I’m nine, ten, eleven, going on twelve years old, living in Commack, a small farming community on Long Island. I live in a house my dad built and one we’ll spend several years living in. It’s the early 1950s.
On Jericho Turnpike, just across from the entrance to my street, Old Commack Road, is a Carvel store, where the best soft-serve ice cream in the world is sold. My favorite flavor is pineapple-orange. Last week, I saw Wally Cox, in person, getting his own ice cream cone. He stars in the television show, Mr. Peepers, that I’m allowed to watch most of the time, unless I’ve done something to make my parents take away television privileges.
Next to and behind the Carvel is the drive-in movie. On sizzling summer nights, when all the windows in the house are wide open, as I fall asleep hearing the movie sound-track being shown. But I can’t see it because there are too many trees in the way. When mom and dad take us to see a movie, we’re in our pajamas tucked in the back seat with pillows and blankets. Usually my brothers fall asleep before the movie even starts. I loved the movie, Shane, starring Alan Ladd and cried all the way home at the end, when Shane rides off, Joey calling for him to come back.
There are woods all around my house, except for the quarter-acre that my parents have cleared out back, where they’ve planted a vegetable garden, fenced in to keep the critters out. When I walk down the old, overgrown woods road on the border of our property, through a thick stand of oaks and maples, I find myself on the edge of endless, rolling potato fields.
Sandra lives next door. She is my age and we spend lots of time together talking about boys and the physical changes we’re beginning to go through. My mom has already given me The Talk about the birds and the bees, but I can’t imagine anyone doing what she told me about. Ick!! I fall in love for the first time with a dark, curly-headed boy by the name of Danny, and later with a blond, blue-eyed guy, whose mother is a good friend of my mom’s. At a party my parents throw for me one Halloween, we play Spin the Bottle, bob for apples in a large washtub, and dance the hokey-pokey. I love to listen to the likes of Patty Page’s, How Much Is That Doggie In The Window and Rosemary Clooney’s, This Old House, on a portable, pink Victrola. But my favorite of all time is, Mr. Sandman, by the MacQuire Sisters.
Down the street, another friend, Susan, lives with her family. She is a little younger than I am. We spend hours down in the barn, where Red, her older brother’s horse is stabled. He’s a chestnut with a white blaze running down the middle of his face. He lazily swats flies with his tail, as I sit on his back in the paddock, dreaming that we’re galloping across a meadow filled with daisies and buttercups. I cling to his mane, his tail, outstretched, flowing behind us.
Also in the barn is the big, yellow school bus, that Susan’s dad drives when school is in session. Piled high in one corner are cases and cases of Coke, Pepsi and Nehi that he supplies to a variety of organizations for parties and get-togethers. Until we’re found out, Susan and I go through bottles of it, stuffing the empties behind bales of hay, stored in the dark recesses of the building.
Across from Susan’s house is Lorraine’s. Her grandmother lives with her. She and her family raise dairy goats and a few chickens out back. It’s kind of smelly back there. Lorraine is older than I am, and has beat me up a couple of times. I don’t know why. Maybe just because. She’s bigger than I am and has lived on the street longer than I have. My dad tells me he can’t stop Lorraine from hitting me, that I have to stand up for myself.