March 9, 2011

David Amster recalls his youth in Levittown, before there were telephones in houses, just phone booths down the block

Amster's 1963 yearbook photo and the recent celebration of his 65th birthday

By David Amster

We moved to Levittown in 1949 from Queens, New York when I was four. Astoria was not like this. It was like moving to the country. Barren is a simple word. Back then Levittown was houses and dirt streets and phone poles for electricity but no phones, just a phone booth on the street every 20 or so houses to start. Later more of those and then eventually each house got phone service....albeit party lines.

As the time went by, Levitt and Sons paved the streets and put in sidewalks. If you wanted trees and bushes you went to a nursery and bought them and planted them. Eventually people got to having things look like a lived-in neighborhood with grass and the WOW factor that this was going to be really nice and it truly was.

We lived on Woodcock lane, at #35, not far from my Division Avenue classmate Michelle Fromm at #68. We really did grow up together. We each had a brother but I had no sister, except for Michelle because that is how close our parents were. One of our moms put a note in the phone booth asking about getting a mahjong group together and the other answered it and that is how Vivian and Sylvia met. The phone booth was the Social Network of its day.

It was just under a mile to DAHS and so to get there we usually walked. Busses were for over a mile away kids. If we were late we might get a ride from our folks. For years I remember riding my bike to school. There were racks and racks to lock up the ride. We went to Northside School until we finished sixth grade, then on to junior high at Division Avenue. We became the class of 1963.

I remember an art teacher there who let me experience many kinds of art and though I am not artistic I loved that class in seventh grade. In eighth I was working for the school library and organizing all the older magazines they had collected. That is something that stuck with me for life...organizing things.

During my high school years I was never on the inside, too much of a geek and loner with few friends; more girls than boys.

For my 13th birthday we had a party at my house and a bunch of friends were there and a storm came in quickly and there was maybe 12 to 16 inches of snow when we had to get everyone home. Cars were useless so everyone had to trudge through the white stuff. Several of us walked with the ones furthest from home and then dropped others off as we got closer to my house.

Those were the days when parents did not worry about our safety as they do now, and they let us go, with the understanding that we would call from house to house so they at least knew where we were. I clearly remember dancing to Elvis singing ever so slowly “Don’t”. Ahhh the old days.

My dad ran a business from home and was there sometimes during the day. We had a gigantic garage and one time Kenny Zwerling and I decided to skip school (maybe as seniors) and we decided it would be cool to go up on the roof and wait for my dad to leave. We made too much noise up there and got caught.

Yes, I remember many of the teachers mentioned in earlier posts here, and some made lasting impressions on my young mind and I appreciate it to this day.

At age 15 I met Marilyn Reh at a temple dance and found we both went to DAHS but she was class of ‘62 and was 11 months older than I. We were in different circles until we started dating. There were two sets of proms and the trip to Jones Beach the next morning, once in the rain.

One thing really stands out. Senior year we were doing all kinds of fund raisers and I got involved in the newspaper drive (collections), tons of papers, load our cars and go to the station where they weighed the car before and after. One time in the winter we thought to soak them in water, let it freeze and then go to turn them in. Not too bad an idea except that as they got warm in the car the water soaked the car and, well you get the idea. But it was a lot of fun.

It all went by too quickly. We love Jones Beach so much that we still go to Long Island and stop at the beach when we get the chance.

Remember I mentioned Marilyn Reh? We married in 1967 and have two sons who brought us two daughters and in turn three grandchildren. It has been an interesting life and the experience of DAHS and Levittown gave us a great start. Thank you Mr. Levitt and also the G.I. Bill.

1 comment:

Marilyn Monsrud Frese said...

Wow David....I do not remember the phone booths! What a great memory you have. It sure makes sense since the houses were going up so fast that phones were not put in until a whole neighborhood was filled. The Majong story is great too. I remember it was Canasta on our block. That's what's so great about that time in our lives...everyone made their OWN fun and neighbors became our instant friends. I love living here my block, my neighbors, everything. Still go to the pool regularly but with grandkids in tow now. Even meet old classmates there with their grandkids!! Levittowners all carry that piece of solidarity in their hearts, no matter where they live now. Once a Levittowner...always a Levittowner...