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Expressway reader essays of the year

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As we close out 2019, take a drive through some of Newsday Opinion's most endearing and poignant Expressway reader essays of the year.

Shared solitude

Swimming freestyle parallel to the shore, I was overwhelmed by the serenity. In one of the most densely populated regions on the East Coast, I was alone. Or so I thought. Lifting my head to take a breath, I spied a common loon plying the surface. ... Wary birds, they usually distance themselves from humans. But this loon swam straight for me!

In its watery element, we interacted on its terms, eye to eye. Approaching within 20 feet, it began a series of eerie cries. Its dagger-like bill quavered up and down as its tremolo calls reverberated across the surface. The loon and I shared the solitude of wilderness.

— Kevin Walsh, Miller Place, on a swim at East Beach in Port Jefferson

For the full essay, click here.

The poet

Back then, poetry seemed dreary. With its almost nonstop talk of sorrow and death, of despair and disappointment, of folks wasting away in graveyards, it said nothing to a teenager eager to grab life by the lapels. But my feelings changed when my English teacher assigned a selection from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”

The poem began with a bold assertion: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” a proclamation of the author’s being. It told of his plans to “lean and loafe,” to observe “a spear of summer grass,” and (my favorite line) to “go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked.”

I’d never heard a poet say things like this — and in words I didn’t have to struggle to grasp. If I needed any more proof that “Song of Myself” was different, it came a few lines later.

“You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,” Whitman wrote. “You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.”

Could there have been anything more liberating and inspiring?

— Richard J. Conway, Massapequa

For the full essay, click here.


Our family took a road trip to Boston, Michael’s last outing before surgery on his once-broken leg. Sitting in rightfield, he wore his lucky FDNY cap (Michael’s dad is a firefighter) and Aaron Judge’s No. 99 . . .

Before Boston batted in the ninth, Judge locked eyes with Michael. Before I could process what was happening, he handed Michael a ball. “Nice shirt, little buddy,” he said, smiling the most genuine smile I’d ever seen. In that moment, I truly believed they were buddies. Our section erupted in applause. New York and Boston fans united in celebration of a young boy’s dream come true.

— Christina Magee, Bayport

For the full essay, click here.

Jury duty

It was a special day in two respects. Dec. 12 was the 103rd birthday of my favorite singer, Frank Sinatra — and the day I was summoned for jury duty .  .  .

I recalled an incident at least 20 years earlier. As a trial lawyer, I was selecting a jury in a civil case. In the array was a federal judge whom I greatly admired. Thinking he had loftier matters to tend to, I quietly told him, “I’ll see to it that you are excused so you can be on your way.”

He smiled warmly and said, “No, I want to serve.”

Well, back in the present .  .  . I was excused from duty. As Mr. Sinatra sang, that’s life!

Perhaps most important on that day, an old lesson sank in. That esteemed jurist who told me he wanted to serve was saying there is no courtoom seat more hallowed than a juror’s.

— State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo, St. James

For the full essay, click here.


I wound up delivering copies of Newsday that reported on many of America’s most historic moments: the killings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy, the war in Vietnam, Woodstock, and the championships of the New York Jets and the Miracle Mets in 1969, and of the New York Knicks in 1970.

My 45 or so customers had a lot to say and would chat about these events at the front door. I remember that women cried over the two assassinations of 1968.

But it was different when I arrived on Monday afternoon, July 21, 1969. My customers were waiting for the Newsday with the giant front-page headline “MEN WALK ON THE MOON.”

Neighbors stood in their driveways and in the streets shaking hands and hugging.

“We did it, we did it!” they exclaimed. “We knew America could do it.”

— Alfred Anuszewski, Shoreham

For the full essay, click here.

