Our family migrated from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, in 1955 to a house in New Hyde Park that was built on an old potato field. It was summer and school was out, so it was easy to meet the kids on the block.
The kids were different here. They used words like "neat" and "cool," built model airplanes, and went mouse and frog hunting with BB guns. We explored the woods and walked along the overgrown remnants of the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, throwing rocks at some rusted old cars abandoned alongside. There weren't city games to play like stick ball, stoop ball, or street corner card games.
One day, Johnny, who lived three blocks away and had only a father, accidentally shot a boy in the head with his BB gun. The BB became lodged just under the skin, so we took him to Dr. T, who called the boy's mom. He said something like, "Mrs. A, your son was shot in the head with a BB gun. It's not serious but I need your permission to cut it out." She said, "OK." Case closed.
Dave, who lived next door, was a technical genius. One time, he built a rubberband-powered plane called the Phantom Fury. We took it to his roof and launched it across the street. To this day, I fly radio controlled-airplanes, still influenced by that graceful first experience of man-made flight.
My dad caught me and Dave skinning and mounting pelts from mice we had hunted using BB guns. Being a city dad, he gave us heck because of the evil diseases city rodents were known to have. We didn't get sick, and we concluded that Island mice were healthy.
The kids went back to school that fall, but I had been enrolled at a Catholic high school in Brooklyn, so my mom made me commute from New Hyde Park. I would start each day with my father, who drove to his Greenpoint dry cleaning store, dropping me off at a subway stop to finish the trip. Going home, I would take a different subway to 179th Street in Queens where the Schenk bus line would travel along Hillside Avenue to my street.
By the next summer Johnny's dad gave him a .410 shotgun and often took us hunting crows at what is now Herricks High School. When Dave got a 12-gauge shotgun my dad got me one too, and he took me squirrel hunting in the scrub oaks out east.
We often rode our bikes to Roslyn to hunt rabbit and other small game on the old Mackay estate, then abandoned and in ruins. I have recollections of seeing pieces of heads, arms and legs scattered about -- broken statuary that is. Sometimes we'd go to the field just to shoot some skeet. None of us could ever shoot better than Johnny despite his having only one eye. He lost it throwing bullets into a fire.
As years went by, we graduated from toys to cars. I gave my magnificent Lionel train set to Greg, the youth with braces. Back then I was immensely proud of that act, and today I think about what that rare set would be worth, but I'm still glad I did it.
At 16, I got a junior driver's license and started a hot rod club called "The Lazy Lifters." We bought a junkyard '39 Mercury we named "Rat," stripped it and powered it with a full race Flathead Ford engine, built by our newest and oldest member, Bernie. The deal was the club would cover all expenses and Bernie would be the sole driver. Over a few years he won about 20 races at the Westhampton drag strip and only lost one.
About that time the world seemed to move even faster for me. I had skipped a few grades and graduated from Hofstra when I was 19. Following graduation, I served two Cold War years with the Third Armored Division in Germany as a lieutenant and tank platoon leader. Our mission was to survive for at least a few weeks if and when Russian tanks stormed through the Fulda Gap.
When my service ended, the kids on the block were already pursuing their own lives. The "Rat" had been junked. It just wasn't the same. But today, everything is even more different, and I know that my wife and I will have to leave the Island. The house is too big, the taxes are getting ever higher and the traffic is choking.
I am retired from a NYSE bank. We have a son visiting Florida, looking to leave Long Island, After teaching for 15 years in a private school, he recently got "downsized." Our married daughter and five grandkids have moved to New Jersey to follow her husband's job that relocated there.
And that's the way it is.
John A. Aloisio,
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