by Richie Mitterando (January, 2009)
I don't remember what year I started spending my summers in the Bronx with my cousin Bobby, Aunt Nellie and Uncle John, my Godfather. Sometime in the late forty’s, I guess. It wasn’t the whole summer - more like two or three weeks. But to me at that age, it seemed to be months. I know I was pretty young because I remember Margie and Pep still lived in the Quonset hut up by Castle Hill Ave. I still picture Bobby and I getting up in the morning on Lafayette Avenue, rushing through breakfast, running out the back cellar door to get to the three wheeler bikes so we could ride up to Margie’s. Bob and I fighting over who would get the chain drive bike. Once getting to Margie’s, I guess we kept her company for the day.
It wasn’t too long before it all changed forever from the Bronx… to the long drive out to Mastic Beach. It seemed so far and it took hours. My mom and dad would bring me out from New Jersey; it was a three to four hour drive back then. There was no Cross Bronx Expressway or Throgs Neck Bridge and NO Long Island Expressway. Usually, on Saturday Morning we would leave and we would get there sometime early afternoon - baring no flat tires. When we arrived, it was like party time because there was a good sized part of the family there already. Aunts, Uncles, Cousin’s friends, neighbors. You name them, they were all there. Then the grills were started and the gravy was already cooking. The lamb sausage imported from the Bronx, the crabs, hamburgers and the chicken, the hot dogs. And of course some kind of macaroni, salads and desserts of enormous magnitude. And to be sure… this was all home made.
This was the time before the screen-house was even built and there was no upstairs on the house. All that was there was the cellar with the roof, the garage with the wine cellar and the picnic table outside. It wasn’t long before the house was finished off with a second floor. The screen-house was enclosed. The wading pool was built. I remember the sleeping accommodations… wall to wall Mitterando’s. Cots, beds, sofas, blankets on the floors, even hammocks hanging in the garage. Sometimes, even in the neighbor’s house. God - it was so much fun. It all boiled down to one thing “FAMILY”, or better said in Italian “La Famiglia”. I do believe the term means Love.
The endless days of summers as Bob and I got a little older. Now to the age I could bring my two-wheeler bike out to the Island. We would do what we were told to do for chores… then off to cruise the world of Mastic Beach and all its waterways. We would head down to Captain Andy’s and check out the “Ole Rebel”. If she were above water we would be OK - maybe just pump some water over the side. If she was too low in the water, we would be there for quite some time pumping. No electric pumps back then…. all the mighty force of the arms and back. Then we hit the sand on the beach. There was an old raft just off shore we used to swim out to: you could walk out to it at low tide. I will never forget the one time I jumped of the raft with a baggy bathing suit on. As I went into the water, little did I know I had company coming - as a jellyfish went up my suit leg. OH! THE PAIN! I think I ran on water from the raft to the beach without getting my feet wet. This was one sore memory. I still remember the shuffleboard table in Cap’n Andy’s. To us, two to three foot tall kids, it looked so gigantic. To us it looked more like a bowling alley on legs than anything else.
Many days we only made it to the creek for a day of swimming. This is where I learned to swim, no choice had I. I got out too far in water that was over my head. Very quickly I learned “It was sink or swim”. Thank God I did the latter.
Hurricane season was something you never forget if and when they hit the island. If they came in during the week, we were on our own - Aunt Nellie, Bob and I. Uncle John worked in New York City and was only home on the weekend. The first storm I remember, Bob and I were in the bed room down the cellar, we both woke to a crash, and as we opened our eyes there was the TV antenna hanging over our heads through the broken window. “ Scared” would be an understatement. I think it was “Hurricane Carol”, sometime around 1954.When we finally got outside to get a look around, it was surreal. The big, old apple tree by the driveway was down across the gate. There was no power to be had anywhere. There were power lines down all over. Here we stood - the three of us. I don’t believe Uncle John made it home for three or four days.
After it was over, we had to check out the damage. Bob and I jumped on our bikes and rode toward the water. As we got closer to the beach, the whole area was flooded - but we kept on going and going; the water was up to the handlebars of our bikes. We got close enough to see the waves just about coming over Fire Island. Coming back to the house we went by way of the road along the “Creek”. All the boats in there were sunk or sinking. I think we helped finish off a few that were still afloat. It was a sad day to behold.
One other thing that stands out in my mind - the day Bob and I found the wallet with a twenty-dollar bill in it. We left the wallet where it was in the road, but we did hang on to the twenty. Here we were two 12 or 13 year olds on summer vacation, what could you expect? It was like we were millionaires. Let me tell you, we played more quarter miniature golf games, and had all the ice cream you could want in one summer. Bob, you really tried to corrupt me.
As time moved on and we got older, I guess you matured faster than I did. One of the last summers I was there with you…. you had become more interested in girls. Caroley had come into your life. Pretty much all I remember of that last summer was hanging out in the hammock with you and her. I guess I had a crush on her, too.
Not too long after that, I lost you to Judy in the Cozy Conner - and life would never be the same again.
I will never lose these memories… they are imbedded in my mind forever.