It took a while to get to know our neighbors. Our next door neighbor was Miss. Lindsay. She lived in the old house just alongside of our house. Her home had once been an old tavern. It had ceased to be a tavern many years before I was born but the posts on its front porch were still painted with beer logos and other advertising.
The house was in terrible disrepair. I was told that Miss. Lindsay had been an Army nurse during WWI and operated the tavern after the war but eventually closed the business. She dressed in tattered cloths and often sewed pieces of wool together to make a warm coat. She often could be seen walking around Tottenville checking out trash cans for “treasures”. In the fall she would collect the mulberries from the big tree in our yard and make jam and wine from the berries. I would always greet her with a smile and a warm “hello”. We became good friends. I would often ask permission to visit Miss. Lindsay and, when permission was granted, I would knock on her back door and await her greeting. She would ask me in and give me a seat at a small, rickety card table in the kitchen. She sat across from me in what seemed to be an old barber’s chair because it had metal sides and levers for raising and lowering it. Alongside of her chair on the floor was a metal can which she used as her spittoon. I never stared at, or looked into, the can but was often tempted to. We would always play “Go Fish” and always with the same tattered deck of cards. Some had a corner missing. Others had folds here and there. Some were stained. After a while I could recognize each card by its back as well as I could its front. It didn’t seem to matter to us. The game was still fun. I don’t remember what we talked about but the conversation was always interesting. I wish I had asked more questions and listened up more. She once told me that her only relative was a niece in Brooklyn but that they never communicated much. One time she escorted me out of her kitchen and into the long room that had been her tavern. I remember seeing the marble bar and beautiful wood trimming around the edges. There was a big mirror in back of the bar and lots of signs, stained glass and posters. The ceilings were pressed metal with fancy designs. What a pickers paradise that would have been. Everything was covered with dust, old newspapers and spider webs.
My parents were concerned about Miss. Lindsay’s welfare. She seemed to have no income and was dependent upon what she could rummage from discarded trash. She had a small garage along-side of her house. My dad told her that he had an old car that he needed to store and would like to rent her garage. I don’t remember what he offered and paid her but it was very high for the time. After she accepted his offer he went out and bought an old junk car to store there.
At Christmas, she would knock on our door with presents for my parents and me. My parents would get wine made from the mulberries off our tree and I would get a fruit cake which included the berries from our tree along with other fruits and berries she had collected from unknown sources. One year she gave me a hand warmer which she made for me out of a few remnants from a coat she had found. The thought of her gifts still warms my spirits each Christmas. My parents would give her a gift box of assorted food stuffs and some cash. Each year the wine would be placed in a closet in our basement along with the bottles from prior years. There was a concern about the quality of the fruit cake so each year it was discarded. I remember one year after Christmas my father drove to Pleasant Plains to discard the fruit cake in a garbage can far enough from home that Miss. Lindsay would not find it.
Eventually Miss. Lindsay went to live with her niece and passed away shortly thereafter. I am told she left a fortune to her niece. What a shame she didn’t spend it on herself.
My mother’s younger sister, Aunt Evelyn, and her husband Van, along with their infant son Robin, were between houses for a period of time so my parents offered them our basement as a temporary dwelling. The basement was rather extensive and was converted into a small apartment with kitchen appliances, a bathroom, and shower and even had two fireplaces. I can’t recall how long they lived there but I remember many times visiting with them when Uncle Van played the guitar and sang. Eventually they moved in to a home that they rented and later relocated to Florida. After they moved out Uncle Van thanked my parents for the great wine they left for him in the basement closet. Miss. Lindsay would have been glad to know that her wine was enjoyed. I wonder if Uncle Van would have eaten the fruitcakes as well.
The other house near us was just below Miss. Lindsay’s house and at the end of Shore Road. The Ferry family lived there. I don’t know much about them. Their house was also an older one and had once been owned by a sea faring family. On the beach below the Ferry house was the keel and ribs of a large sailing vessel that seemed to be in the process of being constructed. It laid there unimproved for many years until one of the large storms dismantled it and moved it away. After the Ferry family moved out, the house was eventually purchased by a New York City designer named Mr. Offerguild. (not sure of the spelling) He had great ideas on how he would restore the house and make it into a combination of modern and historic home. He continued his endeavor there for a few years before running out of funds and ambition. He never did complete his renovations or reside in the house. The home remained idle for several more years until it was purchased by Mr. & Mrs. Walter Becket. She was the principle of PS 8, a school in Eltingville and he was retired. They and my parents were good friends for many years thereafter.
Playing in the Yard and in the Neighborhood
Most of the children my age on the street were girls. The only girl I played with was Linda Hamilton. She had much of the same interests as I and was not afraid to pick up a turtle or go exploring the woods with me. There were several boys my age living on Hopping Avenue. There was Jack McAvoy (whose father was a lawyer in Tottenville), Joe Fisler (whose father was an assistant principle at Tottenville High) and the four Wetherill boys, Bill, Bobby, Charlie and Johnny. Many of them continued to be among my playmates on through high school. My yard was a great place for my buddies and me to play. We had a basketball court at the garage with flood lamps for evening play. We often played golf and football in the yard and the chicken coop served as a great club house. Then we were off to the beach to swim or fish. I spent many hours patiently tending my fishing lines on the beach. Most of the fish I caught were eels which were slimy and often swallowed the hook. My mother insisted that anything I caught and kept must be cleaned and eaten. I dreaded catching those eels.
Swimming at the beach was a real treat. The water was clean and clear and the beach was soft white sand, especially back up the beach from the water. There were two times in the year that were unpleasant for swimming. That was when the moss bunkers would come in to spawn and die. Their decaying bodies would line the beach giving off a foul odor drawing flies and maggots. My dog, Buddy would like to go down to the beach and roll in the moss bunkers and then appear at our door expecting that we would like his new smell. He seemed so proud of his accomplishment. It was always my job to hose him off and wash away all evidence. Another unwelcome event was when the horseshoe crabs came in to lay their eggs in the sand at the water’s edge. Other than those two annual occasions, the beach was a great place to swim and became almost a daily occurrence each summer. Later in my life, while in my late teens I owned scuba equipment which I bought for use in fresh water lakes. One day I thought about our own beach and the hulls of old boats that were once visible at low tide. I ventured to the beach and strapped on my equipment only to find the once clean and clear water had become cloudy and allowed visibility of less than two feet. Thus ended my swimming on our beach.
The neighborhood kids often played baseball in a “big field” that was located in the woods behind some of the houses on Satterlee St. I just had to go through the gate alongside the garage and follow the well-worn path about 100 yards to the field. Most of my friends from Hopping Avenue played in the game. In the summer we played all day, when we were not swimming. The field was rectangular in shape. Home plate was located such that right handed hitters had to hit a long ball to get it out of the field while lefties had only to hit it past first base. Jack Mac Evoy was the only left hander and we all envied him. The field seemed so big in those days. Eventually we took our game to one of the town’s fields. Later we learned that our “big field” was once a tennis court. So it wasn’t so big after all, then again, neither were we.
When it snowed there was no better place to sleigh ride than down “Big Hill” which was located just beyond the “big field”. This was a rather steep hill that started near the field and ran almost all the way down to Amboy Road just as it intersects Hopping Avenue. It was a very popular place during every snow storm and known by all kids in the area. At times there were at least 30 of us using the hill at one time and going on until it was just too dark to see. Both the “big field” and “Big Hill” have since been lost to the housing development that has taken over those great woods and all its wonderful places to play.