I felt a pit form in my stomach recently when I scrolled through a gallery of "zombie homes" at newsday.com and suddenly saw a broken-down bungalow at 80 Lynbrook Rd. in Mastic Beach.
Newsday had done stories about abandoned homes, and there, with windows boarded up and the door overgrown with vines, was the house my grandparents had built more than 70 years ago.
My grandparents, Patrick and Violet Killen, saw an advertisement in 1938 in the Brooklyn Citizen for Mastic Beach properties billed as "The Fisherman's Paradise." Looking to have a bungalow as a respite from the hot summers of Ridgewood, Queens, they purchased three lots sized 20 by 100 feet for $400 total. They paid $21 a month until the land was paid off. Bloxon Builders put up a two-bedroom "econo bungalow" house for $600 (about $10,120 in today's dollars).
For this amount, one lived a Spartan existence, but it was a "summer home" where the family could gather. There was a kitchen, but there was no electricity, heat or indoor plumbing. There was an outhouse in the backyard, and kerosene lamps lit the rooms at night. A wind-up Victrola was the only source of entertainment. My dad told me he slept on the small porch, his body covered in citronella to keep the mosquitoes away.
In 1943, my grandfather hired a Mastic Beach father-son building company to demolish the "econo-bungalow" and build a proper house that included one bedroom, an indoor bathroom and electricity.
After my grandfather retired in the mid-1960s, they moved out permanently. My grandparents always kept a neat and tidy home. It was a nice family oriented neighborhood four blocks from the Great South Bay. Everyone said my grandfather knew every blade of grass on his deep green lawn, no weeds in sight. His vegetable garden produced huge bounties of tomatoes and rhubarb, which were fed naturally by compost. My grandmother canned the rhubarb for later consumption.
My grandfather was from County Down, Ireland, and was a natural storyteller. For years, he would light a fire in a barrel in the backyard, and all of the neighborhood kids would come by to hear a ghost story or two, all told in good fun.
When we visited, my sister and I sat in the tiny living room and watched "The Ed Sullivan Show" on Sunday nights.
My cousins and I spent weeks at a time at this wonderful house. We would swim at Kaler's Pond in Center Moriches, bicycle in the neighborhood and walk to the Great South Bay.
"Smell that?" my grandfather would ask as we stood by the bay. "That's 3,000 miles of fresh air coming from Ireland."
My favorite memory is pulling the 5-hp. Evinrude outboard engine out of the crawl space, and going to Fred's Marina to rent a rowboat for a day of fishing. I enjoyed conversation with my grandfather and the solitude of the water.
Grandpa died in 1975 and Grandma in 1977. Soon after, the family sold the house. I have no idea who owned it after that, but memories of my grandparents remain strong in my head and heart.
I am sure I speak for many who have similar recollections when they see their own houses referred to as "zombie homes." It breaks my heart.
Reader Jim Killen lives in West Islip.