Friday, 25 March 2011 00:00
The 1960s were now upon us. At the end of our block there was a huge sump. It was three whole blocks square. For people not familiar with sumps, they were used primarily for sewer water to run off in. The one at the end of our block was and still is one of the biggest sumps around. It was a big 25-foot deep hole filled with rocks and sand. Absolutely no shrubs or grass inside it. It had millions of rocks. Half was for the sewer water and the other half was empty. A six-foot high barb wired fence surrounded the whole sump. There was a locked gate at the corner of Miller Road and Ronald Avenue.
In the early years we never paid much attention to it. All of the families walked their dogs by the sump. In the summer you could smell the dog poop for blocks. Opposite the entrance by the sump was a vacant lot with two big trees. We did what every kid would’ve done: build tree forts in them. Both forts had lookout towers, which made us climb to the top. We were fearless. I can only remember two of us getting hurt. One was me when I leaped from the lower branches and landed on a piece of wood with a big nail protruding from it. I landed and the nail went right through my sneaker and out of the top of my foot. The other problem was much greater. One of the older kids (13 years old) fell asleep in the tree fort and fell out, breaking his leg. The fireman came with the ambulance and our tree forts were history.
Not soon after that incident the sump was being changed. The Town of Oyster Bay sectioned off the sump with a six-foot barbed wire fence. It split the sump in two. One side was still drainage, but on the other side, which was higher, the town installed a baseball field (with backstop), swing sets and a basketball court. The infield was clay and the outfield was all rocks. They even installed a bike rack by the entrance. The gates were now opened. To us this was heaven. We were now claiming our turf. Baseball games every day. During football season the baseball field was a football field. We would bring rakes and shovels to clear the field. It was impossible to get all the rocks off the field, but we tried. The Long Island Press newspaper did an article on us, pictures and all.
Suddenly we had a centralized meeting place, bike rack and all. If we wanted to play basketball, football or baseball everything was right there. It wasn’t soon till we started to venture to the other side (drainage side). There were two big drainpipes on either side. We were very curious about the bigger drainpipe. We brought flashlights and lanterns and away we went into the pipes. Like I stated, we were fearless. One pipe led to another pipe, and we kept going. The pipes started to get smaller, but we kept going. It got so small that we had to duckwalk through them. We kept going. We came upon a big opening. Remember we were still underground traveling though this maze of pipes. It was an oval shaped prefab sewer connection. We could hear the cars passing overhead, hitting the sewer cover that was at street level. We had traveled from the sump on Ronald Avenue down to Woodbury Road, made a left and now we were at the intersection of Woodbury Road and South Oyster Bay Road. Yes, that’s right by Plainview Shopping Center. Almost one-mile underground. Like I said, we were fearless. We made this trip countless times. When new kids moved in it was their initiation.
The opening of the sump was like a magnet. Kids from all over came. Our group of friends all went to Woodland Avenue Elementary School. The actual cut-off was the corner of Ronald Avenue and Miller Road (the sump). Kids on the other side of the sump went to East Street Elementary School. We were all going to meet anyway when we went to junior high. The majority of us started junior high in 1962.
The sump was first opened in the summer. The first big snowstorm attracted thousands of people for sleigh riding. Every snowstorm after that the sump was packed with kids sleigh riding. A lot of parents also would bring their small children there.
With most of us now attending junior high, our circle of friends doubled. We now had girls hanging out with us. We were growing up. We all ventured through the Cuban Missile Crisis. We would meet at the sump. I remember all of us discussing the drills the teachers made us do. We had to hide under our desks, sit in the hallway facing our lockers. The scary part was we all could see the concern on our teachers’ faces. Everyone was scared.
The 1960s were gathering momentum. Soon after the Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In school we were told to immediately proceed to our homerooms. When we got there, the principal, Mr. Braun, told everyone what had happened. There was no bus service home. We walked home. It was really quiet!
The sump was now our central meeting place. We were playing football when my friend’s sister came down and told us that Lee Harvey Oswald was shot. Hard to believe that was almost 50 years ago!
It was now 1964 and the Beatles hit the scene. We were still meeting at the sump. What was different we had transistor radios. During this year was the New York’s World Fair. A bus would run from Mid-Island Plaza to Flushing. We took the bus and spent the day there. We missed the last bus going to Mid-Island Plaza which forced us to take a succession of different buses. The closest we could get was Glen Cove Road and the Long Island Expressway. We walked from there all the way to Hicksville. It was early morning when we got home.
We were getting older and we now had the need for having money in our pockets. Our first job was to caddy at all of the golf courses in the Brookville/Old Westbury Area. Our golf course was Old Westbury. Saturday was our caddy day. If we were lucky one of our parents would drive us there. On one memorable trip my father took five of us. We were going up Route 107 through Jericho and Brookville; at the first traffic light after Tam O’Shanter Golf Course we would make a left heading for Westbury Country Club.
It was a hilly road and there were many bicycle riders doing their morning workouts. We were in a 1957 Chrysler with big tail fins. My father came upon a struggling cyclist and told him to grab the back fin and hold on. He stepped on it and climbed that hill picking up speed. You can see that the cyclist was holding on for dear life. We went over the top with my father going to the right. The cyclist went left stating a big “thank you” and his hands were glued to those handlebars. We were all howling! Hitchhiking usually was the way home. Luckily we never had any problems hitching. We would always pair off. If there were six of us then we’d go three each. We also caddied a lot during that summer. Some days our hitched rides would drop us off at Route 107 and the Expressway. Many a day we would then walk to the Northern State Parkway to my Aunt Carmela’s house where we would hop the fence. My Aunt Carmela was a sweetheart. No matter how many of us dropped by she would always make us lunch without any hesitation. She had five children of her own. After lunch we would go into her backyard swimming pool. Then we all walk home to Hicksville.
In 1965 most of us now were in high school. One night as a bunch of us were hanging out by the bike rack, one of us noticed that all the streetlights down Miller Road just went out. It was Nov. 9, and the Great Northeast Power Blackout was happening. We all went home and no one had power. My father, who worked in the Garment District, didn’t make it home until the next morning. He was trapped between floors alone in an elevator. He knocked out the top hatch and spent the night there. There were no cell phones. Text messaging wasn’t even thought of.
Baseball was our game. Most of us went on to play for Hicksville High School. I guess all those years playing in the street and the sump came to fruition. In 1966 the older ones started graduating high school. We now had cars to move around in. Does anyone remember “Chinese Air Raids?” Girls became a major part, not only in our group of friends, but also in our lifestyles.
By 1968 all of us had graduated high school. Most of us served in the military. The majority went into the Navy. We were a group of good kids. We were the Baby Boomers. Sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation.
The sump has long been locked. The baseball field, basketball court and the swingset are long gone. Even the bike rack is gone. Everything is overgrown. What will never be gone is our time growing up in an era that was much more innocent. We are now in our 60s and starting to become grandparents. We keep in touch here and there, but not as much as everyone would like. I hope many of them read this story. It is meant to bring back special memories.
One last thing I’d like to add. Part I and II of this story is true. One item left out is that some of us swear that Billy Joel used to come down Miller Road riding his bike with his portable organ on his handlebars. After all Billy’s Band “The Lost Souls” had two neighborhood kids in it – Kenny Reicher and Jimmy Bosse , who grew up with us. Maybe we could contact Billy to verify it. No matter what, either way it still makes the story special!
Pete “Fud” Furgiuele