I love LI

Nora and I watched a bald eagle swoop across Centerport Harbor to its nearby nest. Turtles clambered up and down the banks of the pond at Huntington’s Heckscher Park. Different-colored chickens roamed around a Northport home’s side yard (one even crossed the road, though the owner didn’t know why). On our strolls, I pointed out favorite spots, like a home that has a horse corral in East Northport, and Nora expressed surprise that Long Island could be so hilly, woodsy and “New Englandy.” Every step was a sort of rediscovery of why I love living here.

— Ellen Cooke, East Northport

For the full essay, click here.

‘Our song’

We moved to Massapequa in 1985, got married, our son was born, and then Paul got skin cancer. He hated to admit there were things his illness kept him from doing, such as working at the store or going to Yankees games. One day when he was very weak from chemo, he hauled himself up from his chair, limped across the kitchen and turned up the radio because “our song” was playing on the oldies station.

“There has to be a limit to the number of times you can play ‘Runaround Sue’ in a row,” my sister, Jean, told me after Paul’s funeral in 1990.

“If there were,” I said, emphatically and grammatically, “I’d be dead by now.”

— Pat Collins, Middle Island

For the full essay, click here.


The temptation to flee institutional faith is real, but I can’t give up on a church that offers what we call “the good news of resurrection” and real hope, a church that feeds, clothes, educates and cares for more people on this planet than perhaps any other nongovernmental institution.

Like so many others, I’ve been hurt by the hierarchy, but healed by the Gospel and the God it proclaims. Faith isn’t about the clergy; it’s about Christ, community, shared prayer and discipleship.

So I’m still Catholic.

— Pat McDonough, Manhasset

For the full essay, click here.

October 1969

When the Mets reached the World Series in October 1969, the girls and boys of Drake and Clarkson roads in Centereach staged our own neighborhood pep rally and parade. We made banners — as so many Mets fans did. Stevie O’Mahony played “The Star-Spangled Banner” on his trumpet, and for two hours we marched around our neighborhood chanting, “Let’s Go, Mets!,” and “With Seaver and Kooz, how can we lose!” to any neighbor or neighbor’s dog.

— Dan Martinsen, Westhampton Beach

For the full essay, click here.

A transformation

I was just 12 when I stayed up until midnight on Friday, July 31, 1981, to watch the very first video played on a new cable channel called MTV. My friends and I rode our bikes more than four miles to our favorite music store, the Record Stop on Portion Road in Ronkonkoma, when new albums came out. One was the Scorpions’ “Love at First Sting” in 1984. I went to house parties every weekend where my tapes were the requested entertainment.

Later, that high-volume music shook people’s windows as I cruised the neighborhood in my black 1987 Camaro. And I’ll never forget marveling at the transformation of my future wife, Cheryl Valentine. During the school week, she was a bookworm, but on Friday and Saturday nights, she used high heels, a leather outfit and an entire can of hairspray to turn herself into a metal goddess.

— Scott Thomson, Bohemia

For the full essay, click here.

Cruel irony

Now, measles is breaking out in the metropolitan area — 20 years after it was believed that this extremely contagious disease had been eradicated. More than 830 cases have been diagnosed nationally, more each day.

The outbreaks are largely a result of “anti-vaxxers,” some of whom, in an example of profound and ignorant irony, compare those advocating mandatory vaccinations to Nazis, and hold signs and wear shirts with yellow stars on them, the words “NO VAX” in faux Hebrew letters within the star.

It was a Nazi who “liquidated” my brother because of the measles, and if a single vaccination were then available and given, perhaps it would have saved his life.

Dr. Burton Rochelson, Port Washington

For the full essay, click here.


As Sandy’s floodwaters rushed into my basement around 8 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2012, the house shook and moaned. We lost power about 30 minutes later. Outside, transformers popped like Roman candles, and one ignited a house fire nearby. Winds up to 90 mph sent softball-sized embers cascading onto my roof. Luckily, my mother, with whom I share the house, was visiting relatives in Florida. I wondered whether I might survive the night, and I prayed myself to sleep.

— Kyle Colona, Island Park

For the full essay, click here.

