Boil the Oil in the Soil
My first 6 months to a year I lived in the upstairs apartment of my maternal grandparent's house. It was 1949. My Dad was a WWII vet and married my Mom after the war ended. I was their first child. They had built-in babysitters with my grandparents living down stairs. My grandmother had a Brooklyn accent since she grew up there and it was from her I picked it up. My Mom had a more typical Long Island accent. Why did she not have a Brooklyn accent as well you might ask? Well she was adopted and so her very early life was not spent with her adopted parents. However, I have no memory of all of this so this information comes directly from my parent's memories. My parents bought a new house in the famous “Levittown” , the first mass-produced suburb. It was a planned community, built to take advantage of all the GI's returning from the war who would be marrying, starting families, and needing a place to live. The houses were affordable, came with appliances, and in some cases a TV and even a couch. When my parents bought with the GI Bill it took just $100 down to get in and the $100 was refunded at closing. This was before the TV or couch incentives. We lived there for about 6 years as when I was 7 we moved from Levittown to the house my Mother still lives in today in Melville, NY. Levittown is where my earliest memories are from. My best friend there was Dougie Estey. He lived 2 doors down. He was a year younger than me, as was Teddy another friend who lived next door. I also had a friend Dean who was my age but he lived a few more houses away and was across the street. Dougie was a bit of a bully and would be quick to challenge you. I spent a lot of our friendship backing down from him when we hit a disagreement. This was preschool years and at that time the winner of most fights was whoever threw the first punch. I was shy and quiet, never threw a first punch so I lost every fight. My Dad told me many times to punch back but I just did not get it. Finally Dougie pushed me too far and I got mad and just went after him and he took off and ran. I chased him into his house where his mother joined in chasing us as we went out the back door and into his backyard. I caught him there, hit him and wrestled him to the ground and sat on him until he admitted I was tougher than him. His Mother stood over us pleading with us to stop but I was not going to be denied. Form that point on Dougie would still sometimes say he was tougher and attempt to get his way over me. I would look at him and remind him he was not as tough as me and he would back down. In spite of all that we were good friends and we did not fight much. The family on the other side of us had something like 6 kids. The one closest to my age was Margie. I liked Margie and we used to cuddle and kiss on the side of the house. I was probably 4 or 5. It would be the last time I got to cuddle and kiss with a girl until I reached high school, the longest drought of my kissing and cuddling career.
I didn't, and still don't like to be watched when trying to do something. My Mom tells how I learned to walk when I thought no one was watching by pulling myself up by the couch nd then trying to walk to the chair, but I would not do this if someone else was in the room. Although my Dad worked with me a couple of times on bike riding, I got up early one morning and went out before anyone else was out and tried to ride my bike and that's when I learned to ride. After I figured it out for myself I then showed my parents and friends I could do it.
I got lost in our neighborhood one day. So many of the houses looked the same and it was before I had learned to read. I was probably only a couple of blocks away. I walked around and around and the houses all looked similar to mine but none were. I could not find, or at least recognize my street. I finally had to head out to the main road on the edge of our development, Jerusalem Ave. It was a busy street with lots of stores and stuff. I had been there with my Mother many times. I was not supposed to go out there on my own but it was the only way I could think of to find our street. I figured I would recognize the corner of our street from there. I did and so I found my way home. Please don't tell my Mom if you see her.
In the early 50's polio swept through our neighborhood. Many kids in our neighborhood ended up in the hospital including my sister. I also had a touch of it but not enough to get to the hospital, as it was jam packed. The doctor came out a few times for a week or so to work my legs. My Dad was also sick and my Mother was left to deal with all of us. The woman from next door came by crying one day as her 3rd child was taken to the hospital. When my sister came back she told me about this whirlpool bath they gave her. It sounded cool to me and I was jealous I didn't get to go to the hospital and get to do the whirlpool baths.
The next year I was into tonsillitis. I got it a lot and ended up missing most of kindergarten as a result. I ended up getting my tonsils out. I finally got to go to the hospital but discovered I hated it. There was nothing even remotely cool about it. I wanted out. My Mom tells me when they visited I was so mad they put me in the hospital I refused to talk with them. Before the operation the nurses wanted to put this cup like thing over my mouth and nose (ether) and I resisted and fought as hard as I could to avoid it by turning my head form side to side but they ganged up on me and finally forced it on me. The next thing I knew I was in a bed in a big room with others. It was night time and I was throwing up blood, or at least that's what I thought since the stuff was red. I then stood up in the corner of the bed. It had a bar around it sort of like a crib. A nurse came over and told me to lie down. I told her no the sheets were all wet. She insisted so finally I squatted in the corner. It was a stand-off, or rather a squat-off. I finally told her I'd be quiet and she gave up and left. I did not get ice cream but I did get an Uncle Wiggily Game. I no longer envied my sister getting to go to the hospital, whirlpool baths or not.
It was at school where I learned I had a Brooklyn accent. I didn't even know I had an accent, much less the dreaded "Brooklyn accent". This was bad news indeed. Having a Brooklyn accent was evidently a neon sign labeling all those so afflicted as flawed or at least being lower class. We Long Islanders believed we were at least a step above Brooklyn. OK, some might say we were not quite as good as Westchester, but we were well up on Brooklyn, please. Somehow we failed to acknowledge that Brooklyn was actually on Long Island as well. Luckily, my school pulled me, and the others who who had the affliction, aside and sent us to a special class to train us loose the Brooklyn side of our accent so we could grow up to be proper Long Islanders. We had to practice saying sentences in a non-Brooklyn yet still New York manner. One I remember was “Boil the oil in the soil and don't let it soil”. There were others including one that contained words like girl and work. So yes, I have a New York accent, but it's a proper “Long Island approved” New York accent.