When I was 14, I thought I had it all. Friends, freedom, fun and food. Growing up in my small hamlet of Bellmore in the early '50s, I had access to all of these.

The town boasted a parlor that served homemade ice cream and a luncheonette whose menu included burgers, fries and sandwiches. What more could a teenage girl ask for? The Sunrise Bavarian Village and McCluskey's Steak House also called Bellmore home, but they catered to the adults.

One early Friday evening, asserting my independence, I headed north -- North Bellmore that is, along with three girlfriends. We came upon The Newbridge Inn located on the corner of Jerusalem Avenue and Newbridge Road. Someone suggested we stop for burgers and sodas.

We trooped in, passed the bar and settled ourselves at a window table. The bartender, who served as our waiter, suggested a pizza pie with our sodas. The pie arrived cut into eight slices. One taste and it was love at first bite; I knew what I had been missing. Those two slices were the start of a love affair that has never grown old.

As luck would have it, the next weekend my boyfriend, Jack, my brother Joey and I were coming home from a movie in Babylon. We stopped at an eatery on Merrick Road next to Mill Pond. I am sure I had passed this restaurant numerous times as Mill Pond was a favorite hangout. Inside we met Frances and her homemade Italian pizza pies. I would have eaten there every night if it were possible. I don't think they made pizza to go, at least I didn't know about it if they did.

Some people are connoisseurs of pizza. They are purists and fanatical about their Italian pies. Not me! I loved just about every pizza that has found its way to me. Pizza at the stock car races: the BEST! Pizza at the drive-in movies: the BEST. Every pizza was the best until the next slice came along.

Jack, my husband of 56 years -- yes, the same Jack who introduced me to Frances and the Tower Restaurant pizzas, who took me to the stock car races with their undercooked pizzas and to the drive-in that featured cardboard pizzas (his descriptions, not mine) -- decided to try his hand at pizza making.

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A pizza stone, a wooden paddle and a very hot oven were all he needed. He practiced the art of pizza making, varying cheeses and sauces with me as his willing taster. I was the recipient and beneficiary of his labors. I relished them all. What I couldn't eat, I hoarded in the freezer. At last, I had pizza at my beck and call. He was astounded when he saw me eating pizza in the morning. I ate pizza for lunch, pizza and a salad for dinner, and if I awakened around midnight, my snack was waiting for me.

His culinary skills go way beyond pizza making. He is a baker of breads, cooker of stews, concocter of soups he makes from the vegetables he grows, and he roasts a very good goose for Christmas dinner. But it's the tomato, cheese and smell of dough cooling on the kitchen counter that conquer me.

Recently, at the Bellmore Bean's open mic night, my favorite Thursday night haunt, I had that "dying for" feeling. Their menu, besides all kinds of coffees, teas and hot chocolates, offers cakes, cookies, grilled cheese and bagels, plus wine and beer. I looked up to find Matthew, the barista, offering a small slice of a pizza bagel he had just made. Never one to turn down a warm tomato and cheese combination, I politely accepted his offer.

Maybe it was the music, maybe it was the company, but I heard myself whispering, "This is the BEST!" I quickly ordered two pizza bagels. It certainly wasn't Jack's pizza, but by now you should know it doesn't matter. To me it seemed perfect for the time and place. No standards to be met. I am not overly demanding. I do not discriminate. My reverence for pizza lies solely in what is placed before me. Whatever their source, or sauce, I love them all.

Valerie Skelly,
Bellmore

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