When my wife and I found our first home on Long Island in 1969, we plopped down a $5 bill to hold it until our parents could look at it with us. Yes, the seller took a $5 deposit. For $29,990, we were going to get our bit of heaven on earth. My wife, Iris, and I felt like pioneers.
It was a new four-bedroom splanch in the hamlet of Nesconset. What a lovely memory of moving in, child-free, in a development called New England Village. It indeed felt like a village. Smith Haven Mall did not exist and the only diner you could find for breakfast was in Hauppauge. The area had its own special flavor of backwoods barbecues and poison ivy.
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Little did we know then about shoveling snow and collapsing cesspools. We were far too young to worry about the implications of owning a home. I had a bit of dirt I could call my own, and we visited it religiously every weekend until we moved in from our one-bedroom apartment on Old Oak Lane in Levittown. The ride seemed to be forever, about an hour. Our relatives thought we had gone bonkers by moving to the end of the Earth.
I gleefully did the backbreaking work of turning a lawn and planting bushes to beautify our quarter-acre. We fended off the salesmen who wanted us to buy storm doors and subscriptions to the Encyclopaedia Britannica on payments of 25 cents a week for forever.
We played that odd game of keeping up with the Joneses. For the first few summers, we met nightly, sitting for hours on webbed lawn chairs in somebody's driveway. We chatted and listened for weaknesses. Knowing I was a teacher, some of my neighbors tossed errant bombs my way when they said, "Those who can do, and those who can't teach." I watched closely as years passed for their jobs to slip into oblivion. Those who could, could no longer, their jobs in aerospace and sales fed through the meat grinder. I took the tortoise's path and spent 42 years comfortably in education.
After a few years, those nights grew colder as our children peopled the streets. We had three of our own. Oh, how often the parents fought over children bullying each other with taunts of, "You're fat . . . You're ugly." The kids would come home crying about behind-the-hand teasing that made them feel small.
The parents fought back for them until the competition, children's bickering and our own aging overtook our desire to spend lovely nights shooting the breeze under star-filled skies. Our jobs and the daily vexations of life seemed to fill in the holes of our existence.
After our children moved out and we had the house to ourselves, I worked hard to convince my wife that we should downsize after 40 years in New England Village. We should get a condominium and make new friends. We blinked and a new set of children was being pushed around the block in strollers by what looked to us like our own children.
What would be our last block party, our swan song to the neighborhood, convinced my wife that we needed to move on. She thought that she would get involved in organizing the event with one of our new neighbors. My wife offered her expertise in costuming the children and inviting fire trucks for the parade around the neighborhood.
One of the neighbors, a perky blonde with not a wrinkle on her face, replied, "My mom's upstairs; perhaps you could share some of your ideas with her."
My wife came home distraught. The generational chasm seemed to have grown tenfold. She finally relented to my exhortations and declared, "It's time."
Reader Sy Roth lives in Mount Sinai.