Arlene Swartzberg Weiss

Audio file of Arlene reading this story

   The small town where I grew up in the 1930s had no library. We had no newspaper.  And we had no supermarket. In order to get the mail, we had to walk to the post office -- as there was no mail delivery. We weren’t even granted a stop on the Long Island Railroad.

   But growing up in East Islip meant experiencing all kinds of wonderful things my childish mind could not begin value.

   My brother and sister and I enjoyed a back yard that stretched all the way to eternity.  We had an enormous barn, with a barnyard populated by chickens and homing pigeons and, even at one time, a Billy goat.

   My father, who must have been secretly longing for his childhood days in Russia, made wine from grapes and pickled green tomatoes in his own home-made brine.  His dahlias – big and glorious - were the talk of Suffolk County. On summer days we kids would hop on our bicycles and ride over to the grounds of the old Taylor and Plumb Estate's (now Heckscher State Park) to pick blueberries.  Stewed blueberries -- what a sweet, delicious dessert they would make for us at dinnertime.

     Along with the Taylor and Plumb Estate's, East Islip boasted many magnificent dwellings built by the rich and powerful.  Along with my friends, I would sneak into some of these homes abandoned by their millionaire owners.  I remember one day in particular.  In a burst of foolhardiness, I crept into one of these glorious old homes all alone.  The deserted floors were littered with yellowing newspapers, some dating way back in the late 1920s.  One huge headline stood out from all the rest.  In blazingly big letters it read, “Famous Movie Star Barbara La Marr Dead at the Age of 29.”  I spent a long time sitting on the floor that day reading all about the riotous life of this jazz-age actress “forced to grow up too fast”.  Then I walked out into the bright sunshine and hopped and skipped around the ancient and crumbling swimming pool, pretending to be a debutante from Manhattan visiting for a “fun-filled week-end on Long Island.”

Montauk Highway EI 1943.jpg (104465 bytes)

     And then every summer, Christmas in July!  Our family sold firecrackers – and what fun that was!  My father borrowed money from a distant relative in Huntington, went into New York and bought $100 worth of merchandise.  All day long vacationers would visit our “store” and buy cherry bombs, smoke bombs, sparklers, rockets and almost every other variety of firecracker known to man.  Living next door to the Woodland Rest on Montauk Highway and Carleton Avenue, we never lacked for customers.  When hungry motorists stopped by to treat the family to 25-cent hamburgers, 10-cent hot dogs, or 5-cent Dixie Cups, they picked up some fireworks also.

Firecracker stand EI 1939.jpg (139993 bytes)


 As we struggled through the long, hard days of the depression, our pleasures were simple indeed. 

 Never to be recaptured, they belonged solely to us.   


Arlene Swartzberg Weiss  can be contacted thru