenna. We made sure that the Allies murdered the Axis jerks.

 

The Winter Hike

 

I was around 10 years old when the hiking bug bit me, fueled by the acqusition of an army green knapsack and a real army canteen. With this official gear I could trek anywhere in the world (as long as I wasn't late for dinner).

One of my pals was Peter Hettick who lived on the corner of Rider Avenue and Sterling Place. One very early winter morning, about a foot of snow fell. Peter and I piled up a mountain of snow, burrowed an entry way and had a serious discussion about hiking through the Himalayas. We decided that it had to be done, or the world might come to an end. So we split up and headed for our homes to make certain preparations, vowing to meet back at our snow fort by 9 am.

My knapsack now held a whole package of hot dogs, a jar of pickles, half a loaf of Silvercup bread, a small jar of Skippy Peanut Butter, four Devil Dogs, two oranges and some licorice. For medical emergencies, I threw in some bandaids and a pack of Aspergum. Since hikers never knew when another blizzard might strike, I stuffed and extra sweater into my knapsack...I was going to be prepared for the worst conditions.

Peter had filled his knapsack with a ton of food items--including celery stalks, a bundle of fresh carrots, a bag of Oysterettes and a two-pound package of chopped chuck. We both remembered to pack a box of wooden matches. Our canteens were filled to the top with water. We met back at the fort, discussed our pathway and set out on foot as more snow began to fall.

We made our way to Ocean Avenue, which had been plowed, making it easy to navigate. Maybe an hour later we crossed the railroad tracks before Grossman's Farm, where Hempstead Avenue swallows up Ocean, leading to the entrance ramp of Southern State Parkway. The ramp had been plowed but not the parkway, so we knew we were in for some hard trekking. Our goal was to reach Hempstead Lake State Park, about eight miles away. We looked at the western stretch of snowbound highway. You could barely make out the giant plows pushing eastward toward where were standing. Wow! There was hope. We watched the plows moving east making the first path through the heavy snow, passing our position. We began to follow the plows.

Suddenly, my backpack became heavy. I turned to look at Peter. He must have felt the same because he had swung his backpack off his shoulders and was dragging it behind him in the snow. I started to think this hike was doomed. We hadn't gone more than 20 feet when a Highway Patrol car rolled up ahead of us and stopped. The door opened, and the driver called out to us, "Hey boys, where ya off to. You know you shouldn't be walking out here." After a few tense exchanges, he made us climb into the back seat of his vehicle and slam the door shut. It felt nice and warm and comfy. Officer Parker turned out to be a great help.

When we reached the entrance to the Park, we got out of Officer Parker's car and trudged through the snow to where the big wooden picnic tables and stone firepits sat. We chose one of the tables that had almost no snow underneath, tossed our backpacks under the table and gathered some stray branches under the big trees. Once we had some firewood, we brushed the snow off our stone fire pit, tore up a newspaper Peter was smart enough to pack, and used some wooden matches to start a fire. When the smaller twigs started to burn we felt like pioneers in the old west. Ahh, it felt good. We spent the next half hour gathering dry wood; not easy in a snowstorm.

We cooked everything we brought and ate like starved crazy men. It took us less than an hour to consume it all. Totally stuffed, we crawled under our table, used our knapsacks as pillows and dozed off for a few hours. When we woke up it was late afternoon, and the sky was darkening. Luckily, only a few fresh inches of snow had fallen. As we made our way back onto the well-plowed Southern State, there was a steady flow of cars going in both directions We were able to cross over the median and started walking west toward Exit 17; the sign read Hempstead Avenue - Malverne. We'd traveled maybe a mile, then began hitching. Before long we were picked up by a good Samaritan who drove us all the way back to Grossman's Farm. What a day. By the time we reached our homes, it was dark out and we were exhausted, vowing never to hike in the snow again.

I took a hot bath; something I hated because baths were for babies and real men like me take showers. This day I welcomed the hot bath and remained soaking in it until someone needed to use the bathroom. That night I was dressed in warm flannel pajamas at the dinner table. Afterwards, in the den, I fell asleep on the shag rug and never saw a minute of TV.

 

The Magic of Fireflies

 

Were they Fireflies or Lightning Bugs? Yes. Depending on where you lived, either name was acceptable. These wonders lit up the evening and night. I recall catching some and putting them in a jar with grass in it, so they felt at home. You punched little holes in the jar lid, so they could breathe but not escape.

I read somewhere an amazing tale about fireflies that live in Africa. The story is more about the male weaver bird. They make their nests, which are little round things about the size of a softball. The nests hung on the end of small branches of the Acacia tree in an area called the Serengetti. While the daylight is waning into evening and then night, the male weaver catches fireflies for its dinner. After it catches one in its beak, it flies into its nest and pins the fly to the wall of the nest. Then it flies out to catch more, and more. One Acacia tree might have two dozen nests. Now the light show begins, as the captured fireflies blink on and off until they succumb. And the Acacia resembles a Christmas tree with blinking lights on it. Only until the firefly's light or life is extinguished.

One summer night a bunch of kids were hanging out on my front lawn and porch. The air was warm and humid, and the fireflies were having a convention; they were everywhere. Our collection jars were filling up nicely. At one point, all six or eight of the jars were lined up in a row on my front walk. It seemed like all of the flies were staging a light show, blinking on and off rapidly, trying to outdo each other. Now, as an adult, I realize that it probably wasn't so. But sometimes when you're a kid you make up stuff like this. And you really believe it.

 

Summertime Street Games

 

Where North Cambridge Street meets Alden Court in a "T", it provided a large open space for kids to play games. And we had a million of them. There was Potsy, Tag, Jumprope, simple Catch, Running Bases, Punchball, Kickball, Dodgeball, I Declare War, Ring a Leevio--to name a few.

There were as many games as your imagination would allow. I remember a beautiful summer day when lots of kids gathered in front of my house. Guys and girls, mostly tweens--kids between 8 and 12 years old. After some debating, we decided to play Long Distance Ring a-Leevio. This was a serious game that usually took the entire day to complete.

