TODAY'S PAPER
Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon
OpinionEssays

You can't water down these memories

Gerard Porcelli, 10, with sister Kathy, 7, on

Gerard Porcelli, 10, with sister Kathy, 7, on their family's Syosset property bordering Jericho Turnpike in 1962. Behind them are baskets of horse manure sold for $1 each for garden compost. Credit: Porcelli Family Photo

"Do you have your water bottle?" asks my beautiful, loving wife of 44 years. "Don’t forget your water!" This is a familiar request and demand whenever I leave the house. Water indeed is important — especially when one is 69 years old and might forget the bottle and get stranded on Long Island without a 7-Eleven or deli to help properly hydrate. I doubt that would happen, but I do tend to not drink enough. This makes me think back to my youth.

My mother was wonderful and caring, but in the early ’60s, when I left to play outside and be gone all day, she never said, "Don’t forget your water." Come to think of it, there was almost no way to bring water or buy a water bottle back then. How did I survive?

I was lucky to live on Long Island my entire life — Bellerose, Syosset, Freeport, Syosset again, Brookville and Sea Cliff, all before the age of 19 (don’t ask). But ages 5 to 13 were the best, living 30 feet from Jericho Turnpike — it’s true — in Syosset-Muttontown Rural Farm District #1. We lived on nine acres, raising horses, sheep, ducks, chickens, and having a dairy farm of more than 50 acres next door was heaven. Some 60 acres of woods flanked us on the east side of our little farm. That’s where I tagged along with my dad, uncle and grandpa as they hunted rabbits, squirrels and pheasants.

We lived in a small farmhouse in the front of the property, and my grandparents and aunt lived in a ranch house in the back. Life was simpler and good. The Long Island Expressway was still being built. Underhill Boulevard had just opened, and we had only seven TV channels. I served as the remote control, changing stations at my dad’s request.

My third-grade class at Berry Hill Elementary School didn’t go to Lollipop Farm in Syosset for a class trip, like the other classes did, but instead came to little "Tanmor Farm," owned by my grandparents. The same place where I played imaginary baseball games by myself, throwing a ball against a barn and hitting stones with a stick into a neighboring sump.

Soon, I was begging Mom to let me ride my bike up Jericho Turnpike to Underhill Boulevard into north Syosset. Can you imagine a mother letting a 10-year-old bike every day three miles into town to play? She gave in, and I met about 10 to 12 other guys for baseball, basketball, football or whatever the season was — and all without water!

We played at the playground on Cold Spring Road and at Berry Hill and Calvert baseball fields, also without water. Not to say we didn’t get thirsty. When we did, we went to Bohack supermarket across from the firehouse and drank from the electric cooler. An oasis indeed — cold, free and satisfying. I never saw a water bottle or other way of getting water to the field until high school, where we had pump water tanks. I survived and even grew up, all without one water bottle.

Occasionally, we had money in our pockets and treated ourselves to a Coke or Pepsi (16 ounces!) for 25 cents at Bahnhof Deli on Jackson Avenue. If you only had a dime, you could get a 7.5-ounce bottle of Coke or 7-up at the vending machine at the gas station across from Bohack.

What a fun, stress-free and safe place to grow up in: Syosset. Even without water bottles.

Reader Gerard Porcelli lives in Farmingdale.

Columns