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My Turn: Did the potato farms' legacy bolster the ladies of Massapequa?

Rose Wachsmuth's son Donald, far right, with his

Rose Wachsmuth's son Donald, far right, with his buddies circa 1958 on North Queens Avenue in Massapequa. Credit: Ed Rahn

Last December, there was an interesting article in Newsday titled “How Long Will You Live?” written by Craig Schneider. He wrote about a study that said that where you live determines how long you will live. The story concluded, in part, that living on Shelter Island was the key to longevity; the average life expectancy there is 92.9 year. And why not? The population there must be in the very upper-class category, afforded the very best in health care, services and comforts.

The story made me stop and think: Hey, what about the four ladies living on North Queens Avenue in Massapequa where life expectancy was determined to be 81.5 years?

In the fall of 1953, a small development was built by Peter Marshall Homes on what would be Queens Avenue, then a dirt road (to my horror, it now has a double yellow line down the middle). The average price of a home was about $13,000. If you wanted a basement, it was an additional $500, which could not be added to our mortgage. No way can I remember how we came up with the money — we barely had enough to pay the mortgage — but we did get the basement.

All we first-home buyers were young, hardworking middle-class couples starting out raising families, getting to know our neighbors, adapting to our new way of life in the ’burbs. Our homes were built on a former potato farm, no trees or grass, just dirt everywhere you looked. After we settled in, trees, grass and shrubs were planted, making our block as green as if Mother Nature had planned it.

I did a lot of sewing back then. When a neighbor asked me to do some sewing for her, paying me $12 for the work, I took that money and bought a pencil-thin oak sapling that my husband, Charles, planted on our front lawn. I watched it grow, the same as watching my children grow, giving it the same love and care. It now towers 60 feet tall.

On Hicksville Road there was an agricultural lab for the study of the nematode, a wormlike enemy of the potato. The lab's no longer there, of course. The building is still there, many physical changes made but the old bones remain. So many tenants over the past 65 years, from Friendly's to what’s now a dental office.

Our Catholic church, Maria Regina, opened and initially held services in a small corner storefront on Broadway that now is A & S Pork Store. You should see our beautiful church now on Jerusalem Avenue.

With the children's population growing, new schools were built for the Plainedge school district. Later, some were torn down or used for other purposes as enrollment decreased. Time marches on.

There have been many changes on my block over the years. Families moving on, new families moving in. What I don't see much of are young children out skating, jumping rope, etc. But I did see group of young boys recently riding their bikes down the block. Good to see them out in the fresh air, helmets on, riding on the sidewalk. What was missing was the click-click-click of baseball cards attached to the spokes of their wheels. Baseball cards?, they might ask.

Getting back to the four ladies of North Queens Avenue. Did the potato residue leave some magical potion behind giving us some kind of health benefits? Why, you ask? We are four ladies who are the original homeowners, still living on North Queens Avenue, on the same side of the street just houses apart for the past 65 years.

We are Mildred, 100, Adel, 92, myself, 91, and Madalene, who died in January at the age of 97 — all defying Massapequa’s 85.1-year life expectancy. Can Mr. Schneider’s story explain this? We all are widows now holding on to almost 66 years of memories in Massapequa, some sad but mostly happy. We will try to remain the Queens of North Queens Avenue as long as we can. Long may we reign!

Rose Wachsmuth,

Massapequa

YOUR STORY Letters and essays for MY TURN are original works by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email act2@newsday.com, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747. Include name, address, phone numbers and photos if available. Edited stories may be republished in any format.

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