You separated the kids into two teams. The teams agreed on the game area, usually a two or three block area. Since it was Long Distance, the game area was all of Malverne! One team started at the home base--a big chalk drawn circle in the middle of the street. They all closed their eyes and counted to 30. The kids on team two took off running as fast and as far away as they could get. When the 30 count was over, team one had to find and tag all of the players on team two before they could safely touch home base. The team that scored the higher number won.

There was no time limit. Team two kids didn't have to run far away. If you found a good hiding place, you could stay real close. The objective for team two was to run back to the base without being tagged by an opposing team player. Then you yelled out "Ring a-Leevio!!."

I was on team two; the runners. I ran far away hiding in the backyards on Lynmouth Road--four blocks away. When I saw an enemy kid, I ran further away, first to the Catholic school on Wright Avenue, then up into town between Malloy's Hardware store and the Shell service station. No one was gonna tag me out. After a few hours, I got bored and tired of hiding, and I was hungry. Right across the street was Andy's Place, the town diner...with the best burgers...and the world's best french fries. But I didn't dare to go inside Andy's; that would be certain death. I had to be satisfied with smelling the delicious greasy air coming out of the pipes on the roof of Andy's. Besides, sooner or later I had to get back to home base without being caught.

Street by street, I crept back toward home base. For three blocks, I walked next to four kids on their bikes. When they split up, I sneaked behind and between houses, keeping an eye out for the enemy. Eventually, I reached Frankie Zabatta's house on Wright Avenue. Unseen. From his backyard, one block away, I could see home base. There were two enemy kids there, guarding two of my teammates that had been caught. The only way I could get to home base safely was to distract them and run like hell for the circle without being touched. I had been on the run for hours. Now I was tired and hungry and I had to take a whiz.

I pushed through the hedges that separated the Zabatta backyard and Roger Marx's backyard and sneaked up to the back of the garage. It was there that I found a solution. Laying on the grass were two rubber balls; Spalding Hi-Bouncers. Carrying that ammunition, I crept around the garage and hid behind the Marx's Cadillac. Now I was within 25 yards of home base. At the perfect moment, I threw one ball way up my street, well beyond home base, distracting the enemy. The two enemy kids looked in that direction, trying to figure out where the ball came from. Now I had their attention, as well as my teammate's attention, who started yelling out loud, "Stay away Bernie, it ain't safe." I then threw the second ball way over the heads of the two enemy kids. When it bounced on the street they ran after it, away from home base. Unseen and quite confident, I took that opportunity to walk--not run--walk casually right to home base. I felt as free as a bird, home free, laughing at the enemy like a winner should! The game ended about an hour later when two more of my teammates climbed out of a station wagon stepping right onto home base. We had won! The game had taken all day, from 9 am to 5 pm, a total of eight hours. Imagine, eight hours for one round of Long Distance Ring a-Leevio!

 

 

 

 

My One Major Newsday Victory

 

One summer, Newsday had a contest for all delivery boys on Long Island. It involved going around your town trying to sign up new Newsday customers. It was their way of competing with the Long Island Press, Newsday's rival. In those days, the Press had a Sunday edition. Newsday didn't. That was the edge the Press had on Newsday. The Press' circulation numbers were way higher. People wanted a Sunday paper, so they preferred the Press over Newsday. But the times were changing; thus the new-order contest.

It worked. Thanks to all the new orders, Newsday soon overcame the Press, becoming the newspaper with the largest circulation on Long Island. Of course, it didn't hurt that Newsday debuted a brand-new Sunday issue.

Something else happened because of the Newsday contest. I won!!!

Yup, yours truly signed up more new customers than any other delivery boy on Long Island. I won the Grand Prize. They didn't announce the contest results right away. I had just about forgotten the whole thing. I finished my paper route one day and headed home as usual. Before I could get off my bike--it was a little blue girl's bike--actually my sister Kathy's bike which she didn't use anymore. As I rolled up the driveway at my house, my mother stuck her head out of the front door and said, "Bern, there's something in the garage for you." I asked her, "What is it?" She replied, "I don't know, it doesn't say what it is. It's just a big cardboard box. I rode my bike the full length of the driveway, right up to the roll-up door. I opened the door to find a huge, brown cardboard box with my name and address on a white paper label. Nothing else. I had to use a pair of plyers to pull out a series of heavy-duty staples before I could see the contents.

Then I nearly fainted. Inside of that giant box was a brand new, full size shiny Schwinn Bicycle!!! The Grand Prize in the Newsday Contest I had won. It was the first bike that was truly my own. Before then I had only hand-me-downs and loaners. Now I felt like a king. For the next few months I drove that beauty everywhere. I managed to acquire an actual Schwinn Tool Kit which I used on my bike every weekend. I washed and polished it every chance I got, meaning every day. I kept the tires inflated perfectly so that baby would fly down the street. This model had a headlight mounted on the handlebars, a push-button horn in the middle of the central body case, and a small leather carry-all case strapped to the back of the seat. A person couldn't ask for more in a bike. I had never been happier.

 

Early TV Memories

 

The first TV set in the Zaccaro house was 15-inch Dumont. The screen was a little fat oval. Every station-and there weren't many--was black and white. The first stations broadcasting in the New York area were channels 2, 4, 7, 9, 11 and 13. Most programming was very basic. For a good part of the day, along with every night, all night, stations showed test patterns.

The programs for kids were the following: Cartoons like Farmer Grey, Felix the Kat, early Micky Mouse, Bugs Bunny; adventure shows like Hopalong Cassidy, Tarzan, Captain Video and his Video Rangers, Flash Gordon, Tom Mix, The Cisco Kid, Sabu the Jungle Boy, The East Side Kids (with Mugsy and his gang), The Little Rascals, to name a few.

Early TV programming included some basic variety shows. Andy's Gang, with Andy Devine as the host, had some unusual characters, namely Froggy the Gremlin, Midnight the Cat and Squeeky the Mouse. Froggy was a wise ass who tried to confuse Andy and his guests. One repeat guest was an Italian Chef named Mr. Pachagallupe. Andy asked him to show everyone how to make pizza. Talking rapidly in poor broken Italian, he started tossing pizza dough into the air saying, "Thena you trow the dough into the air, lika dis, anda you--" Before he could finish the sentence, Froggy interrupted, shouting, "You makea dee dough land on your head!!" And that's exactly what happened. The spinning disk of pizza dough lands on Mr. Pachagallupe's head and everyone bursts out laughing!!

