Depression Era Rockaway

August 22nd, 2015 § 2 comments

For a few years now, Rockaway, the proletarian beach peninsula that stretches off Brooklyn and Queens, has become one of the coolest spots in New York City. Peter Hellman, HG’s pal (Hellman is a brilliant journalist, wine expert and author of many books), was a pioneer in discovering it as a great surf spot. Now Rockaway is filled with surfers and scores of boards rest on the the boardwalk newly restored after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Lots of restaurants lure hipsters (NY Times recently did a story on Tacoway, an innovative Mexican joint). Rundown houses (sold at steep prices) are being renovated as second home retreats. SJ, the Jamaican music retailer/archivist/impressario/deejay, does a few reggae shows at a beach venue every summer. And, that’s HG’s definition of super-cool. The new Rockaway bears little resemblance to Depression-era Rockaway where HG and family escaped from the steamy Bronx from July 1 to the end of the Labor Day weekend. HG has written many posts about the primitive, cramped but joyous boarding house lodgings occupied by the family (rent was $35 for the summer). The boarding house was on B. 114th Street, a very Irish Catholic neighborhood. Nine-year-old HG, the only Jewish kid on the block, had a rude welcome. A dozen fights. Then, a grudging acceptance. HG was the unquestioned star of the tough football games played on the beach. HG captained the team when the 114th Street kids challenged the hated guys from 113th Street. HG’s pal, Jimmy Rourke, insisted HG wear a Catholic Miraculous Medal. Didn’t want HG to be the target of dirty play if a Jewish identity was revealed. HG complied. The 114th Streeters won. Many happy memories, Fireworks every Wednesday night. Concert (every two weeks) by the boys from the nearby Catholic orphanage. The orphans were shepherded for their ocean swimming by stern nuns. Little HG was beguiled by the head to toe voluminous bathing costumes worn by the swimming nuns. Reidy’s Bar and Grill was on the corner (it was where HG would fetch a pail of cold beer for the family dinner). HG had his first romance with the proprietor’s daughter, Peggy. The cute freckle-faced miss gave HG a first kiss. Unforgettable. Gave HG a lifelong predilection for freckles (witness BSK). During those Depression years folks managed to live without television and other electronic miracles. They made their own entertainment. A few times every summer boarding house tenants put on an amateur musical entertainment–a house party. HG recalls Gaelic step dancing, tap dancing, banjo and ukulele strumming. Lots of song. HG’s Mom got applause for a romantic song about the Isle of Capri. But, the big hit was older sister Beulah’s rendition of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Little HG provided a moment of unconscious comedy (long a part of family legend). For some obscure reason, HG fancied himself a singer. HG entertained the crowd with an a Cappella version of “Paper Doll.” The totally off key version produced roars of laughter. HG was puzzled but accepting. End of musical career. Of course, the best thing about Rockaway was the sea. Little HG was in and out all day. Swimming. Body surfing. Splashing. The beach was crowded. Wall to wall people. Little HG found it festive. Fun by the sea has always been part of HG’s life. Fire Island, Nantucket. Vancouver. And, now, Prince Edward Island. As HG writes about these memories, HG looks out at sun shining on a serene, warm sea. Beautiful, empty beach dotted with the radiant bodies of HG’s grandchildren frolicking, BSK taking in the sun, EM paddling a kayak. Farewell memories. Time for a swim.

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§ 2 Responses to Depression Era Rockaway"

  • Charles Curran says:

    Only time I was near Rockaway was 1963 when I spent a year at St. Albans Naval Hospital in Jamaica-Queens with a busted up knee. I seem to remember being at Rockaway with a nurse watching submarine races. What was that DJ’S name that used that line? Murray the K maybe?

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