A premonition

One time, Uncle Eddie came home on a surprise furlough during his military service. He hid when he heard my father’s key in the door of our apartment, and jumped out at him. I had never witnessed such an emotional scene. I watched from my bedroom as my father wrapped himself around his brother and laughed and cried. After that, my parents had a premonition that they would never see Eddie again, and they were right. My uncle, an Army bombardier, died at age 27 when his airplane was shot down over Germany near the end of the war.

— Sylvia Essman, Plainview

For the full essay, click here.


Our children have been raised not only to be good citizens, but also to respect their Italian heritage and its traditions. Some of us have visited our father’s birthplace in Parma. We are determined to preserve Joseph Ponzi’s legacy. It should not be tarnished because of the illegal and immoral actions committed 100 years ago by one man with the same surname.

I hope people who read this can resist the temptation of associating our family name with dishonesty or greed. We’re better than that. I know you are, too, so please do not ask whether I am related to the “Ponzi scheme.” I am not! However, my family and I are part of the “Ponzi American dream,” and we are all very proud of this.

— Robert K. Ponzi, East Patchogue

For the full essay, click here.


While I don’t miss 8 a.m. staff meetings on a Monday, I do still miss those “Eureka!” moments when a student smiles broadly with the satisfaction of having understood a new concept — perhaps that two-fourths and one-half are the same. “I get it!” they’d shout.

— Retired teacher Jim Lauter, Huntington

For the full essay, click here.


Mount Trashmore, a runt at 150 feet, is more uplifting to me because of its natural mojo. At a level stretch, my friend Herb surged right and I tottered left. He presses iron, I wield a cane, part stabilizer, part swagger stick. We’re an odd couple politically. Both of us read Newsday, but Herb clings to The Wall Street Journal, while I buff up with The New Yorker. The spell of this dump with a facelift makes us mind our P’s and Q’s. The center holds.

— Harold Pockriss, Freeport, about visiting Norman J. Levy Park & Preserve in Merrick

For the full essay, click here.


When I was growing up in Farmingdale in the 1950s, my friends and I would encounter local men at the hardware store, the gas station, the American Legion hall or at the VFW, where my dad was the post commander. The men were all veterans of World War II or Korea. Some had wartime injuries. Some were older. They talked softly and, it seemed, mostly of out the sides of their mouths. .  .  .

They wouldn’t have survived today’s politically correct times. They used slang from the military to describe their wartime enemies. If we pestered them, they’d talk about combat they’d seen. For some men, enduring contempt for America’s former enemies showed in their eyes. We understood: It’s different when people are trying to kill you. They truly were the greatest generation.

— Fred Marks, Wantagh

For the full essay, click here.

Open mic

I’ve done 236 open-microphone nights at 23 venues. At first, I was scared to death, but a friend, Dave Drew, who hosts open-mic nights at the Bartini Bar & Lounge in Babylon, assured me that I would do fine. So, one night in May 2013, I mustered my courage, took a deep breath, and like a skier attempting his first run on the expert slopes, leaned forward, strummed the first chords on my guitar and started to sing “Tangled Up in Blue,” by Bob Dylan. Gravity took over and off I went. No turning back! It took me three or four performances to develop what Dave calls “stage legs.” Although my day job is working as a school photographer with my wife, Kathy, my happy place is behind the microphone.

— Doug Otto, Massapequa

For the full essay, click here.


When Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 87 in 2017, he decided to forgo treatment. Mother took care of him at home and for a while he still pursued his passions: reading the news, digging in the garden and tinkering in his garage. He passed away gently in September in the Freeport home where he lived for 50 years, surrounded by his loved ones, which now included in-laws, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

A few months earlier, we had asked Dad whether he wanted to be buried in the cemetery on the family farm back in Turkey. No, he said. Although he was proud of his Turkish heritage, America was the adopted home that he loved. He wanted to be laid to rest right here. He is buried in the Muslim section of a cemetery in Mount Sinai, under an expansive Long Island sky.

— Filiz Turhan, East Northport

For the full essay, click here.