Okay, it wasn't dry, sophisticated humor. That was saved for a show called, The Children's Hour, starring Ray Forest. He presented a very clever cartoon series called Sherman & Mr. Peabody. Every week he showed an episode of Sabu, the Jungle Boy, who rode elephants through the jungle chasing evil hunters and other bad guys.

Another worthwhile cartoon series was Rocky (the flying squirrel) and Bullwinkle (the moose). They were quite a team. Bullwinkle might have been related to Goofy of the Mickey Mouse entourage. They had similar mentalities and voices.

On Sunday morning, Ed Herlihy hosted a variety show. The theme of the show and its song was Less Work for Mother. Many young entertainers got their start on that show, including Connie Francis and a ventriloquist act called Ricky Lane and Velville.

Another early TV show for kids was The Merry Mailman, starring Ray Heatherton as friendly Officer Joe Bolton. He sang the same song on every show and it went like this—

 

"I am the Merry Mailman,

ring ding your bell will ring,

That's a very special ring, and this is what I'll bring,

A letter from your Grandma, who says she coming to stay.

But close your eyes for the big surprise --

It's a present for your birthday!!!"

Ray played some very funny cartoons every show, but he's famous for another reason. His daughter was Joey Heatherton, a beautiful, sexy blonde from that era. She was the first celebrity I wanted to spend hours with so she could teach me things I won't mention here. Ray Heatherton and the gorgeous Joey lived near me; right down Tanglewood Road, in the beautiful south end of Lakeview. By the way, another famous person lived in that area: Heavyweight Champion boxer, Floyd Paterson.

 

 

There are some early TV highlights that deserve some mention. The Ernie Kovacs Show was on every morning. Ernie was a cigar-smoking creative genious and unfortunately, a heavy drinker which eventually proved fatal to him. But he was also a technically capable pioneer, responsible for the exploration and invention of the first magical camera tricks. I loved his show because his characters and skits were hilarious. For instance, the Niarobi Trio was comprised of three people wearing gorilla costumes who gestured wildly and punished each other as their theme song played.

Another Kovacs character was Percy Dovetonsils, a funny gay intellectual who discussed books, art and all aspects of life while laying on a settee. He wore inch-thick glasses and a flowery tea jacket and had thick black spit curls that almost covered his forehead. The closing line of his skits as he said goodbye was, "I'll see you once again, just beyond the bookends."

Another Kovacs routine was the Adventures of Alfred, a geeky looking guy who visited museums while eating his lunch. There was no dialogue, just a funky music track. I once saw Alfred offer a bite of his sandwich to a face in a painting he was examining. The painting took a bite and Alfred moved on to the next painting.

 

Early TV was also serious. Serious adult dramas were also featured on early TV. One of the early detective shows was "Man Against Crime," starring Ralph Bellamy; sponsored by Camel Cigarettes. Another drama was 'Highway Patrol." The lead actor was Broderick Crawford as a tough police Lieutenant who spoke as though he had a mouthful of marbles.

Everything changed when we got a color TV; a 24-inch RCA Victor. The science evolved, and many new shows were born. I loved the documentaries showcasing wild animals and the brave men who tracked them down fearlessly. Then family shows came along like Ozzie & Harriet featuring the whole Nelson family including Ricky Nelson--the rock star; The Life of Riley, with William Bendix. His best friend, Gillas, lived next door. Riley had two kids, Junior and Babs. Chester and Gillas both worked for Cunningham Aviation.

The Honeymooners became a winner, starring Jackie Gleason as loud mouth bus driver Ralph Kramden, Audrey Meadows as wife Alice Kramden, Art Carney as the unforgettable sewer technician Ed Norton and his wife, Trixie Norton played by Jane Kean. The Honeymooners is still a fan favorite even though the reruns have been aired a zillion times.

When our new color set took over the prime position in our little den, the old black and white Dumont was sent to the basement. It became a close friend of mine allowing me to watch college basketball games in privacy. That's when I learned there were schools called Pitt, Seton Hall, Fordham, Rutgers and many others.

 

Kids' Talent Shows

 

Thanks to the antics of Spanky and Alfalfa and the whole gang of kids staring in the Our Gang Comedy TV show, the kids in our neighborhood were inspired to put on shows. Ten, maybe twelve kids got together one summer day to discuss the idea. Each kid had a specific star they would imitate in a performance. We'd all dress up like adults or put on costumes and we'd invite all the parents to the show. In fact, we charged an admission price of 10 cents! What nerve we had.

Three girls would sing like the Lennon Singers. A few Individual girls wanted to dance; one ballet dancer and one did tap. Two boys wanted to try juggling. One boy along with his little sister would be acrobats. A little girl had a Howdy Doody doll and would do a ventriloquist act. We had a few magicians. Raymond Cataldo and I teamed up as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. We wore sport jackets and men's hats that were way too big. The cast truly believed we had a great lineup of acts and that parents would be screaming for encores.

The location of the show was Jeffrey Perkell's big, rectangular backyard, where the lawn was thick and green, and the ground was level. Each kid had to bring all the folding chairs their family had, which we set up in rows. We managed to gather 22 chairs. And we used a large blue tarp as a stage. Performers stayed in Jeffrey's garage until announced by a kid in the previous act.

Attending the extravaganza were about 10 parents plus several older brothers and sisters. Admissions were collected on the sidewalk in front, on Rider Avenue. Well the show got off to a rough start when a girl singer forgot the words to her song, 'Cry Me a River.' The singer Johnny Ray made the song a big hit. Someone in the audience sang out a few lines and our little star jumped right back into it. The show continued and lasted an hour. Raymond Cataldo spoke like a drunk Dean Martin, and as Jerry Lewis I whined that I would call the police and have him arrested, as I walked around on my ankles to the delight of the audience. Overall, the cast was a hit and we all took a bow.

That summer there were three shows in all, with various groups of kids and attending parents. By the way, the kid who lived next door to Jeffrey Perkell was Charlie Steiner. He became a professional sportscaster on ESPN. I think he moved his life to Los Angeles and is still in the TV sports business.

