“Meet you at the tree.” I must have heard those words a thousand times when I was a kid.

Every kid around knew the “Rocking Horse Tree.” It was far enough back in the Oak Street woods to be away from the prying eyes of adults. It wasn’t really hidden; it was right there in the open at the end of the path that led from Oak Street to Martin Avenue in Bellmore.

The path started in the woods across the street from my home on Oak Street. Walking the path was a feat in itself.

The first trick was to get past the geese that were waiting for you. You would flail a stick in front of you as you walked until you got far enough down the path to be considered safe.

Martin Avenue dead-ended on both sides and the tree was in the center of this dead-man’s land that separated the two Martin Avenues.

It seemed a natural haven for kids. The tree, a large oak, had fallen during one of the many hurricanes that seemed to pummel Bellmore and the rest of Long Island during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Its root base had twisted and turned the tree on its side with the larger branches holding up the trunk up, keeping it from touching the ground.

Before long, the tree belonged to the kids. We discovered it and made it our own. The tree was long, more than 60 feet in length. Its trunk was rubbed bare and smooth from years of Bellmore bottoms bouncing up and down on this makeshift rocking horse.

Our route to school in the morning was down Oak to Newbridge Road. On the way home we took the Martin Avenue shortcut. The tree was a place to rest from our mile walk home. Oak Street kids lived the furthest away from our schoolhouse in North Bellmore, so the tree was perfect for a stopping-off point.

It was where crushes developed, love declared; where homework notes were shared. It was the perfect place to meet your friends to discuss plans for the afternoon, the weekend or life in general.

The tree was a perfect place for secret meetings. I could have met my friend in her across-the-street yard, but the excitement of leaving her a note in our secret hiding place and then waiting for her to show up at the tree gave my life some of the drama and excitement that I craved.

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The construction of the Martin Avenue School meant the demise of our tree. By 1950, it was no more. Martin Avenue is no longer a dead-end, the avenue goes all the way through from Newbridge Road to Bellmore Avenue. The woods and the creek are also gone.

I watch all the children now playing on the school grounds where the tree once sprawled and remember years before — different children bouncing on the “rocking horse tree,” telling their tales and sharing their secrets.

Valerie Priger Skelly,