Memories of Old Long Island
by Pete Sedlack
(Long Island, New York)
I became a Long Islander at Southside Hospital in Bayshore. My earliest memories are of living with my parents and grandparents on North Clinton Avenue, which at the time ended just past our place. Uncle Jerry’s farm occupied a large tract directly across the road and together our family anchored the north end of Clinton Ave. There was nothing but woods between us and Brentwood. North Clinton above Sunrise Highway had only recently been electrified, although a block over to the east, Fifth Ave. was a bit more developed.
Mother and Grandma cooked on a cast iron wood/coal stove, which they continued to do through the war years. New appliances were hard to come by since money was still scarce due the Depression. After Pearl Harbor, everything was scarce due to wartime shortages. Rationing and thrift were the watchwords of the day. Many food items required a ration book and others a certain number of color-coded tokens. Motorists were permitted to buy so many gallons of gasoline a week according to the decal on their windshield. Most cars, including our old Dodge sedan, had an A-decal.
One of my first chores was to help weed the garden. My grandparents had come from Europe where growing one’s own vegetables was as normal as going to the store is now. We grew all kinds of vegetables, even rhubarb which is mostly overlooked these days. Grandma put up everything that could be put up, so all year long we enjoyed stewed tomatoes, green beans, cauliflower, beets, pickles and the like. I still remember that big pressure canner merrily rumbling away on the stove. Our grape arbor provided fruit for jelly, as did the strawberry patch. If that wasn’t enough, all one needed to do was walk out into the Pine Barrens that bordered our property and pick wild blueberries.
World War II had a great impact on our lives. Dad went off to war and didn’t return until late 1945. Mother took a job, so I spent a lot of time in the company of my grandparents. Grandpa was a mechanic and taught me all he knew about tools and how to use them. I still have his old tool box. Grandma taught me how to listen-up and I mean that kindly. I’ve never known another person who could be so tough and yet so loving. In time I came to realize grandma’s style of raising children was just a reflection of her own childhood in Europe.
On weekends, mother would take me with her into Bayshore by way of a stop at the train station. In those days everyone had a Long Island Rail Road timetable and mother always timed our trips to town knowing how crazy I was about those big steam locomotives still in use at the time. Then it was off to Main Street for an ice cream soda at Liggetts and maybe a visit to the docks before heading home.
In summer we might go to Benjamin’s Beach (on the bay, between Brightwaters and Bayshore) or Heckscher Park for a picnic or take the ferry to Fire Island. There wasn’t any Captree or Moses S.P., no Causeway. Arriving at Saltaire you simply hiked across the dunes to reach the ocean. There were no lifeguards or comfort stations, just miles of wide open beach and hardly anyone else around. Missing the last ferry back rewarded you with a night on the beach under the stars beside a driftwood fire. Not the worst of situations, I like to think.
I’ll close with some random thoughts that come to mind. My first 2-wheel bike, a sturdy used model came from Frenchy’s Bike Shop in Bayshore. I understand Frenchy’s is still in business today, which must make it one of the oldest businesses in town.
There was a large billboard on Sunrise Hwy. eastbound near the first Bayshore exit. Just like in the old movies, it was a favorite hiding place for motorcycle patrolmen. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to lead one of those guys on a chase when they came roaring out with lights flashing and siren screaming.
Down on Bayview Ave. was a bait and tackle shop where a kid could buy a bamboo pole complete with hook, line and float for about a buck. Then he could fish for snappers off the dock across the street all day long without ever seeing his parents until it was time to go home.
Hope you enjoyed reading a little about a time when Bay Shore was more often spelled Bayshore.