I was 18, he was 20. It was Thanksgiving 1949, and my aunt and uncle from Hauppauge were guests at my parents’ house in Bayside, Queens.
Harry and I were planning to get married on Dec. 4, but had no idea where we would live. I had worked as a typist in Manhattan since graduation from high school at 17. He worked at the railroad yards in Sunnyside. He had an old two-door Chevy coupe, but as a city girl, I had never learned to drive.
My aunt told us about the house they had purchased on a half-acre, treed property in Dawn Estates in Hauppauge. It was a two-bedroom, one-bath shell with no appliances, just a central heating system that burned coal, a hot water tank fueled by propane and nothing but subflooring. My uncle was handy, though, and they began to finish the house with used appliances and simple dreams.
Then an idea popped into their heads! The people next door to them were not happy. Being from the city, they couldn’t adjust to the simple country life. There was no Long Island Expressway and the closest supermarket was in Smithtown.
The homeowners said we could take over the $4,000 mortgage and assume a $200 home-improvement loan, no bank approval necessary. We went to a lawyer and did just that within a week.
On Dec. 4, we were married at a church in Glendale and had the reception at my parents’ house. That evening we drove to our own home in Hauppauge. My uncle bought us a 50-pound bag of coal and started the furnace. The next day, I purchased a sack of Long Island potatoes, and we had food. It was the first time I had ever cooked.
We didn’t have a refrigerator, so my father mounted a galvanized box outside. I could reach it through a kitchen window. Dad made us a steel countertop in the corner, and I made a green plastic skirt to hide storage underneath. I also put up green and white ivy wallpaper. With half of the $200 we got for the wedding, we bought a refrigerator from the Sears catalog that spring.
Years went by, and with every other one came a new baby. When our well ran dry, we ran a hose to a neighbor until the men in the neighborhood got together and drove a deeper well. When cesspools filled — or collapsed during cleaning — digging a new one became the next neighborhood project. Homes were expanded to accommodate growing families. We had six children. Our neighbors had 10.
We contracted with the PTA president’s husband to build a second story to add four bedrooms and a bath. We applied for a loan, and the entire board of directors from Union Savings in Patchogue visited in business suits to assess the risk. I had cinnamon bread baking in the oven, and the house smelled good. We were approved!
In 1970, our oldest daughter got married, and we had a garden reception in our backyard. Two years later, Harry and I became the first couple in the neighborhood to divorce, and after our 22 years there, I sold the house.
Today’s anniversary of my wedding makes me think about how naive I was at 18, and about how far women have come since my housewife days in the 1950s and ’60s.
I looked online the other day and discovered that our house had been leveled and replaced with a much larger one now worth $703,000. But somewhere buried in that property lies the past life of my family. It is where I moved as a bride to prepare our home, where neighbors all helped each other, where we all had many parties to celebrate our successes and mourn our tragedies, and where our children flourished. It was a great life, and it was worth a whole lot more to us than $703,000.
Reader Leona Kobis, formerly Leona Zimmermann, lives in Coram.