When children grow up, if they're lucky, they have memories of the most important man in their lives -- their fathers. Sam Davidson, my dad, was unique and considered a local character in Central Islip, where I grew up after the Depression.

He and my mother, Dora, were wed after he was discharged from the Army following World War I. They settled in Central Islip and opened a restaurant and general store called the Blue Bird. It was next to Central Islip State Hospital, which employed most of the village's residents.

Soon after opening, the store was visited by two thugs demanding protection money to assure the safety of the windows and candy cases. My father told them to return the following Tuesday. He was a fit 5 feet, 11 inches tall and 185 pounds, so when the two smaller men showed up prepared to do damage, he fought back with such intensity it became a police matter and all three were taken to jail. Dad said he got bailed out and was vindicated when the case went to court.

As an adult, I asked him what prompted him to take such drastic action.

"If I had not done that, no Jew or anyone else could have safely operated a business in the village," he said.

Central Islip was small enough to make us feel that friends and neighbors were extended family, even though we were Jewish living in a village of good Christians.

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Dad was a gifted pianist and always played in the Blue Bird and entertained at many Irish events at St. John of God Catholic Church.

He cared for people and helped them in many ways. He made sure customers and even strangers had food, even if they lacked money to pay the bill. As a member of both the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, he advocated for veterans and helped them with paperwork to obtain benefits, such as medical treatment.

He was concerned for the safety of employees and patients at the state hospital and led community efforts some four decades ago to get the Long Island Lighting Co. to install street lighting through the hospital grounds on Carleton Avenue, according to a neighbor who worked for the utility. As a real estate broker in the 1950s through to his retirement in 1970, he helped many people facing job losses or medical bills to sell their homes and avoid foreclosure.

He had a great sense of humor. Our house on Irving Street was at the bottom of a small hill. Water collected where cars parked in front of the house. He sent his tax bill back one year stating he was undertaxed because he had waterfront property. Once an inspection was made, a drain was put in.

A widowed neighbor on Irving Street was afraid a big tree in front of her property would fall into her home during a storm. Dad asked officials to remove the tree, which was on town property, but they refused, saying it would be too costly. He later went to a town meeting with a petition seeking a sidewalk on that side of the street. When the town fathers realized how much a sidewalk would cost, they worked out a compromise and removed the tree. No sidewalk was put in.

When dad retired, he often wrote letters to the editor of Newsday, but none were ever published. An old friend asked my sister, Arlene, what occupied him in retirement. She quickly relied, "He writes for Newsday."

Unfortunately, late in life dad suffered from dementia and became a patient at the state hospital in Central Islip. For five years the wonderful former customers, friends and neighbors whom he helped in so many ways gave him loving care. When he died in 1978, two beautiful nurse friends were with us by his bedside. We are forever grateful to all.

Reader Claire Siegel lives in Patchogue.