 

House Calls

 

Way back in the 40s and 50s Doctors made house calls. For that to happen, you had to be really sick. If I got sick and had a fever, Dr. Camardella would drive to our house, park his black shiny Buick in our driveway and knock on our front door carrying his black medical bag. My bedroom was upstairs. But if the Doc was coming over, I was parked in Sal's bedroom on the main floor.

Dr. Camardella came into the little room with his coat off and his sleeves rolled up. First, he felt my forehead and mumbled, "Hmmm." He sat on the edge of the bed scooting me over to make room. He opened his bag, pulled out a thermometer and stuck it into my mouth under my tongue. He grabbed my wrist and studied his wristwatch.

Heck, if he wanted to know the time all he had to do was check out the alarm clock on Sal's dresser. I motioned toward the clock, but Doc said, 'Stay still, Bernard."  He pulled the thermometer from my mouth and studied it. Then he looked into my open mouth and checked my throat. He also cheacked my belly and used a scope with a tiny light on one end to peer into my eyes and ears. He mumbled to himself and looked at my Mother.

The diagnosis was coming. Dr. Camardella stood up and began to roll down his sleeves and button the cuffs. He spoke clearly and confidently. "Not too bad, Bernard. You have strep throat. It hurts when you swallow, right?" I nodded in agreement. He went on, mostly talking to my Mom. "You'll take some medicine twice a day, and gargle often. And stay in bed, so the medicine works. Get lots of rest, Bernard."

I was laid up for days, never leaving Sal's bed. He wouldn't care. He was somewhere in Korea in the Navy. No TV. No reading. No nothing for me for three days. On the fourth day, my fever gone, I was allowed to go into the TV room if I was all bundled up. During the day I watched anything. Even some dumb game shows. The good part of this was the amount of ice cream I consumed. I kept telling my Mom in a fake voice--as though I was close to death--"Yeah Mom, it feels good...nice and cold on my throat!" I'm pretty sure she believed I was suffering through all of that Sealtest vanilla and chocolate.

 

 

Mummilypeg

 

It's not the name of a gardening tool. It's not the name of a German coffee cake. And it's not the name of an island near Iceland. So, what is it? Anybody?

Mummilypeg is the name of a game--a difficult, sometimes dangerous game restricted to the older kids--kids who owned jacknives. To play, you needed a knife, a small area of soft lawn, and at least four kids. The game had 10 steps ranging from "so-easy-ya-grandmother-could-do-it" to "so-dangerous-ya-could-end-up-in-the hospital"!!

The first six steps involved simple moves with your hands throwing your knife into the soft ground so that it was standing straight up. Each player took a turn with each step. If your knife didn't stand up, you were out. The first six steps were so easy, almost nobody missed. But if you did, you were laughed at, ridiculed and cursed out.

The last four steps were increasingly difficult...and daring. They were called "Tony Chestnut." Actually, Toe Knee Chest Nut.

TOE involved resting the heel of your foot (with your sneaker on) on the ground and sticking the toe straight up in the air. Then you put the sharp point of your knife on the tip of your toe. Your hand held the other end. Then suddenly you spun the knife down, making the sharp end stick into the ground.

KNEE was harder than Toe. You rested one knee on the ground with the other knee bent like you were half kneeling. The sharp end of your knife rested on the upright knee. Then you spun your knife sending it down and hopefully into the ground, standing straight up.

CHEST was pretty easy. You stood up on both feet, placing the pointed end of your knife against your chest and balancing the knife with one hand.Then you let the knife fall straight down. The weight of the knife usually sent it right into the ground standing straight up.

NUT was the toughest and final step of the game. If you were good with your knife and it was really sharp, you only needed one try for each of the steps. Nut could also be the most painful step. You had to stand your knife, blade-point down, on the top of your head, and balance it with one hand--one finger really. Then as quickly as possible, you sent the knife downward, trying to bury the blade-point in the ground.

Needing only one try for each of the 10 steps was a perfect score--a rarity. I think I had a perfect score twice, maybe three times. When that happened, you were a big shot for at least the whole day.

I was lucky. In my possession was a very well-balanced Hopalong Cassidy jackknife. I also owned a Flash Gordon model with a picture of Buster Crabbe on it. The Hoppy knife was perfect for Mummilypeg. I used the Flash Gordon knife for other important tasks like whitling and making arrows.

 

Back Porch Memories

 

The following words are written in tribute to a unique individual who became a genuine Malverne hero but more importantly a close personal friend. I am speaking of the late Norman Goldsmith. He cared nothing about celebrity yet very deeply about friendship. When Norman was taken from us we lost a part of our own future which can never be replaced.

On a late summer afternoon, I was sitting in Norman Goldsmith's screened in porch with him and a few other friends. That porch was one of the few places that guys could retreat to for complete privacy. It was a week before school would be back in session. I had just completed five years at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic school in Malverne. While I had made new associations among my Catholic classmates, I had remained friendly with the kids in Public school. Life was about to change for me. No more parochial school for me. I was returning to public school and my friends were filling me in on Malverne High--the classes, the teachers, the sport teams and the girls. We would be freshmen in the final year of Junior High.  At the same time, we would be the "seniors" in Junior High.

I was learning about the girl’s we men needed to protect from harm. Some of the names sounded familiar even though I hadn't been with them for years. Norman announced some names: "Paula Abramson, Nancy Pollack, Linda Birnbaum..." The lesson went on and on.

"They're all so little."

I interrupted when I inquired about Paula.

"Is Paula that cute one with a big brother named Hank?"

Norman smirked at me.

"Cute? I think she's beyootiful!"

"Ah-hah, Norman's got a girlfriend," I kidded.

We all laughed, and the conversation continued, as we moved on to a critical topic.

"How's the food in the cafeteria?" I asked.

Robert Krasnow answered with a sarcastic sneer. "Bring your own lunch. They should feed that junk to the squirrels. A lotta people go to the deli for lunch; the one near Small's."

