January 2, 2011
Perry Bernstein's younger sister Jackie on growing up in Levittown; memories of a magical time and place
Jackie and Perry in 1949, and their home on Ridge Lane in around 1956
Click on photos to enlarge
By Jackie Bernstein Karp
After reading a lot of different stories from people who grew up in Levittown I realized that a lot of our backgrounds and experiences were very similar. Like Frank Barning, some of us moved from the City, (Brooklyn, Queens, etc.) where we lived in apartments and crowded neighborhoods.
My brother, Perry, and I lived in an apartment in Brooklyn that was down the block from the elevator trains before we moved to Levittown. I remember the day we moved into our house on Ridge Lane. The house seemed so big. It had two bedrooms. Our apartment only had one bedroom. We had a corner lot so it felt like our house was on an acre of endless land. The street seemed so wide because there weren’t many cars driving back and forth and all the houses looked so big. It was pretty quiet and not a lot of people walking around.
Eventually, my father expanded the upstairs and had a bedroom, bathroom and den built. The best room in the house was the den because that is where our family always spent time together. When our friends came over that was the room where we would hang out. We had our hi fi, pool table and TV in that room.
We also had this beautiful apple tree in the front yard. It was right in front of our picture window in the living room. I always knew when it was spring because the white blossoms would start to bloom and I would have difficulty seeing Lillian Smith’s house which was across the street. Next door to them lived Danny Tobin. Jimmy and Jeannie McBride lived a few houses down from us and so did Kathy Giovi and Barbara Helfert.
It was a “Happy Days” neighborhood. Everyone played outside all day long. After playing outside and riding my bike for hours up and down the streets and along Loring Road, I would come home to an unlocked door and open the fridge and drink some milk from the glass bottle. Then I would go upstairs to the den, put on my hi fi and look outside the window and watch some of the kids who were playing not far from my house.
Being Perry ’s younger sister was great. I always got to hang out with him and his friends whether they wanted me to or not. I would sit on the stairs while Toby Rutner, Warren Zaretsky, Richie Bernhardt and so many others at different times would sit in the kitchen and talk. Sometimes, when he had to babysit me, I would go to the movies with him and his friends. We would run across Wantagh State Parkway and cross over Hempstead Turnpike to get there. Or, we would walk past Caruso’s and Howard Johnson and cross the street there.
I was Perry’s kid sister and no one ever started up with me. One morning while walking to school some boy standing outside of Whalen’s drug store said something to me that wasn’t to Perry’s liking. The next thing I knew, Perry went up to him and said something … all of a sudden this boy , who didn’t look too happy, came up to me and apologized.
When Perry was on the football team or the wrestling team, my mother and I would always go to watch him. She wasn’t too happy to see her son get a bloody nose or a twisted arm. Then there were the proms. I always loved seeing Perry and his dates all dressed up. There was always something going on around the house, but when Perry went away to college it got so quiet. Too quiet.
I was 12 when he left for college. I started making a lot of friends and having my own fun. I remember how my friends and I would take the bus and go to Jones Beach and spend the whole day there. I also remember going to a slumber party at Susan Monsrud’s house. It was great! Then there were the Friday night dances at Division that I loved to go to. There was usually a Rock and Roll band performing there. The Sadie Hawkins dances were fun. It was the only time that I got to ask a boy to go out with me.
I loved to go square dancing in the parking lot outside of Mays in the summer, roller skating at the rink and staying after the session was over and listening to the band was always fun. Double feature movies, brown bonnet ice cream cones at Carvel or was it Dairy Queen? Catching little baby frogs. Catching fireflies. My dog, Rex, chasing the truck that picked up the Waldbaum’s shopping carts. It is just endless.
These memories - I don’t think that I would have had such wonderful memories if I lived someplace else. It was a truly magical time and place.