As a kid living in one of Long Island’s brand new “Levittown” type developments pretentiously called “Brightwater Estates,” there were blocks of 80 x 100 property lots with identical split-level homes. In each lived young baby boomer families hustling their way through the postwar era.
I lived on Potter Boulevard. The next street or shall I say, “boulevard” was Peter Boulevard., and then Ackerson Boulevard. In the opposite direction was Lincoln Boulevard., which was next to Baldwin Boulevard. Along with the boomer- filled boulevards were tons of kids. Each street had more than enough to supply multiple baseball, kickball and football teams.
To play together kids would simply walk or bike to each other’s house. Upon ringing the doorbell (which came supplied) if someone other than your friend answered, you’d politely ask, “Can Roger come out and play?” I chose the name ‘Roger’ because Roger was my first best friend. This best friend not only lived directly next door, he was exactly my age, my size and was the first redhead I’d ever known.
Roger’s parents, like my parents, decided to move from Brooklyn to the Island. They were nice, but Roger’s grandmother Mimi who also lived in the house was a wicked old lady who for some reason didn’t like me. Can you imagine? Every time she answered Roger’s doorbell she’d attack, waving her finger, shouting “bad bouieeee!” at my innocent, yet bewildered little 4-year-old face.
Though I dare not laugh, before long I found her more tolerably comical than scary, I knew plenty off-the-boat Italians, but Mimi was my first real live French experience. As far as I knew, except for the words “bad bouieeee” she spoke no English. Yes… she was old, cruel, ugly and wicked and would have easily won an Academy Award playing the role of the witch of the east in a French Wizard of OZ. By the way… just like poor little Dorothy, I did nothing wrong.
Grandmother types always adored, loved and liked to cuddle me. To this day I wonder what I did wrong. Not that I would search for her, but since her wicked face is so well branded into my memory, if I should happen to bump into her somewhere on the other side I’ll definitely ask. “Hey Mimi, remember me? I remember you!” Mimi never did convince me I was a “bad bouieeee!”
Until that point, other than my encounters with Mimi, I lived a well-sheltered existence. Maybe too sheltered. Starting school was not something I looked forward to, but I had my best friend Roger. I knew, together, we’d forge our way, but just before the first day Roger and his family moved to a different, more affluent, district. I counted on him and never expected him to leave. This sudden loss taught me early on how life happens. When the time for school day arrived, even though it was just a half-day session, I pleaded, fought, kicked and cried.
Though I was very fearful to leave the comforts of home, attending kindergarten opened a world of adventure. Bussed in from every new neighborhood there were more people to make friends with than ever. A couple kids even had red hair, some had very curly hair, but none had very curly red hair. Many were beige toned like me, while some had darker skin and others had really dark skin, including my teacher, Mrs. Mason.
There were styles and types of people I had only seen on The Little Rascals television show and never in close proximity. On the very first day, after making eye contact with a fellow kindergartener, Jose Tejeda, he wiggled his nose at me to say hello. I had never seen anyone’s nose move in such a manner. When I tried wiggling mine and succeeded, we bonded.
Not everyone can perform such a trick. Jose’s nose maneuver broke the ice and helped melt many fears. I learned there were all kinds of people and fun to be had. Yes, Roger’s leaving broke my heart, but as the world spins, he soon became history.
Editors note: The photograph of Levittown in this column does not depict the author’s home.