I knew that deli. It was a real good German deli, on the corner of Rolling Street and Lakeview Avenue, the dividing line between Malverne and Lynbrook. I loved their German potato salad. My lunch came from my home. My Mom made me a sandwich, or I made it myself. Into the paper lunch bag went an apple or pear. I wouldn't be spending money at lunchtime, except for a cold soda; hmm, a cream soda was my favorite.

There were several gatherings in Norman's back porch. Every time I sat there with the boys, it made me feel I was part of the friendly crew.

 

Hurricane Season

 

Every year hurricane season followed Labor Day. As I recall, Mother Nature paid us at least one visit a year with a hurricane. At first, I thought they were just windy rainy days. Until a monster hit; might have been Andrew. Kind of a benign name, right? They should choose names that match the severity of the storm. If it's a real killer, name it something like Lucifer or Capone. If it's just a mild one, name it Grace or Timothy.

I got caught in a hurricane when I was delivering Newsday. The storm hit so quickly it caught me by surprise. The wild winds hit so suddenly I couldn't pedal my bike against them. So, I dismounted and pushed my bike through six inches of rain water that swamped the street. The newspapers in my bag were getting soaked and I had to hand deliver each one and put it where it could stay dry. By the time I reached my street, I was completely soaked. When I got home, I rolled my bike into the garage and closed the door. I managed to open the back door and slosh inside the back room. Just then, my Mother opened the door to the kitchen and saw me. She handed me a large dry towel.

"Where were you, I was so worried?"

"I went swimming," I answered, grinning.

"Well, get out of those wet clothes right away, and get into a hot bath before you catch pneumonia!"

Hmmm, a hot bath sounded good. Ordinarily I hated baths. They were for little kids. But today, I was ready to soak in the tub and play with my rubber shark.  The bath worked its magic. After climbing out of the emptying tub, I dried off completely and covered myself with Johnson's Baby Powder.  A few hours later, I was curled up on the sofa in the den in flannel pajamas. Channel 9 was airing its show called Million Dollar Movie. They showed the same movie all week. That day the movie was "Gunga Din." But it didn't matter, instead of watching that classic, I was watching the inside of my eyelids, sound asleep. Mother Nature proved it again; she's the boss.

For kids, everything is exaggerated. When you first go to school, the desk you sit in is big; it had a seat, a desk top you wrote on, a place under your seat where you stored your books--it was huge. Look at that desk now, as an adult. It looks like a toy. No human being could fit in that seat.

The same is true for rain storms. When you're a kid, they're all hurricanes. Later in life that same rain storm seems like a heavy drizzle. No biggee.

One hurricane whose name escapes me caused a real flood on my block, where North Cambridge Street formed a "T" with Alden Court. The street drains that normally swallowed up the heavy rains were clogged. The rains kept coming and the "T" became a lake. Kids being kids, a bunch of us began floating in the lake on big black inner tubes. Somehow our pictures made it into The Malverne Herald and Newsday.

 

 

The Evolution of Pajamas

 

Simply put, pajamas evolved as you did, from infant to toddler to little kid to big kid to tween, to teen, to young adult to middle age to graying adult to senior to old fogie.

In your youth you might have had Dr. Denton's; the one-piece pajama with feet attached to the bottom of the legs. As a little kid, you loved Dr. Denton's. Warm and cozy and you didn't need sox. As an older kid, you hated them. Those foot attachments made you look stupid and infantile, and cramped. If you could only find some good scissors, you'd perform pajama-foot amputations.

When you evolved to be a big kid, a lot of things in your life changed including your pajamas. You got to sit at the grown-up dinner table during the holidays. You had your own hairbrush or comb. You started using deodorant--not your own--you borrowed your big brother's or Dad's stuff. And you started wearing real pajamas, without those stupid feet. It stayed that way for quite some time. At first you really appreciated getting pajamas as a Christmas gift. After a while, you hated those gifts, and any gift items that were things you needed. There were many years when you wanted things you didn't need--like a Captain Video Decoder Ring, a Wiffle Ball and Bat, or a 45-rpm record by Danny and the Juniors. Things that seemed very important at the time.

Life really surprises you sometimes. As you got older, you very often found no use for pajamas. An old pair of torn sweatpants did the trick. You'd swear you slept better in them than any pajamas you ever had. You didn't realize it then, but someday in the future, when you got much older, you wished you'd had a nice pair of flannel Dr. Denton's. Right now, I wish I had a pair of red flannel pajamas. I'd wear them every day.

 

Our First Telephone Number

 

We moved to Malverne on September 4th, 1948. My life changed forever that day. Everything was so different; especially the house we would live in for nearly 50 years. First of all, it was a house. A two-story house. Not a five-story concrete tenement. Only our family lived in the Malverne house. In the city building, five or six families resided; we had a three-bedroom apartment on the third floor.

At the time we moved to Malverne, I was three years old. In another month I would be four. Within a week or two, we got telephone service. Before we were issued our official number, we used a four digit number. I have no idea what that number was. Our first official telephone number was LY-3-8243; a number I'll never forget. It was a party line service. If you picked up the mouthpiece to make a call, one of your neighbors could be using the line and you heard their conversation. So you had to hang up the phone and wait for them to finish. You checked again and again until the speakers got the message that someone else needed the phone line. People were usually kind enough to end their chat quickly so could make your call. You returned the favor when someone else needed the phone line. After a few years, we got a private line.

In those days, cell phones didn't exist. Except for those magical walkie-talkies the US armed Forces had and the space age, make believe gadgets used by Flash Gordon and Captain Video and their pals.

 

Lotto

 

The Bingo Craze never hit the Zaccaro house. The family played another table game during the holidays; Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. In the evening, after everyone had stuffed themselves with delicious homemade Italian food, and couldn't move, we sat at the dining room table and the old Lotto game components were brought out. There was an old wooden cigarbox-like container with a small hole on one end. Inside the box were little wooden disks with numbers printed on them.

Also, in the box was a folded sheet of heavy paper--the score sheet-- with the numbers 1 through 100 printed on it. A separate container held about a hundred cards with varying numbers printed on them. They became the game cards. A player could use one, two or three game cards, costing a dime each.

