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Grumman is gone, but Bethpage still soars

Cars pour out of the Grumman lot after

Cars pour out of the Grumman lot after an afternoon shift change on Feb. 27, 1970. Bethpage kids adjusted their lives to avoid the traffic. Credit: Newsday / Don Jacobsen

Growing up in Bethpage in the 1960s, we learned early that the streets were off limits from 3:30 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, for that was the time of the great Grumman migration.

Mothers up and down John and Emma streets would gather up their children and keep them close. Each day, the early shift would be extruded from the giant hangars and would wind their way down Stewart Avenue. The egress points on Lafayette and Cherry avenues would spew forth the cigarette-smoking, gas-guzzling, freedom-loving, God-bless-America, Lunar-Module-building great American defense industry backbone. They would clog Central Avenue in 15-minute intervals, until Bethpage was tied up in giant multicolored Detroit steel ribbons. We were kept on a short leash during these hours. No bicycles, no kickball, no multistreet games of tag. Backyard games or homework were the choices we had. We all lived by these rules. No one ventured to the market for milk or bread.

Our fathers, the men home from World War II, worked overtime to keep us safe, building the war birds that would fly over our land and protect us. We lived in a town that delivered the goods that would save our country. Community pride was everywhere. Grumman, then the largest employer on Long Island, offered opportunities for fathers, sons and daughters to give their families a good American life.

We celebrated that privilege. We flew our flags, paraded on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. We went to church on Sundays and respected each other's families and property. We practiced our faiths, our pianos and our fastballs. We defended our country and ourselves from bullets and bullies.

The eastward expansion fed by good-paying jobs, a plot of land, roads and rails connecting north, south, east and west made Long Island a dream come true. Right in the center of that dream was Bethpage.

A child's worldview is immediate and full of possibilities. Time stretched before us, and we could see no end to the life we knew.

Everything changes and so also Bethpage. We watched as the stately maple trees lining Broadway fell, and the landmark Beau Sejour restaurant was laid low. The new library sporting a giant wing took flight on Powell Avenue. The Golden Eagles of Bethpage High continue to soar onto a new field dedicated to the memory of their beloved coach, Howie Vogt.

With each passing, a new birth. Central Park Inn is now B.K. Sweeneys. The Bethpage Black golf course, treasured by locals, invites the world to play. Bethpage Hardware, which sold countless nails and screws to weekend handymen, restored torn screens and invited lingering, is gone. In that space is Bethpage Virtual Golf, where you can tee up on the Black in the dead of winter, no sleeping in cars waiting for tee time, no wristbands and no walking involved.

Bethpage State Park was our wilderness. The picnic and polo fields were the backdrop for a thousand moments in our lives. The bike path winding along Bethpage Parkway was the trail blazed by countless young adventurers. Outfitted in Levis and Keds, we pedaled our rocket ships to the end of the universe, which abruptly ended at Sunrise Highway in Massapequa. That bike path grew, as did those same explorers.

Now decked in Spandex, they travel beyond their old boundaries and follow a superbike highway from North Shore to South. In Bethpage, old and new, our past and our present, side by side on almost every street. The same local pride lives on in the community's fourth generation and new immigrants.

The creative giants that brought forth the F-6 Hellcat, E-2 Intruder, EA-6B Prowler, F-11 Tiger, F-14 Tomcat, E-2 Hawkeye and Lunar Excursion Module, leaving its mark on a country, the moon and a town, relocated to a sunnier climate. The massive manpower dwindled to a few thousand. The pneumatic drills and whining jet engines silenced. The vacant hangars were locked and forgotten.

Bethpage, once a thriving defense-industry community, was seemingly rudderless. But Bethpage is resilient. Other towns in similar straits mothballed their enormous plants and let vast tracts of land run to seed. That was not in the plan for this strong pioneering town. Bethpage led the way for years scaling heights and creating futures.

The kickball-playing generations grew up and devised a way to keep this town vital. The offices were repurposed, the ballfields have gone high-tech, the dreamers build on runways and watch their businesses take off. The streets at 5 p.m. are again crowded with cars.

And the hangars? Those huge doorways are open again. Recently, replacing the roar of propellers, was "The Sound of Music."

Ann C. Kenna,
Bethpage

 

BASEBALL UMPIRES COULD BENEFIT FROM INSTANT REPLAY

Fred Bruning says that, to him, it "just doesn't make sense" for instant replay to correct the (relatively rare) incorrect calls made by baseball umpires [The Act 2 Column, "Take me out to the old ballgame," May 3]. He romanticizes their wrong-call mistakes and asks, "What is achieved by reviewing how a play 'really' happened?" Really?

Mistakes, like some accidents, are often unavoidable; but they are never desirable. We should always strive to minimize mistakes, and, whenever possible, avoid them -- or at least correct them.

Umpiring baseball games, like refereeing basketball, hockey and football games, is a very difficult job because the human eye is not like a high-speed camera. Intelligent fans (not the ones who mercilessly boo players or umps) understand that it is impossible for the human eye to determine bang-bang plays at first base with 100 percent accuracy and that umps' calls are proven correct by instant replays most of the time.

But wrong calls that can be detected and corrected by instant replays should be; for the sake of the game, and its participants (like Detroit Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga, who was deprived of a perfect game by an umpire who probably would have welcomed instant replay to overturn his mistaken call in 2010).

Bruning says baseball is "sacred" -- even though its recent message to young players in the Pineda pine tar incidents was that it's OK to break rules and cheat as long as you are sneaky about it. If it were sacred, it would be even more important to get right what it can.

Richard Siegelman,
Plainview

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