Monday, January 11, 2016

"Neighbors" from HOME IS WHERE...

         One February, Mom’s friend Vivian got a brand-new convertible, and even though it was cold and windy, she insisted the top be put down as she drove it around. Nancy and I were in the back seat. We froze to death. We went all the way to Bullville and back and then got ice cream. Cold!

         Vivian lived up the street from us, and Mom would go visit her for coffee and drag me along.

         One day I went with her. Vivian had two big dogs, a St. Bernard and a German Shepherd, and while I was there, I got comfortable at the kitchen table. What I didn't know was that while I was having a piece of cake and some coffee, Max, the St. Bernard, was eating my shoes, so when it was time to go, I looked all over for my shoes. All that was left was the heel. I walked home barefoot.

         Vivian and her husband, Lance, had a very, very small house, with a small kitchen, sewing room, one bedroom, and a bathroom. She got an idea to have Nancy and me clean the house, starting in the living room. Wow, what a project! She had stuff all over, plus furniture and a big piano. We tried our best, always being interrupted by Vivian’s sitting at the piano, playing and singing show tunes, and of course we had to join in, so hardly any cleaning got done, but we both got paid five dollars. I believe Vivian was the first hoarder I knew. She had a collection of patterns that filled the little room.

         Vivian’s husband was a car mechanic and helped my mom find her first used car. Vivian worked for the railroad in the office.

         During our childhood, new people moved in around us and we usually became friends. One family with three children moved into the house across the street. The father was in the Air Force at the Stewart Air Force Base in Newburgh.

         After they moved on, another family moved into the same house. They had three children, with one boy, and their last name was Store. The youngest girl's first name was Candy. We thought that it was so funny. They were not friendly, and they stayed in their own yard. They were not around long, either.

         Next came an even stranger family. They found an old cabin in the woods, and their dad would take kids up there to play games. Nancy and I never went, but we did play over in their yard; one night after supper, we went over to play. I had to go to the bathroom, so I asked if I could use theirs.

         “Okay,” their dad said, and in I went.

         He was in the kitchen sitting at the table, and as I passed to go out, he grabbed me and set me on his lap. He would not let me go. Nancy saw my face and ran home for Daddy. He came running and sent me home. A few days later, the cops came and took us to the police station, where we told our story, as did many children. He went to jail, and the family moved.

         A few years later, a mother, son, and a daughter moved down the street. The girl, Paula Miller, was my age, and we became good friends. I was sad when they moved away and so was Doreen. Their brother was very cute, about two years older and very tall. All the girls were crazy about him. This is the last of the new families we got close to.

         A few others moved into town but no one we became friends with. Across the street lived a boy who was a real brat. His grandmother would visit us, and we would go over to see her. She even made us clothes for our Amos and Andy dolls.

         In town we had one doctor: Dr. Rakov had office hours six days a week from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., and the waiting room was always crowded with familiar faces. He charged only five dollars, with a shot or some medicine or both. He was very fast, but he knew his business. He also made house calls. I remember him being at the house when I was sick with a high fever and throwing up, and he called me "carrot top."

         Dr. Rakov delivered all of us.  Mom went into labor on her wedding anniversary, April 11, and she wanted me to be born that day. She kept saying, "Is she coming?" while watching the clock.

         I guess she must have been annoying, because Dr. Rakov answered by saying, "If you’d shut up and push, she might be."

         Well, I was born on April 12 at 12:03 a.m.. I'm glad I have my own special birthday.

         Another person in town who played a part in our lives was John Bodle, the drug store ice cream counter man, who made us sundaes, cones, lime rickeys, egg creams, and little cans of spaghetti for lunch. Mr. Watts was the drug store owner and the druggist. The local boys would sit in the store and read the comics, and he let them.

         Then there was Mr. Guidio, who had a shoe repair shop right next to the drugstore; when I was in first grade, I broke the buckle on my shoe and had to wear something else until that pair was fixed.

         The small post office was across the street. The postmaster scared us to death because he was a real grump, and we avoided him like death if we could.

         Next to the post office was a TV sales and repair shop. Its owner, Mr. Thompson, made house calls, and you hoped the TV didn't have to go back to the shop.

         On Tower Avenue, was Pepe‘s, a small store and deli. They were open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday as well as during the week; being the only store open on Sunday, it was there one could see my father, who would go there for his bottle of Ballantine beer.

         The Maybrook National Bank was also on Main Street. We would go there with Mom, and I can still remember the smell.

         On Halloween, we would paint the windows and have a party in Sweeney’s Hall until it burned down. I don't think I was much older than five when it burned, and after that happened, we had the parties at the school instead.

         Mr. Rosenberger ran the Y. M. C. A., where the railroad men would stay between trips. There was a counter to eat at, and they had a candy counter, too. He would joke with us and tease us. Mr. Rosenberger also went on the Y swimming trips with us. He was much fun.

         We had a hardware store where Daddy would get his garden seeds or nails, and it was on Main Street, as was Carroll's department store and an Italian restaurant run by Mrs. Bastiano. She had a very heavy accent. Mom and Dad took us there a few times for spaghetti and meatballs. It was a special treat.

         Dad took us to the firemen's parade, where we would get those red hats. When Mr. Chaffee built a strip mall next to his grocery, a shoe store moved in one year, and then we all got white bucks.

         Next to that store was Sabrina's, a clothing store. Just before the start of school one year I got sick, so Mom bought me my outfit for the first day. It was a green blouse with a green skirt with big green tomatoes on it. I wore it on the first day but not much more thereafter.

         I told you a bit about the stores we had in town: there was an old-fashioned department store, Carroll's, where Daddy did his gift shopping; Mommy always got underwear, and once in a while she would come home with a square package wrapped in green paper. We never knew what this was until years later, after we grew up. It was a woman's product for Mom. I guess Mrs. Carroll thought it was best to conceal it.

         Mrs. Bastiano had an Italian restaurant at the end of the street, and Uncle Bill told how he would ask her how she did all the cooking. In her heavy accent she answered, "Billy Mickey, I'd rather cooka then watcha kids."

         Next door to our house was The Rainbow, but later it was sold to the Shorts from New Jersey and became The Flamingo; they brought pizza to Maybrook. Daddy would bring pizza home every so often, and $.75 was the cost; because we had no car, we didn't go out to eat, but Uncle Bill and Aunt Toddy would bring us home-made rye and pumpernickel bread from a German place up in the mountains, and a friend of Mom’s, Vivian, would take us with Mom for a ride, and maybe we’d get ice cream.


         We are serializing Kathleen Blake Shields's new book, 
       Home Is Where the Story Begins: Memoir of a Happy Childhood. Published by Outskirts Press, it is available from OP as well as from other online booksellers, like and

       I am proud to have coached and edited for the preparation of Kathy's book. See my


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