January 31, 2011

The trials and tribulations of moving from Levittown during high school; Plainedge did not measure up and in fact there is no such place as Plainedge

By Kathy Stahlman Zinn '63

I moved to Levittown in 1952, a few months before my seventh birthday, from a third story walk-up apartment in Queens. At that point, my good Catholic family already had four children, of which I was the eldest. My father was a WW II vet, a B-17 bomber - turned airline pilot for Eastern Airlines. My mother had lived all her life in apartments, and she was thrilled with her Levitt house at 99 Butternut Lane.

I started second grade at Summit Lane school, had the same wonderful teacher, Ben Murphy, for fifth and sixth grades, (along with Marilyn Monsrud Jo Ann Leib, Noreen Donlin, Bobby Leporati, and lots of other kids). In seventh grade I walked across the playing field to start Junior/Senior High at Division Avenue. We knew the 10th graders would become the first graduating class of the school, the Class of 1960, and we all looked up to them.

I had a wonderful time growing up in Levittown at both my schools. I was tracked into advanced classes starting in fifth grade, with many of my best friends, and this continued into DAHS. I joined chorus and band, and loved our unusually "preppy" looking uniforms - a blue blazer with gray pants or skirt - with a beanie.

I was very involved in school activities, although basically a shy person. My parents went on to have three more children, and my Dad did what many others have documented about their fathers - he started modifying and adding on to our basic Levitt Cape Cod. Largely by himself, Dad finished both rooms upstairs, expanded them with a large dormer, added a patio, dining room, fence and garage.

Then in early 1961, when I was in my sophomore year, my mother was expecting her eighth (and last!) child. Dad felt there was nowhere else to go with expanding the house, (although I tried to convince him to add on a two story addition!). He felt the wiser choice was to find a larger house - elsewhere. My sister, Chris and I, a year apart, were devastated. How could he do this to us, rip us away from our community, our school, our friends, at such a crucial time in our young lives. But it happened.

They found a split level house in the Plainedge School district, five miles away, and we moved the summer before my junior year. The irony was, our street, just off Hicksville Road, one block south of Southern State Parkway, was literally the dividing line between the Levittown and Plainedge School Districts. I would have fought hard to still attend school in District 5 - but I would have had to go to MacArthur High School.

No one could have driven me back to DAHS, even if the school district had allowed it. So I started at Plainedge. The school was similar in many ways, especially in terms of the student population, the teachers and the facilities. I was, for the most part, welcomed by my fellow students and new teachers. Being in band really helped me to connect with people right away.

I decided to join the yearbook staff, and that cemented my new friendships. Having been in the advanced classes at DAHS, they placed me in equivalent ones at Plainedge. That also helped. However, one class was a problem. My cohorts at DAHS had been pushed a year ahead in math from seventh grade on. So, when I entered 11th grade in Plainedge , I had already completed 11th grade math, and the only math class I could take was calculus. The 12th graders at Plainedge definitely did not welcome an upstart 11th grader from Levittown in their seniors-only class. The teacher was not my beloved Mr. Erath, and calculus is in another category from advanced algebra, and was very difficult for me.

Other than that, I enjoyed my classes and friends. Some of my new girl friends, learning my 16th birthday was October 6th, just weeks after starting at my new school, even threw me a surprise party and invited my old Levittown friends, for which I was extremely grateful.

Of course, it was my old friends I missed the most - especially Jo Ann and Noreen. I kept in touch with them, and we visited back and forth. But I didn't drive, and had to depend on rides from my already overburdened parents. However, I was even able to go back to Summit Lane, on occasion, and with my friend Jo Ann, visited my old mentor, Mr. Murphy. He guided us through making choices in high school and about college.

The house we moved to was in a "development", and that really describes the difference between Levittown and my new home. The houses were somewhat larger and slightly more expensive. However, the school district was more of a collection of "developments" than a real community.

Although we were the Plainedge School District, there was no actual place called "Plainedge". The high school and homes near it had an address in North Massapequa -definitely not the Massapequa of Jerry Seinfeld fame. Our neighborhood had a Seaford address, although we were as far from Seaford as you could be. Some kids lived in Bethpage. There was no such thing as village greens or public swimming pools.

I lived there only two years before I left for college in Washington, D. C., so it never really felt like my home. My parents and siblings continued to live there until 1985, when my parents retired and made what I jokingly call the "mandatory New Yorkers' move to Florida". At my Plainedge 20th class reunion , most people forgot I had only moved there in my junior year.

When I talk with old Levittown friends, most of them forget I ever moved away before graduation. To my children, that house in Plainedge/Seaford was Grandma and Grandpa's old house. As for me, I have always told people I was raised in Levittown, because that was where I lived my most formative years. And today, I am truly proud of that fact.

1 comment:

Marilyn Monsrud Frese said...

Kathy- what a great story! You are truly a Levittown Girl...and as they say, you can take the girl out of Levittown...but you can't take the Levittown out of the girl! (well, at least I say it.) I think anyone who grew up in Levittown, no matter how many or few years spent here, always felt it was a special place...unique in it's own way. And those who became your friends were given a special gift of just knowing you. You had that way with people...and apparently still do! Thanks for the friendship.