The Town I Loved So Well
The Town I Loved So Well
Many of the words written by Phil Coulter, in the beautiful Irish ballad, The Town I Loved So Well, seem so appropriate in describing my sentiments concerning Rockaway, both "then and now" and I am sure also stir the memories of many who are reading this article. I would like to share some of my thoughts with you, as well as a few lines from this song, which seem to say it all.
The recent three-day soggy Labor Day weekend gave us plenty of time to reflect on memories of previous Labor Days in Rockaway - other times, other places....places like "bungalows." Many of us, who represent the baby-boomer generation, shared the experience of summer bungalow living in Rockaway.
May I suggest that you take your children for a walk, or a ride, down 108 and 109 Streets, between Shore Front Parkway and what is now called Rockaway Drive. I think it would be important for them to see the few remaining bungalows in what was once a neighborhood comprised largely of summer bungalow colonies. Let them see "the way it was" before it is entirely gone. Let them see how happy families can live, in small units, only feet away from their neighbor. Let them view the flags and the twinkling outdoor lights strung from one side of these small courts to the other. The only thing that may shine brighter are the faces and smiles of those sitting on the small outdoor attached porches. They will see families, of all ages, enjoying life as we once knew it, here in Rockaway.
"There I spent my youth and to tell
you the truth
I was sad to leave it all behind me.
For I learned about life and I became a wife
In the town I loved so well."
Many of us married and chose to settle in Rockaway to raise our own families, not only so they might enjoy the beauty of the beach and the ocean, but also that they might experience part of Rockaway life, as we remember it. It was a more simple time, a time when the sounds of the roller coaster in Playland was a nightly tune; a time when Sunday Masses were held on the hour and the half hour; in order to serve the large summer population in Seaside; a time when a purchase from Duddy's Bakery was considered a real treat; a time when bungalow doors were rarely locked; a time when Labor Day Weekend was celebrated by families who participated in Mardi Gras, egg-throwing contests and three-legged races; a time when simple sing-a-longs and Irish music filled the air. The memories are vivid and endless, and those of you who share that experience and those fond memories know exactly what I mean.
"There was music there, that filled the air like a language we could all understand...."
"Those were happy days, in so many, many ways in the town I loved so well."
Most of the parents were city workers, or many worked on the docks. We all seemed the same. There was neither jealousy nor competition. It was not always easy, financially. For many, renting a summer bungalow and bringing the family to Rockaway was a real sacrifice.
"And when times got tough, there was just about enough
But they saw it through without complaining
For deep inside was a burning pride
In this town I loved so well."
We all realize that time brings change, but this summer in particular, has made me ask myself many questions. I visited Coney Island for a Brooklyn Cyclones Game. If you have been there, you know what a beautiful baseball field it is. I know all about the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers, but I still could not help but wonder if all the vacant land in Rockaway could not have been used for such a stadium. I wondered why "their" roller coaster has survived the change of years? Is the neighborhood so different than ours? I don't think so. Second only to Nathan's hot dog was the Boggiano frank.
If you have taken a ride to Long Beach recently, you will feel the presence of summer, with people dining at outdoor cafes, and others still renting a bungalow, in a middle-class summer community, such as those where we grew up.
"In my memory, I will always see, the town that I have loved so well."
Have you been to Freeport, near the nautical mile? There you will find rows of waterfront restaurants. You will see families enjoying a seafood dinner, an ice cream cone, or just capturing the beauty and serenity of the water and the essence of summer. These towns are not so different than ours. Yet, we have an ocean and bay that stretch for miles and I ask you to count the number of restaurants that adorn our beautiful waterfront land.
I will not even address the issue of tickets being issued to those who leave their beach blankets unattended, surf, or walk on our beautiful beach or boardwalk in what is considered to be "off hours!" I wonder if these tickets are being issued in these other summer communities? Who are the "powers that be" who make all these decisions?
You visit another similar summer community and you wonder and question. You then return to Rockaway where you see that summer bungalows have all but vanished. You ask yourself why miles of Atlantic Beach shoreline show little or no evidence of a summer community. Winter homes are being erected in every conceivable inch of space. My mind cannot help but reflect, once more, on the fitting words of this famous Irish song.
"My God, what have they done to the town I loved so well!"