My Father was the Caller. The game began when he shook the box with both hands making a racket. That action caused one of the little disks to fall through the hole into his hand. With great drama, my Father would announce the number and place the wooden disk on the big score sheet. If that number appeared on your cards, you placed a penny over it. Each card had four rows of numbers and some blank spaces. You could win in one of two ways; 1) Cover a whole row of numbers which prompted you to yell out "Line!" And 2) Cover all the numbers on your card, and then you'd scream out "Lotto!!" I think you won a dime for a line score and 25 cents for a full card--a Lottto.

The best part of these games wasn't the minimal wins. It was the wild, sarcastic banter that accompanied each game. 

My sister Annie now has possession of the original Lotto Game. She guards and protects it for the family and brings it to our Family Reunions. If any harm ever comes to the game, Annie would pay a tremendous cost. Her fingers would be tied into knots and she would be force-fed 10 pounds of raw liver.

 

Malverne Expands

 

Our quaint little town began to grow sometime in the early 50s. Expansion hit all of Long Island during those years. Besides building on the spare lots within the village, whole areas in Malverne were coming to life.

There were several lots along Wicks Lane where that road approached Hempstead Avenue. The Begenzie family lived in a large grey house on that corner. It was one the oldest homes in town; it had the charm of an old farm house and I think I remember that family planting a substantial vegetable garden on the side and back lawns. There were several siblings including Frank Begenzie who was an excellent athlete, a few years older than me; and I believe Frank had two older sisters.

Behind their house, running east along Wicks Lane were several newly built cul de sacs, each containing three or four new ranch homes. Several new split-level homes were inserted around the existing structures on Ogden Terrace, located a few blocks from Lindner Place School.

But the largest and most expensive tract of new homes in Malverne was an entire new neighborhood--Malverne Oaks. It was located just south of the eastbound on-ramp for Southern State. These were well-built expanded ranches and splits sitting on large tracks of beautifully landscaped property. I believe the builders were the Krowns. Kevin Krown was a few years my senior and went to Malverne High. The properties showcased big, well-established oak trees--thus the name of the area. I knew only one family that lived in the Oaks--the Holzmans. I recall the names of the two sisters; Arlene, who was two or three years older than her sister Carol, who was one year younger than me. Both were beautiful, classy girls--that much I remember.

As the population grew in Malverne, so did the need for new and better roads and services. The little town center underwent several expansions, including a new Town Hall, a new Police Department building, a new recreational facility which included new basketball courts. Most of this building was situated near the train station, which underwent its own expansion. New stores appeared along Hempstead Avenue, as well as a new Post Office. Some stores relocated to new and larger spaces. Others closed down and left forever. Perhaps the greatest loss was the departure of Andy's Place, our beloved diner. In its place was a little patch of greenery and flowers with a stone bench nobody paid attention to.

Ickle Bickles was a simple soda fountain candy store in the heart of town across the street from Canzoneri's Shoe Repair. I believe the two elderly men who owned the store were brothers named Hieme and Heiny. One day I can't recall, Ickle Bickles disappeared. Directly across the street from their store was an entrance to a parking lot that served the stores on that side of Hempstead Avenue. In that parking lot, with its back to the railroad tracks, stood a restaurant-tavern whose name was something like Station Cafe. That all changed when Fuzzy Mulligan took over the place.

Fuzzy was a good guy whose family lived on the southern end of Lynmouth Road. He was also a good cook. He turned the dull quiet Station Cafe into the hottest restaurant in Malverne. It features great steaks and burgers, and the best french fries made just the way Andy's Place had made them for so many years. Fuzzy changed the name to Ickle Bickles Pub. It became a major success for a short time. A few years after he succeeded, Fuzzy died from a heart attack while playing golf on a local course. It was a sad day in Malverne's history.

Much of Long Island was expanding. Between my 8th and 12th years, major building projects were taking place in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties. When we moved to the Island, Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway didn't exist. Actually, I remember it being no more than a dirt road. But heavy-duty equipment was in use, removing trees and other obstacles, flattening the land. Soon it would become Route 135 connecting Sunrise Highway in Seaford with Jericho Turnpike up in Syosset.

Sometime in those years, Penninsula Boulevard was built. That was a more difficult project because it passed through several towns. In the north it started in Hempstead, then it crossed over Southern State Parkway, then passed by Mercy Hospital in Rockville Center, then went by Lakeview and through Lynbrook, Gibson and the Five towns--Hewlett, Woodmere, Cedarhurst, Lawrence and Inwood. It emptied on to Rockaway Parkway behind JFK Airport, which was called Idlewild Airport in those days.

The greatest expansion on Long Island was occurring out east in Suffolk County. Robert Moses, a real estate mogul and political power broker, was building major highways and new town centers everywhere on the south fork of the Island. The potato farms and alfalfa fields in Suffolk were being absorbed by politicos hungry for power and fame. The deceptive label--Manifest Destiny--was being attached to this expansion. The very same phrase was originally used to describe the exploration and expansion of the American continent in the 1700s. The latter was a noble, necessary pursuit, while the former was a shameful lie.

Robert Moses' main expansion objective was to transform Long Island into the bedroom facility for people who worked in New York City businesses. At first there was only one main pathway between Long Island and midtown Manhattan. The Long Island Expressway. Better known as the LIE. And it was a lie. The day they opened it for traffic it was obsolete. And it still is.

 

Cars

 

When we first moved to Malverne we didn't have a car. My father walked to the train station every morning around 6:15 to take a train into Penn Station. Then he walked to a building on Broadway and 38th Street in the garment district. He was a cutter and pattern designer in the lady’s sportswear business. He was on his feet walking back and forth for 40 years. Now that I think of it, he walked a million miles in his career. (Thanks Dad.)

Shortly after we moved there, we got an old car from friends in the city. It was an actual jalopy. A black car with a rumble seat over the trunk. It was the only such vehicle in Malverne. It took us to the stores and a few other places. I loved riding in that car. It was like being in an amusement park ride.

Then came a long line of Chevys: A grey '48; a two-tone blue '52; and then our pride and joy--a 1955 Chevy Belair, salmon and grey, which we had for many years. That was the first car I drove (legally). Eventually, we sold it to the Esso station located at the 'first five corners,' where Franklin Avenue flowed into Hempstead Avenue, and where Malverne fed into Lynbrook. That car had 136,000 miles on it and it was becoming too expensive to fix and maintain. The day I drove it to the Esso Station to give it up was a very sad day for me. Sullenly, I walked home, taking a few hours to go a 20-minute distance.

