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 hadn’t seen in 50 years.

I arrived at MacArthur Airport early in the day. The fact that I could board a plane at O’Hare 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 family’s 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 wasn’t 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 Bernstein’s Department Store, I found a Laundromat. But I was comforted to see that another East Islip landmark, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, so very much a part of my childhood memories, was still there. After all, I had to pass St. Mary’s 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 Islip’s 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, wasn’t it?" And then she amazed me even further by adding, "… And didn’t 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 brother’s 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.

EI cheerleaders 1939.jpg (96940 bytes)

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 sister’s 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!)

Babe Ruth and William Moeller.jpg (44970 bytes) 

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.

Arlene Swartzberg-Weiss

October 10, 1999


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