Growing up in Mineola in the 1940s was an adventure for us kids. We had two movie theaters nearby.
The Mineola Theatre charged a dime, and we frequented it almost every Saturday. It was a real bargain. We watched two full movies, the coming attractions, an exciting serial (“Daredevils of the Red Circle” was my favorite). There was also a “March of Time” feature, and best of all, a raffle in which hundreds of toys and games were given away. (You had to hold on to your ticket stub and listen carefully as the numbers were called out).
The Williston was the other available movie theater. It was in a rundown building (the roof leaked occasionally), but only cost us 9 cents.
Eating inexpensive candy was a way of life for us. On the way to the movie house, we would stop off at one of the candy stores to get our supply. For a mere nickel, we could buy Chunky chocolate bars, Milky Ways, Nonpareils, Candy Cigarettes, Junior Mints, M & M’s, strawberry laces, Boston Baked Beans and more. Is there any wonder that my dentists have made a fortune treating me through the years?
On the south end of Mineola, we had a huge roller-skating rink. Organ music would blare in the background as we circled the rink. “Couples only” announced through the loudspeaker meant that we kids had to exit the floor.
Next door to the skating rink was the Mineola fairgrounds. The Long Island Fair that started around 1845 was located there. Farmers would gather their best crops and livestock and head to the fair for prizes. It was the social event of the season. We kids of course weren’t at all interested in vegetables and cows, but we did thoroughly enjoy the many rides and games.
There were no Little League teams back then, not by a long shot. Our sandlot baseball teams were forced to clear empty lots of high grass. An old mattress served as the catcher’s backstop. Our team was called the Sewer Rats because every spring, we would descend into the neighborhood sewers to retrieve baseballs lost there the previous year.
I remember being given the job of cleaning up those balls and then spraying my mother’s perfume on them. Some of our players began to object to the title of our team, thinking it to be undignified. There was finally a compromise: We decided on the name Golden Sewer Rats.
Speaking of baseball, about three miles away we had Barton Stadium [in New Hyde Park], home of the Jim Barton Nighthawks, a semipro team that played only under the lights on Sunday nights. I clearly remember the pungent smell of cigars in the night air, as some 2,000 men enjoyed their secret vice away from the scrutiny of their wives.
My only job was as a part-time carrier for Newsday in 1943. Back then, the paper cost three cents, which came out to 18 cents a week. With luck. I might get a two-cent tip, which meant that I would blow most of my earnings on a double-scoop ice-cream soda.
Mineola was where I attended school for 12 years. First, Jackson Avenue Elementary, then Corpus Christi School, and finally Chaminade High School.
Chaminade tuition back then was a whopping $180 a year. Compare that with today [$18,265, according to its website]. Of course, in the early ’40s, $180 was a fairly significant amount for a financially strapped family.
I moved out of Mineola in 1960 when I got married, but I often look back at my early years there, and of the innocent times my friends and I enjoyed.
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