That '55 Chevy had a lot of miles left in her, because I saw it being driven around Malverne and Lynbrook for years. Speaking of old cars, my brother Joe had an old grey Plymouth he named the Grey Gorilla.

With the Chevy gone, the family needed wheels. About that time, my Dad's boss was selling his old Caddy and we snatched it right up. Only problem was the color. It was bright yellow. But it was mechanically perfect, and I loved it. My Dad did too. In fact, he drove it as though he had always owned Cadillacs. It made him feel dignified and important.

I was lucky to be around when some cool cars came along. A friend of my neighbor Steve Horblit was a nice guy named George Marchese. One day George rolled into the neighborhood driving a Studebaker Golden Hawk. It looked like a rocket ready to blast off in either direction like all Studebakers did. But this one was an exception; hot and cool at the same time.

Mike Schuman lived on the block facing the back of the old high school. His sister Stephany was beautiful which has nothing to do with this writing. Mike decided to build his own car from a car kit, right in his driveway where we kids could watch. When he finished putting the car together it resembled a small army jeep. I watched as he hopped into the driver's seat and started it up. After a few groans and sputters, the engine turned over and growled like a British bulldog. With a broad grin on his face, Mike put that baby into gear and took off. We followed Mike as he drove up Wicks Lane and turned into the school's back entrance, through the open gate and on to the all-sand baseball field, kicking up a cloud of dust. Mike's car was motoring right along, and he was wearing the biggest grin in town.

The Kings and the Abrahams lived in the house next to mine on North Cambridge. They were friendly, generous people and very good neighbors and they were related to the Nostrands who actually built our house with their own hands. Mr. King owned a Desoto, a beautiful two-tone model with push button gears. I rode in it only once, but it was like a space age wonder with no gear shift arm. The seats were plush and roomy, and it smelled brand new. After these fine folks passed away, the Desoto was taken away by their cousins.

The Little League field was on Hempstead Avenue just before the convergence of Franklin Avenue. During baseball games on a Saturday, the stands were usually filled with parents and friends of the teams playing. Plus, one other person: Stormy the dwarf. He would make an appearance and root for both teams. Stormy lived across the street on Hempstead Avenue. The little man owned a specially equipped sports car; A Jaguar XKE- a very expensive auto which he drove while standing up on the special driver’s seat. You see, Stormy was an advertising celebrity. He played Teddy Snowcrop in TV commercials, wearing a bear costume. The kids liked Stormy a lot. His support of the league made us feel special.

 

 

Picnics in the Park

 

My Dad worked six days a week for most of his life. On those rare weekends when he had Saturday off, he'd tend to the chores around the house ordinarily saved for Sundays. That meant he could relax and rest on that Sunday. Sometimes it meant the family could go to a park or the beach or just for a long drive somewhere.

My favorite activity was to have a picnic at Hempstead Lake State Park. For our family it was a major production. Just getting ready and packing the car took hours. We would take enough food to feed all of New York State. First of all, you had to take readymade sandwiches for everyone. We'd also take hot dogs, hamburgers and maybe chicken, all needing to be cooked, but only if we were lucky enough to find an available hearth. We usually did find one because we'd get there early...no, very early...before anyone else.

Warm weather picnics require ample fruits. Especially watermelon. But also peaches, plums, nectarines and grapes. To help wash down all the food you were going to consume, you needed drinks. In barrel size thermoses we'd bring lemonade, orange ade, maybe iced tea and fresh ice water.

For your sweet tooth, packed carefully, there would be donuts, brownies, cookies and bakery stuff like crumb buns and apple turnovers. My parents would perk a big pot of coffee. The unique aroma made me love coffee. I'm addicted to it today.

At some point in the afternoon, we'd make our way to the Carousel. I loved riding on those ferocious looking horses. For a quarter you got a full ride while listening to the loud Caliope. On every circle lap you could reach out for the gold ring which earned you a free ride. Nunley's owned that Carousel; the same people who owned and operated the full amusement park on Sunrise Highway in Baldwin.

The picnic wouldn't be complete until you had a delicious ice cream from the Good Humor man in the park. By that time in the day you were exhausted. The family then packed the car with whatever was left and went home. I had a nice sunburn and I needed a shower, but we had had a great day in the park.

 

My Baby Sister Anne Marie

 

Anne Marie Zaccaro was born on October 15, 1950 at Mercy Hospital in Rockville Center. I was six years old at the time. Immediately, she was the shining star of our home. Besides her natural beauty and adorable nature, she had a precocious twinkle in her eye. It was like a sweet warning, as though she was saying, "Hey watch out dorko, I'm here to shake things up a bit...heehee! I usually get my way."

Well, now I was a big brother. Big Brothers have to protect their little sisters, make sure they're happy and help them grow up as soon as possible. I love kids; especially babies. Having a baby sister around was great for me. I could make her laugh anytime, by making funny faces and funny noises. I must have resembled a clown in a looney bin.

Once Annie learned to walk, the adventures began. She often wandered off pushing her little dolly in a toy baby carriage. One day, we lost track of her. This scared the hell out of my Mother and me. We searched everywhere. The Mantel kids joined the search to no avail. Panic set in, and the whole neighborhood began to worry. Finally, in desperation, we called the Police Department in Malverne. They sent patrol cars out looking for Annie. She'd been gone for a few hours when the Police found her on Franklin Avenue, happily walking her dolly. She had walked nearly a mile away, having crossed 10 blocks and two major avenues. When the police car rolled up to our house and helped Annie climb out with baby carriage and dolly, she was smiling and so happy. My poor Mom had aged in that hour.

That weekend my Dad and I began building a playpen in the backyard; a rectangular space surrounded by wood fencing with an open lattice roof and a gate that could be locked. From that day on, if Annie wanted to go outdoors, she had to stay in the playpen. The lattice overhead was covered by a concord grape vine. That vine was very productive and for a few years my Mom made delicious grape jelly preserved in glass jars. And it all began because of Annie's wandering energy.

