Expressway: A Long Island Christmas, 1944
I love this time of the year. It brings back memories of so many happy and sad times of my childhood in Hicksville.
In December 1944, World War II had been going on for three years. Everyone was so patriotic.
In Hicksville, where I grew up, we all knew each others' families and personally knew almost every fellow who went into the service. Some of the boys enlisted in the Navy, Coast Guard or merchant marine before they were 18 years old.
There was a draft during the war, and every young man had to go into the service. When a fellow graduated from Hicksville High School, and high schools everywhere, he often went into the service the next week.
Not too many people had cars, so the guys all walked to the Hicksville railroad station to begin their journeys to training in Fort Dix, N.J., or the Great Lakes. Some of them would never come home.
Meanwhile, we girls would write to all the guys we went to school with. All mail went to an Army Post Office address, where the government would shrink the letter down, put it on microfilm, and send it via "Victory Mail."
After graduation from Hicksville High School in 1944, I went to work in the accounts receivables department at the Grumman Corp., where thousands of Long Islanders were busy building airplanes for our armed forces. I could work only 40 hours a week because I was just 17. Others older than 17 were allowed to work a 60-hour week. I would take the train from Bethpage to Hicksville and then begin my walk down "the village."
Most winter nights there would be a little snow falling. There were decorations on the light poles and Christmas songs coming from the loudspeakers. It was lovely.
I walked past the Long Island National Bank, Beatty's stationery store, Schultz's Deli, Guckenberger's ice cream parlor, a dress store and finally a five-and-dime store.
At the Hicksville Sweet Shop, I would meet my girlfriend Gloria Looney and we would order a sundae with toasted pound cake, ice cream, hot fudge and whipped cream. Others would join us, including some of the soldiers who were on leave. Then we'd go home for dinner.
The happiest part of this season was Christmas Eve night. Earlier in the day my mother would cook one of the free turkeys my sister Fran and I got from Grumman. We all went to St. Ignatius Loyola Church for midnight Mass. We would then go to my house for hot turkey sandwiches. Everyone was invited, and we also welcomed those who weren't.
It was such a happy time sitting at that large table with family and friends. There was a mix of Catholics, Protestants and Jews, and we all loved one another. My mother passed her love for Christmas on to all of her five kids, and we are blessed for that.
Reader Florence Caruso Gries lives in Hicksville.