Written by Joe Rizza Friday, 26 February 2010 00:00
Paul Arfin remembers what it was like to grow up in the Village of Mineola. But his life’s journey took him out of the village to Colombia, South America in the early ’60s as a volunteer in the Peace Corps. His experiences are chronicled in his book Portrait of a Peace Corps Gringo.
Arfin is now 69, decades removed from growing up in Mineola and his service in the Peace Corps. He still has the memories and decided to put them in the form of a book.
Arfin’s childhood can be traced back to Mineola, where his parents bought a home after living in Brooklyn. It was a model home with a backyard that cost $10,000. “I remember telling one of my school friends in Brooklyn that we were moving to someplace named Mineola,” wrote Arfin in the first chapter of his book. “The move from Brooklyn placed our family among hoards of postwar families looking for their share of the American dream of home ownership, a car, home appliances, Little League, a grass lawn, summer vacations and a college education for the children.”
Arfin writes about what it was like growing up in the late 1940s and 1950s in Mineola, which had a small-town feel. “It was a good place to grow up,” he said.
As part of a village of modest-sized homes, where families can enjoy the comforts of the suburbs, Arfin’s family nestled into their home on Argyle Road.
“We went fishing for goldfish with friends and threw rocks at darning needles and frogs in nearby Perks Pond at the corner of Herricks Road and Searingtown Road. We bought frankfurters and cans of baked beans and camped overnight in the woods in what is now Herricks, and, when it rained, we slept under one of the overpasses of the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway. We walked and rode our bicycles from one end of town to the other. We collected beer and soda bottles at the many housing development construction sites in the area and brought the bottles to the grocery stores and delicatessens for refunds,” wrote Arfin about life as a boy in Mineola. “I got my haircuts at Scotty’s Barber Shop on Hillside Avenue just like my friends did. It seemed like everyone in Mineola banked at the Franklin National Bank at the corner of Jericho Turnpike and Mineola Boulevard and bought their cars from Madden Auto Sales across the street from the bank. We attended the annual Christmas party dinners at village hall and received presents from Santa Claus. We attended the Saturday movies at the Mineola Theater religiously to see cartoons and full-length movies.”
A part of the lives of many teens growing up in the Long Island suburbs involved baseball and Arfin was no exception. He rooted for the Brooklyn Dodgers and played organized baseball on the Mineola Elves (a pre-Little League team), the Mineola Little League, the Babe Ruth League and the Connie Mack League.
Arfin graduated from Mineola High School in 1958 and went to Adelphi. During his junior year, President John F. Kennedy announced the formation of the Peace Corps and, upon graduating college, Arfin applied for entry into a program in a Latin American country.
Arfin said it was partly altruism that led him into the Peace Corps. “Before John F. Kennedy became president, he went to the University of Michigan as a candidate and he spoke about creating a Peace Corps. I remember reading about it,” Arfin told the Mineola American about his decision to join the Peace Corps. “I was just lost about what my career goals were. It was always assumed that I would go to college and after that, I would go into some kind of business and make money. That’s what young people did at that time. [But) Something resonated in me that I wanted something different than that. I was in a lot of conflict about that. Leaving home and everything I was familiar with was a very emotional kind of experience. It was a big decision.”
Arfin was one of the first 10,000 to join the Peace Corps and it was an experience he will never forget. After completing training, Arfin went to Colombia. Assigned as a community development worker, his job was to help build a sense of community. His service in the Peace Corps is detailed in his book, which can be ordered on amazon.com or booksurge.com.
“The Peace Corps was such a seminal experience in my life. My memories of details about being in the Peace Corps are very powerful and I decided before I lose that stuff, [I would write the book],” Arfin said.