February 17, 2011
Part one: Q & A with Michelle Fromm-Lewis, class of 1963, who grew up in and with Levittown
Click on photos to enlarge
The Fromm family was among the first Levittown residents. Where did you live in Levittown, when did you move there and where had you lived before?
Our family moved to Levittown on November 15, 1949, just 12 days after my fourth birthday. Our house, a Levitt ranch, was located at 68 Woodcock Lane. Woodcock is sandwiched between Orchid Road and Pelican Road (where Northside Elementary is now) and extends from Pintail Lane to Skimmer Lane.
Prior to moving, we lived in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn where we had grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins within walking distance. I believe our extended family thought they would never see us again when we moved so far away. At the time, minimal infrastructure made Levittown a long way from Brooklyn. Today, although there are much better roads, traffic makes it a trek.
What were some of your earliest memories of Levittown?
When I close my eyes and let my mind see Levittown in its infancy, at a time when I was barely out of my own, I see barrenness. I see rows of box houses of slightly different shapes surrounded by nothing. Front yards were blank slates waiting to be decorated with grass and trees. I see an excavation site soon to become Northside Elementary School, Azalea Lane pool sitting in a treeless field, and Hempstead Turnpike with very little built on it as yet. I see the Village Greens with the big five and dime type store that had a little bit of everything: lunch counter, druggist, housewares, hardware, school supplies, and best of all, candy and ice cream. I grew up, not just in Levittown, but with Levittown.....me going from childhood to adulthood, and it going from a rural and isolated development to a major suburb of a big city.
Playing outdoors and having the freedom to wander safely around a few block radius is my fondest memory. The "Old Motor Parkway", aka "the Old Dirt Road", ran behind our house. Wild blackberry bushes grew along the slope leading from our property down to the dirt and gravel remains of the road. In the summer we spent many happy hours picking those blackberries. Some of the mothers turned the berries we didn't eat into pies and preserves. After a day of picking our fingers would be purple and our arms scratched and scabbed from the thorns, but we didn't care one iota. It was fun.
The Dirt Road had another calling card to entice me and the neighboring children. There was a huge old tree back there which a neighbor and I regularly climbed. We would sit on the high branches peering down on our world, or we would swing from the lower branches by our knees. During the winter months, after a heavy snow, we would grab our sleds and head down the Dirt Road just a little ways to a perfect size hill to enjoy a rough and often tumble ride down. (Check out the Long Island Motor Parkway (LIMP) on Wikipedia. It was also known as the Vanderbilt Parkway.)
Perhaps my most meaningful memory of Levittown, and one that probably has helped to shape some of the values I have today, is what I call the "oneness" of those that lived on Woodcock Lane. Everybody knew everybody else from one end of the street to the other. Everybody watched out for each other. Everybody cared for each other, like family. I always felt secure and protected, not only by my own parents, but by the adults in just about every house.
Who were some of your first pals and later friends at Division Avenue High School?
My first "pals" in Levittown were pretty much the kids on the street. One playmate in particular became more like a brother as we grew older. David Amster's parents and my parents were close friends (and remained so till they all passed) and David often dropped by our house in the evenings when we were in high school.
As I moved through elementary school my world of friends expanded from our street to as far away as five or six blocks, but as we matured and developed different interests some of those friendships waned. In sixth grade I met my first forever friend, Susan Blank Judson. In eighth grade I met another forever friend, Joan Fineman (Metz) Bumgarner. Joan moved to Plainview after our freshman year but that didn't deter the friendship.
In ninth grade, or there about, Nancy Menicon Christiansen and June Johnson become forever friends. I must admit that a few of these friendships had gaps which mostly occurred in the earlier years after graduation. However, when they resumed more than 27 years ago, it was almost as if there was never a break.
Were there any teachers you really enjoyed and any who inspired you?
I can't say that I was particularly inspired or encouraged by any of my teachers. Like many good students who are quiet and shy (boy have I changed), I think I "fell through the cracks". As an adult contemplating the teachers I've encountered I've gleaned my own inspirations from their behaviors. Some are things I'm inspired to do, and others, not to do.
For instance, from my third grade teacher, Mrs. Fox, I learned the importance of looking beyond the obvious for a root cause. She took the time to notice that my math tests had the correct answers for the problems I copied from the board. At her suggestion, my eyes were tested, and glasses fixed my test scores. From my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Tausig, I learned that you can humiliate someone even though it wasn't your intent. We need to take the time to understand what people are made of and what does or does not motivate them.
From my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Marley, I learned how 20 students can be demoralized waiting for a positive stroke that doesn't come, while one or two students get all the positive reinforcement. We need to reach out to everyone and share a kindness. From Mr. Danhieux and Mr. Erath, I learned that a picture, especially in multi-color chalks, can say a thousand words and make a subject come alive. A little effort can improve outcomes.
From Mr. Lasker, a truly nice guy who enjoyed his students, I learned that telling a few jokes and stories at the beginning of a class doesn't make a lecture any less boring. Maybe colored chalk would have helped. From Mr. Shatz, a little odd but a great teacher, I learned to never judge a book by its cover.
Highlight(s) of your high school years?
Most of the highlights of my high school years took place outside of school. I spent a lot of time with my boyfriend who lived in Levittown but went to East Meadow High School. I attended some weekend conventions with a youth group; swam on a team for Azalea Lane pool; hung out with my forever friends.
To be continued tomorrow. Levittown girl Michelle moves to New Mexico, gets married to Chuck Lewis, earns two degrees and accomplishes great things.