March 29, 2012

Levittown and its iconic water tower still have a strong pull on early residents - Part 2

Kathy Stahlman Zinn (1963)

The water tower is a Levittown icon, not only because I could see it from my house on Butternut Lane, but because, for my family it signified the Azalea Lane pool, where we spent so many glorious childhood days.

My attachment to the nine years I lived in Levittown involves many factors: First, it was the freedom for a city child, moving out of a three-story, walk-up apartment in Queens at age seven, to the freedom of our own house and our own yard. It is the importance of those years, from seven to 16, that encompassed most of my impressionable years and early education.

And, in the last 30 years, as an adult, it has been the increasing realization that my WW II veteran father and my family were who Levittown was built for - we, and our teachers, were part of a "grand plan" to create, not only a new United States, but a new world - a little grandiose, to be sure, and we haven't quite fulfilled those dreams. But I believe that is what our parents and teachers were driven by, and what some of us, in our teens and early 20s, later rebelled against, as we saw the cracks in the dream.

There have been times when I have been embarrassed by my Levittown roots, as was my best friend, growing up. At first, this was due to all the criticism that Levittown and other developments drew of "being all made out of ticky-tacky and all looked just the same". However, I was proud of all the changes my father made to our home, and I did not think either our homes or we residents were made of "ticky tacky' nor were we all the same. But the public perception bothered me.

Later I was even more embarrassed when I learned more about the early racial biases that kept other striving, middle class veterans, albeit of a darker skin, from fulfilling their dream. Thankfully, that story changed more quickly in our Levittown than in other Levittowns. But people still confuse our Levittown with, especially the one in Pennsylvania.

I am now proud to tell people I grew up in Levittown, New York. I look back, and recognize that there was so much that was idyllic about our childhoods there. I am sure there were "behind the scenes" stories in our little Cape Cod and ranch houses. At times I secretly thought my family was one of those dysfunctional ones written about in late 1950s and early 1960s books and magazines.

Now I realize everything is relative and we were very blessed, perhaps naive, as were our parents, in the freedom and resources and lack of classism in our community. I hope some of this remains today, when people old enough to be my grandchildren are about to graduate from Division Avenue High School.

Arnie Galeota (1961)

My fondest attachments are to so many things including the North Village Green where we spent so many snowy days getting out of the harsh weather where we could still all hang together. Naturally, the owner would spot us and throw us out. I remember going to the Saturday morning football games, to an away game in a big motorcade or being at home with a big celebration that night if we won. There was also sneaking a beer at Sid's deli with a juicy kosher hotdog. Also, the excitement of the senior prom which became an expensive but fun weekend, and of course senior cut day.

The logistics of Levittown were convenient in relation to Jones Beach, also the most exciting city on earth, New York City, and Hempstead where the shopping was good.

The time was relatively stress free. We came out of a war in Korea and the economy was good. The music still lives on and drugs were not a huge problem. It would be 13 years before we got stuck in another war.

Our back yards had apple and peach trees and most of our moms were housewives creating a family atmosphere. We'd cruise Hempstead Turnpike and eat at McDonald's or Wetsons.

The water tower never played an important part in my social life. It was just a landmark to remind me what town I lived in and how happy and lucky I was.

Water tower photos were taken this week by Marilyn Monrud Frese, classs of 1963


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