Annie liked to hide from people. And she was very creative when selecting hideaway spots in the house; such as the lazy susan cabinet in the kitchen where the large pots were stored. She climbed into that cabinet and since she was tiny and light, the turntable became a carnival ride for her. We'd call out, "Annie, come out come out wherever you are!" But she was totally silent and wouldn't answer. After a while, worry would set in and we had to use deception. "Annie, come out come out wherever you are, your ice cream is melting and I'm gonna pour it in the sink!" Deception like that usually worked and she'd answer us giving her hideout away.

From time to time, my Grandma, Bernadina, would visit us from the city and stay for a weekend or more. We loved her company. She had long, beautiful hair as black as the night sky. Watching her brush her long hair was an event.

During one visit, Annie decided to hide and surprise Grandma. Well, we couldn't find her anywhere. I was searching in the basement with Grandma, who was calling out in Italian, "A nona, nona!" It sounded like she was about to cry when Annie finally revealed her location.

"Grandma," she called out. It scared Grandma so much, she did begin to cry out, "Ooo Anna Maria." She had been hiding behind a large table, between it and the wall, and finally crawled out in the open.

One evening when Annie was just a baby, she wouldn't stop crying over something. We were all in the kitchen when Annie erupted, and she could not be appeased. My Mother handed her to my Father who stood up and put Annie over his shoulder. He walked into the dining room with her still crying and fussing. Dad was becoming impatient. He gently slapped her bottom, which made Annie cry harder. I exploded and yelled at my Father, "Don't you hit her again, or I'll, I'll...don't you touch her!!" It was the one and only time I ever stood up to my Father.

My Father, holding an hysterical Annie, looked at me, shocked! My Mother ran into the den to find us. I was still fuming. Annie reached out and went right into my Mother's outstretched arms. I didn't know what to do, so I just stood there, avoiding my Father’s incredulous glare. Glad that Annie had stopped crying, I walked out of the den, through the living room and out the front door. I was expecting the worst, but nothing happened. I sat down on the single porch step and studied the night sky. Visions of my punishment ranged from a simple scolding all the way to a series of knuckle sandwiches.

It took a while for my breathing to return to normal. Eventually, I went back inside and climbed the steps up to my room. Nothing more was said to me that night. In fact, the incident and my temporary lapse of sanity was never mentioned.

 

Mad Magazine

 

I became an intellectual when Alfred E Newman came into my life. He looked so nerdful with that dumb smile and those fat ears, and more importantly, the devil-may-care "What, me worry?" attitude.

The first time I had an issue of Mad in my hands, I thought I'd found the holy grail of funny magazines. Every page was hilarious. Every section or article was crazier than the previous one. Every cartoon was insane. But, I think the part of Mad Magazine that was the maddest were the little sayings that were nearly hidden on the sides of pages. One that stands out, that is still burning a hole in my brain is this one:

"Although the moon is only 149th the size of the earth, it is further away."

Another asks, "Why is a mouse when it spins?"

And another, "Do you walk to work or do you take your lunch?"

The people who invented Mad must have been mad...must have said to themselves--"No, nothing can be normal, everything must be nuts!"

Every issue was nutserama! And I am so thankful. Because it gave me the permission I needed to begin a life of insane gazorkatude.

Mad's regular features included--- Spy vs Spy; Gahan Wilson's cartoons; and random comments from Alfred E. Newman. To create these on a monthly basis demands that you be committed. Or ought to be.

I am personally grateful to Mad because it inspired me begin my research in recognizing unknown yet important people throughout history. See or hear the separate entry entitled Names and Neuroses. I continue this practice today.

 

Growing Up

 

The previous pages offer a few reflections on what growing up was like during the 40s and 50s in my home. And my home town. If you read them you'd find out that life was pretty good in those days. Even if you don't read them, the same would be true. Ask anyone my age.

I was lucky. The timing of my life allowed some really good things. During my early years—

  • The Korean War was over;
  • Everybody liked Ike;
  • Almost everybody like Adlai;
  • Interstate highways were built all over the country;
  • Bridges connected towns to other towns;
  • Telephones connected people;
  • Supermarkets could be found everywhere;
  • All kinds of foods and sundries could be found in supermarkets;
  • Everybody owned cars;
  • Television sets were affordable;
  • TV shows of all kinds were entertaining;
  • Groucho Marx and his brothers and others arrived;
  • Real, live heroes actually existed;
  • Some politicians could be trusted;
  • Every town had at least one school;
  • Every school had teachers;
  • Many teachers liked teaching;
  • Athletics flourished and were supported by sponsors;
  • Little League sports erupted everywhere;
  • Folk music flourished;
  • Beatniks were cool, man;
  • Miniature golf courses were available and beatable;
  • Neighbors were genuinely neighborly;
  • Sewers were gradually installed in suburbia;
  • etcetera.

I could go on and on but I won't. Not today. Maybe later or tomorrow. That's another thing you should remember--there's always tomorrow.

 

Celebrities from Malverne

 

Somehow Malverne became the home of noteworthy people:

Jeff Bleckner, a year older than me, became an award winning director on Broadway and in Hollywood. Right after graduating from Yale, he won a TONY nomination as Best Director of a Drama for his work on "Sticks & Bones." While at Malverne Jeff starred in many theatrical productions, including The King and I.

Tony Danza became a TV star and has been in Hollywood for years. While at Malverne High School, his grades and social activities kept him out of the National Honor Society.

Brian Hylan, who lived where Hendrickson Avenue met Franklin Avenue, was a Rock 'n Roll singer in the 60s.

Charlie Steiner became an excellent radio sportscaster. I believe he's still in the business out on the west coast.

Olson & Johnson were a comedy team in the 30s and 40s Vaudeville era. They lived on a street near Nottingham Drive.

Dan Ingrahm became a popular disk jockey in the 50s playing that good ole rock and roll well he after graduated from Malverne High.

 

 

 

So Far

 

That's what I remember about Malverne, so far. I'm sure there's other stuff stuck in the synapses of my brain, so I'll keep my mind open. But for now, this is it. And I hope it stirs up some memories of your own because I'd like to hear them.

 


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