RETURN TO EAST ISLIP
by Arlene Swartzberg Weiss
Audio File of Arlene reading this story
In August 1999 I traveled back to Long Island to attend a family get-together. Not only did I become reacquainted with long-lost relatives, but also with friends from East Islip I hadnt seen in 50 years.
I arrived at MacArthur Airport early in the day. The fact that I could board a plane at OHare Airport in Chicago and land in Lake Ronkonkoma just a few miles from my former home -- never ceased to amaze me. After taking a cab to my motel in Bay Shore, and shortly after settling in, I asked about getting a bus to East Islip. I wondered if I would even be able to recognize the place at all.
My family arrived in East Islip in 1931 the height of the depression. We lived in a rickety house on Main Street and Carlton Avenue. Then in 1943, due to a sudden improvement in my familys fortunes thanks primarily to Republic Aircraft in Farmingdale we moved "up" to Bay Shore. This occurrence was a momentous event in my young life. I was thrilled to be going to a large, famous high school the high school that had cost so much to build that it was known far and wide as the "million dollar mistake."
I figured that there would still be buses running along Montauk Highway, and of course, I was right. The bus came exactly on time and in minutes I had gone back fifty years. I asked the bus driver to let me off at Carleton Avenue, as I wasnt even sure that I would recognize the spot. Recognize it! I was shocked -- it had hardly changed! Of course the Woodland Rest was no longer there the famous stopping-off place for sightseers to Heckscher State Park. But there was another restaurant in exactly the same place. And instead of Bernsteins Department Store, I found a Laundromat. But I was comforted to see that another East Islip landmark, St. Marys Catholic Church, so very much a part of my childhood memories, was still there. After all, I had to pass St. Marys in order to go to the movies which I did almost every Sunday.
After taking a brief walk down Main Street, and before going back to my motel, I decided to take a short detour down one of the side streets. As I strolled down one of East Islips country lanes, I saw a lady coming toward me who was walking her dog. It was obvious to me that upon seeing me she must have thought to herself, "Now who is that -- never saw her around here before", so I took the initiative and greeted her. "Hi", I said " I just flew in from Chicago I used to live right around the corner." Surprised of course the lady stopped and we started chatting. We exchanged a few words, and the to my utmost amazement she said, "Why I know you your father used to sell shoes your name was Swartzberg, wasnt it?" And then she amazed me even further by adding, " And didnt your folks have a fire cracker stand." I was speechless. She told me that her name was Wilma Skidmore. Then I said, "Why I think we have a photo of your brother in our family album do you have a brother named Neil?" Explaining that I have a family photo album going back to the turn of the century, I rattled off the names of my brothers high school pals East Islip class of 39 Leo Weber, "Ozzie" Carpenter, and of course, Neil Skidmore. I had all their pictures at home in my album.
The photo of the cheerleaders includes Coach Rogers, a very popular teacher. It also includes my brother, Herbert.
(Can anyone name the others? Ed.)
We've gotten more names thanks to Robert Rumplik via email:
Top Row: Gaudsmith Brothers on each end flanking Coach Rogers and Miss Keller.
2nd Row: Lillian Milanof, ? ? ?
Front Row: Nettie Vojik - Mildred Clareen - Phyliss Despagni
Then I mentioned my sisters two close friends class of 41 Wilma Otting, whose father owned the above-mentioned Woodland Rest, and Mildred Balik.
We also had a picture in our album of another East Islip pal William Moeller (wearing his East Islip baseball uniform) with his arm around the shoulder of none other that Babe Ruth! (The story behind that photo I have never discovered!)
After returning home to Chicago, I sent Wilma a letter telling her how much I enjoyed meeting her. A couple of weeks later I received an email from a Nancy Griffiths. The message explained that this was the same Nancy Griffiths who was in my 7th grade class, the class I had left so many years before. Her message was very friendly, and newsy, too. Nancy said that she remembered me (something I surely had not expected) and that she was in contact through email with three other classmates Marianne ("Mac") Ball, Viola ("VI") Baer and Betty Dow. Betty Dow my very best friend, whose lovely Scottish family I used to visit regularly in Islip Terrace, and with whom I shared many happy hours. All through the years, the sight of Scottish scones always reminded me of Betty, her sister Pat and her gracious mother and father.
Nancy, who now lives in Holbrook, forwarded my email to the others, and so for the past couple of months all four of us have been emailing each other. "Mac" has settled in Florida with her husband, "Vi" retired to Tennessee, and Betty is in New Jersey.
Through to a chance encounter, I have been reunited with four childhood friends. Life is full of surprises.
October 10, 1999
You can correspond with Arlene at email@example.com