Written by Susan Astor Friday, 02 December 2011 00:00
For most of my 65 years, I have lived within a few miles of the home in Roslyn Heights I grew up in. I’ve been imprinted with this area and am quite content to remain here. My memories begin at what would become 73 Schoolhouse Lane in the Country Club section. I have pictures of my cousin and myself at age 4 digging in the dirt where my parents’ house would soon be built. My parents would drive out most weekends to revel in the freedom and wildness of what we were told used to be potato farms. Compared to the Bronx, with its traffic, noise and apartment restrictions, this was heaven. Once we moved in, my sister and I exalted in the fact that there was no sign telling us to keep off the grass.
We lived the typical suburban life. My father either took the LIRR or carpooled to work in Manhattan; my mother stayed at home with the three children and the wire-haired terrier we had adopted.
We lived in the East Williston School District. My sister began her school career riding the bus to North Side School on Hillside Avenue, but by the time my brother and I were ready to be students, Willets Road School had been constructed just down the street and we were all walkers. I remember wearing the green shorts and white shirts with the WRS emblem to school on gym days, though they had to be concealed beneath the requisite skirt and blouse. Even on the coldest winter days, girls had to wear dresses or skirts to school, necessitating the horrible bulk of snow pants. Forced to waddle to school, how I envied the boys.
In the 1950s in Roslyn Heights, danger seemed far away. My friends and I wandered the neighborhood freely, bicycling the relatively long distance to the first local stores that opened near the Albertson train station to spend our allowances in the latter on Mars bars and Archie comics and to occasionally have a hamburger and Coke at the soda fountain. This was true adventure. Even the train tracks didn’t scare us. I remember the thrill of putting a penny on the tracks and waiting for the train to come and flatten it. Now, the thought of any youngsters taking such risks appalls me.
When I was a girl, the Roslyn Country Club, which has become a place of intense controversy, was a haven, open to all residents of the Country Club community, including those in “model house section” up near the parkway and the “S section.” It was a wonderful place for families to summer. In addition to a beautiful swimming pool, great tennis and squash courts, and fabulous playground, the mansion housed a fancy restaurant where we occasionally went to dinner. Many years later, my sister was married there.
The Club was perfect for families. As a young child, I floated in my Howdy Doody blow-up tube in the kiddy pool; it was in the big pool at the Club that I learned to swim. I spent endless hours jumping into the pool and playing water games with my friends. When my parents came to the pool, I delighted in carrying their almost weightless bodies around the water. For hungry swimmers there was a convenient snack bar. I still recall the couple that ran it. She had an extremely dark tan and wore bangle bracelets; he looked constantly sweaty and harassed. They bickered constantly, but no frankfurters ever tasted better than the ones they grilled.
There were only two things I disliked about the Club: one was the damp changing room; the other was the pervasive fear of polio. For some reason, the pool was where neighborhood mothers saw the greatest potential for contagion. Apparently, the disease spared no one as it had even afflicted my parents’ beloved president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
When I was young, there were no big shopping centers in the area. What is now a row of expensive shops near the Clock Tower in Roslyn was home to some slightly shabby businesses, including that of our shoemaker. The Bryant Library was wonderful as ever, but much smaller, with a gallery on the second floor overlooking the first floor. Our books were stamped out by Helen Glannon for whom the upstairs conference room and gallery has now been named. I assume the ducks in the pond are descendants of those we fed as we sat on the benches and looked over the books we had just borrowed.
The Roslyn I grew up in has changed tremendously. Houses of much grander styles and proportions have replaced, to a large degree, the Levitt houses we grew up in. When my parents sold our house, the buyers knocked almost all of it down except the fireplace, chimney and a couple of walls. I was sad to see it go, but pleased that the newly constructed home faced north instead of east. The new residents who face another street were given a new address; 73 Schoolhouse Lane no longer exists except in my memory.