Written by Rachel Shapiro Friday, 30 July 2010 00:00
On a recent sunny, hot afternoon, neighbors Dominick Cottone, Mickey Purtill and Marlayne Mammone sat on Cottone’s front lawn jovially accusing each other of being the person responsible for the colorful island at the intersection of Oakdale Blvd. and Balcom Road in Farmingdale. The garden island sits in front of Cottone’s home on Oakdale, a short walk from Mammone’s home on Spencer and Purtill’s home on Sullivan.
“Mickey has the green thumb,” Mammone said. “She does it as it’s needed. Dom is always dragging his hose across the street to get the water on it because it gets so dry.”
Mammone was the one who donated a plaque with the “National Prayer” etched in stone, propped up on a pedestal for the past nine years since the garden first started to take shape.
“I didn’t help this year,” Mammone said humbly, as Cottone tried his best to make sure it was known that Mammone certainly has been involved. “Before your hand got in there Mickey, I couldn’t keep anything alive,” Mammone joked.
“[Dominick] used to take the flag down every night and put it back up the next day,” Mammone said. “He would fold it in the official way, never hit the ground.” He did that for more than 30 years. Now, Cottone is fortunate enough to have an electrician for a neighbor who was able to aim a light at the flag so he doesn’t take the flag in for the night anymore.
“If there’s a light on it you don’t have to take it down,” Cottone said.
Almost 40 years ago, Cottone purchased a flag pole for $1, and an American Flag, and with the help of the local VFW, hoisted up Old Glory as a symbol of freedom on that bare median in 1971.
“I had nothing else to do,” he said half-jokingly. “I was younger then.” He was a young 54 years old when he decided the bare piece of land in front of his house needed some sprucing. The flag pole went up and he has cared for it for decades.
After Sept. 11, 2001, Cottone and Mammone responded to their inner call to do something for their neighborhood, so they planted a few “patriotic plants”-an American black pine, and red Freedom Roses-to honor those who had died. Since then, the island has blossomed to a full-fledged garden.
“We put the red rose and one little tree and then somebody donated the star magnolia and sometimes people would donate other things,” Mammone said.
Farmingdale Village, whose territory the island falls in, donated the bench that Purtill said she and Cottone sometimes sit on when it’s nice weather.
“The residents are very generous in helping maintain it,” Cottone said. People have donated mulch, money to buy supplies and a ceramic rabbit even appeared in the garden one day, a gift from an anonymous neighbor.
When it comes down to work, Cottone said coyly, “I’m supervising,” as Mammone explained, “Mickey has the green thumb.” Purtill grew up on her family’s farm and grows all the plants and flowers in the island garden from seeds. “I love the dirt,” she said.
“For a young couple we do well,” the 93-year-old Cottone said with a grin.
Cottone retired from his career as a foreman at LILCO in 1981 but that doesn’t mean he, or Purtill, has a lot of free time on their hands.
Cottone is a member of the Knights of Columbus, Purtill is a Columbiette. Both are ushers at St. Kilian Church in Farmingdale and Purtill tends to her own home’s very impressive garden besides the island’s.
Up until about a year ago, Cottone and Purtill mowed the grass on the island. Now the village takes care of that.
“Mickey and Dominick laid all those bricks,” Mammone said laughing and pointed to the small brick wall that separates the garden from the grass on the island.
“The village mowed the dead end down here,” Purtill said, pointing to the end of the street that curves off to another road. “So we said, ‘Hey, can you guys mow the grass for us?’ so the guy came with the big, wide lawnmower and he clipped the top of the bricks and I had them perfect! I almost had a fit but what are you going to do?”
The three neighbors have no shortage of stories about the island that brought them together.
A few years ago one of the streets around the island was being repaved and Cottone and Purtill, the mature caretakers, toiling out in the sun caught the eye of the supervisor on the job.
“The man doing the road got a charge out of us, two old fogies,” Purtill said as she described the scene. “The supervisor asked us how old we were, we told him and he said, ‘Are you kidding me? I can’t get my wife to pick up a piece of paper,’ and so he said, ‘I have to take your picture and take it home and show it to my wife.’ He came back two hours later with the picture for us.” Purtill held up a framed photo of her and Cottone with dual lawn mowers on the green grass of the median.
It may be the several years he served in the Navy during WWII that gave Cottone the motivation to turn a small, solitary piece of land in front of his house into what has become a beautiful, thriving garden almost 40 years later. It may be his love for his country and his neighborhood that gave him the inspiration to spend hours upon hours working on the garden in the middle of the street with his neighbor. Either way, at 93 years old, Cottone cares for the island garden with Purtill as both are growing older but surely with no less care than the day they started.
“It’s amazing all these years, he has a lot of respect for people and his country and his neighbors and friends,” Mammone said of Cottone. “They’re happy that Dominick and Mickey do it.”