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A singing lesson to hit the high notes

Joseph Schoenstein, third from left in back row,

Joseph Schoenstein, third from left in back row, with the church choir at Amici restaurant in Mount Sinai last June. The choir typically sings on Sundays at Infant Jesus Church in Port Jefferson. Credit: Amici Restaurant photo

Not too long ago, I had just come out of church in Port Jefferson after singing in the choir, and I thought about the good old days — the late 1940s, early ’50s — and the lives we teenagers led back then. The guys and girls, we all attended Port Jefferson High School, and most of my buddies came from Sound Beach. The girls were from all over — Port Jeff, Rocky Point, Miller Place, Mount Sinai.

At the time, 18 was the drinking age, and on Friday and Saturday nights, we’d go bar-hopping. We’d start at our favorite place, DeBari’s Pavilion in Rocky Point. There were five of us, and two had cars. One had a Dodge, the other a Ford. We’d start out around 7 or 8 o’clock. The owner had a nice bar with a small stage and lots of tables. He’d play records and sing, and everyone would join in singing, drink and dance. The beer was 15 cents for a seven-ounce Pilsner glass on tap. Bottled beer wasn’t as popular.

The bar was a good 40 feet long, and two or three bartenders would keep pushing the beer out. With a quarter tip, you’d spend about a buck and a half a night. We’d stay for a good couple of hours, sing and dance with the girls, then move on, stopping at two or three other bars. Everyone was happy and in a friendly mood. I don’t remember any fights.

We afforded the weekend fun by working part-time jobs. I worked at a couple of supermarkets. We always managed to make a few bucks on the side, too, working as mason’s helpers or digging holes for contractors. I attended Port Jeff High for only six months after spending 3 ½ years at Brooklyn Technical High School, and after graduation, we all got jobs. Then the Korean War broke out in 1950, and I joined the Navy, serving four years. When I returned, I worked as manager at a Bohack grocery store.

The Crusaders, an 18-and-up church club with 14 or 15 men and women, mixed with clubs from other parishes, so I joined them. We’d go to Patchogue, Central Islip or Smithtown every month, bringing a priest as a chaperone. I met my wife, Della, at a Saint Anne’s church dance in Brentwood. When we married in 1957, we paid $85 for a one-bedroom apartment, and my salary was $85 a week. For our honeymoon, we drove to Miami, stayed three days, then drove back, stopping in the Carolinas.

My older brother was a contractor, so I bought land in Port Jeff, and built my house from scratch. Just the two of us. I was married for 53 years until my lovely Della passed in 2011. Now, at 88, I have four lovely daughters, 10 grandkids and three great-grandkids. These days, they all go off to school, meet people and live wherever they want. The closest ones live in Fort Salonga.

So, back to my point after performing in the choir at Infant Jesus Church: When you are singing, you’re in a happy mood and you help the surrounding people achieve that frame of mind, too. It can revive fond memories. Here’s a suggestion: Let’s all start a new campaign and sing instead of talking about politics and the world’s other problems.

Reader Joseph Schoenstein lives in Port Jefferson.

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