I was born in Port Jefferson in the early 1940s and was raised in the small town of Center Moriches, in the Moriches Bay area.
I attended first and second grade at the Presbyterian Church on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Main Street. The high school carried grades 3-12. There was no cafeteria; we brought bag lunches and could buy milk paid for weekly. My siblings and I walked over a mile to school. The school bus was for the children who lived in Manorville only, so it passed us by.
Summers were spent working at the local farms, picking beans. The rows seemed endless. We also helped harvest blackberries and strawberries. This left us teenagers well trained and tired, but with the luxury of money in our pockets.
The mid-1950s was the start of rock ‘n’ roll, American Bandstand; Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, The Everly Brothers and many other great singers. There was what later was known as the “Fonzie look,” jeans and leather jackets and ducktail haircuts. The young ladies wore felt skirts with a poodle imprint, shirtwaist dresses and bobby socks, penny loafers, black and white saddle shoes. Their hairstyles were a ponytail, pixie cut or pageboy.
In our town, the crowd hung out at Pete’s Candy Kitchen on Main Street, enjoying burgers and fries, listening to popular tunes on the jukebox — three songs for 25 cents. Later on, dances were held at the American Legion Hall on Sunday afternoons, where we met other teens from out of town. We danced the cha-cha, waltz, stroll, Lindy and the limbo. They even had dance contests. The young guys wore so-called “gang jackets” to represent their towns. For example — Riverhead (The Polish Town Terrors); Westhampton (Wing Wheels); Eastport (Ducks). The jackets were sharp looking. Those were the days!
Westhampton Speedway drag races also brought a crowd. The fellows would show off their muscle cars — usually lower in the back, with loud mufflers, whitewall tires and large dice hanging from the rearview mirror.
I can also relate to those who didn’t marry early and were categorized as “old maids” or “spinsters.” And many families simply could not afford to send their children to college. My parents were immigrants who came to the United States through Ellis Island. Mom was widowed and needed our help, so the workplace became important to us. I was a typical housewife with small children. My days were filled with the news, weather and Watergate; also, “What’s My Line?”
By the 1980s, I was back in the workforce. In the late ’80s and early ’90s my boys gradually left for college and the military — U.S. Air Force; two of them are career soldiers. The third is back in college.
Today, I am retired, remarried and a grandmother. I still live on the East End. We spend our days relaxing on the porch, reading, watching TV shows and listening to my favorite country singers. I have gone to several concerts. Yes, Merle Haggard, Travis Tritt and Kenny Rogers have all performed in at the theater in Westbury.
Long Island has a lot to offer — the beautiful beaches, farms, quaint homes, gorgeous foliage in the fall. What more can we ask for?
Joys and challenges of a long life
These are some of my precious moments; 91 ain’t easy, but I’m still ahead of the game.
I now live with my divorced son in his comfortable home. My youngest son, Robert, has Down syndrome and lives with us, bestowing great joy and happiness every day.
My once-brilliant husband has dementia and can no longer converse. However, he is in no pain and can be brought from his nursing home for a 4 1⁄2 -hour visit every Sunday.
So, life changes, but goes on. In my mid-50s, when attempting to thank someone for a Glenn Miller tape, I discovered an ability to express myself poetically, and it has changed my life. I have expressed many thoughts and feelings poetically in book form.
Annette Flad McMahon