The past is a vague and distant place.
One can never be sure what’s waiting there. Some memories may be upsetting and some beautiful. Marcel Proust managed to write 70 pages of sheer beauty after he conjured up a memory of eating a petite madeleine cookie soaked in tea when he was a child of 9.
In the case of Proust’s childhood, his uncovered memories revealed the sublime in nature.
A few weeks ago I reviewed the screenplay “Penny Candy” by George Raho set in Brooklyn 1955. It was about a man recalling his childhood in Brooklyn and reminded me of the Italian masterpiece Cinema Paradiso.
After reading this story I was inspired to visit my childhood neighborhood in Bayside, Queens, the place I spent my first nine years and then to visit Massapequa Park where I spent my teen years.
I told you about Bayside last week but now it’s time to travel back to Massapequa Park where we moved in 1955.
When I visited Massapequa Park last week I drove my car along Lake Shore Drive, to the park where we would play baseball.
I noticed the water fountain which was where an angry neighbor smacked me in the face because he thought we were making too much noise.
Those were the days when lawyers and lawsuits were not first and foremost on the adult mind. Then I remembered the day the dog jumped over the fence and bit me in the rear. The dog was a boxer and it always seemed somewhat rabid to me but I was always reassured that ‘boxers are the friendliest dogs there are.”
We lived on Jefferson Avenue and as I drove down the street I noticed that the telephone pole with the carved out heart with my initials along with Susan Holub’s was still there.
She was my first girlfriend. I was deeply in love with that girl but apparently the feelings were not equally shared.
My family would always take us to Maine for the summer and alas when I returned home Susan had fallen in love with Jimmy Dunfee and wanted nothing to do with me any longer.
I high tailed it out of Jefferson Avenue and made my way to the lake.
Surely that would provide me some fond memories. As I drove down Palisades Blvd. I recalled the home of Christine Jorgensen who was America’s first transgender celebrity. She lived in a big house with a white picket fence.
What I recall most about that street was a vicious dog which would always chase us as we rode our bikes past. It took real talent to ride a bike as fast as you can with a hungry dog trying to bite your ankle.
I finally got to the lake which is a place we spent endless hours. Winters seemed colder then. I remember one winter where my older brother thought it was a good idea to test the strength of the ice. He walks out to the middle of the lake, I began to hear the scary sound of ice cracking and next thing I know he has fallen in.
I still have dreams of that moment. Somehow he managed to scramble to land.
Now the memories were coming fast and furious.
Like the time we threw snow balls at the trucks driving down Sunrise Highway. I had a good arm and I hit the windshield of the truck.
This angered the truck driver a great deal. He pulls over to the side of the highway, gets out and starts chasing us. We all scramble down Massapequa Creek and hide on very thin ice under the train trestle. He never found us.
Or then there was the time, in the summer when my best friend threw a rock at the white swan swimming in the lake, hit the swan in the head and kills it. This was a nasty scene but far worse was when this same kid was run over by a train three weeks later.
I heard about that over the public address system in school.
So as you see my memories seemed to differ from Proust’s in that his were mostly good ones whereas mine were mostly bad ones.
At this point I leave the lake and head to Krisch’s Luncheonette, the most wonderful place in Massapequa. This place, much like Hildebrandt’s in Williston Park, has been used in many films most notably “Born on the Fourth of July” starring Tom Cruise.
When I walk in I sit at the counter and ordered a hot chocolate noticing all the signed photos of famous residents of Massapequa including Jerry Seinfeld, Alec Baldwin and Steve Guttenberg.
I sip my hot chocolate and muse about my little excursion into the past. What did I learn? How haphazard and unpredictable a childhood can be. I could see why parents are endlessly looking for ways to raise kids safely and keep them out of harm’s way and why they come to the suburbs.
But despite the best laid plans of mice and men and parents, kids will find trouble. They will be chased by angry dogs, they will throw snow balls at trucks and fall into frozen lakes. They will witness death and experience losses. Now I understand the reason for supervised ‘play dates’ and why helicopter parents exist.
Life is often a dangerous game.
It’s a small miracle that we survive our childhoods. Levittown or Williston Park or Massapequa Park are all examples of suburbia, places where parents want to bring up their kids, keep them safe and sleep at night without fear.
And with a little luck and with the lord looking down from above, it all turns out pretty well in the end. By the way, that Krisch’s hot chocolate was delicious.