Rockaway might have been called “the Irish Riviera” but it was the Greeks who ran the concession stands from Beach 9th Street to Atlantic, Long and Lido Beaches back in the day. How do I know? My stepmother was an American Greek and related in one way or another to every one of them.
Starting with Aunt Hope’s Beach 9th Street stand, I was liberated from adult supervision and my stepcousin and I rode horses on the carousel and swung on the swings that were part of the scenery. After everything was thoroughly enjoyed by us, we started the boardwalk trek towards all the little specialty stands lining that wooden walkway we loved. With cash in hand, we savored all we could fit into our tiny tummies. Nothing was over 10 cents. A Nedick’s orange drink was a nickel. The Chinese couple sold us tuckee cups for a dime. They were the best! A 4-ounce pleated paper cup filled to the brim with chow mein made our day almost complete. We had ice cream cones, popcorn, and each time we indulged we wondered if we should leave Aunt Toni’s and Uncle Charley’s Seacliff Beach Club concession runs for another day.
They were located on the boardwalk in Atlantic Beach and had a steam room where we could hang with the older crowd sitting and schvitzing (sweating) while we were running around with glee. It was a steamy playground for us - much to the misery of the elders there. Of course, we would have to pass the den of iniquity, Beach 35th Street (a.k.a. “the make-out beach”) on our journey there. My step-cousin loved to stroll by it while I hastened my steps. One day she spotted her older sister with a boy and boy, were we surprised!! We didn’t recognize him but she was too “engaged” for us to run from the boardwalk to the sand and ask to be introduced. I was horrified but her sister seemed delighted to see the session. After all, this was supposed to be secretive stuff - one couple in a sea of canoodling couples oblivious to the traffic and anonymous trysting around them. There was only one reason to be there and no one else chose that beach unless the intention was to meet and greet with more than a holy kiss. My cousin had the skinny on her older sister now.
Nearing Beach 98th Street, Playland was tempting us to draw nigh and spend some silver and time. This was more than a merry-go-round and swings - this was an amusement park with attractions galore. We didn’t even need parents to take us there; it was part of the path we took on our way to get Italian ices for one silver dime. If we chose to enter, play and not stay too long, it would still be early enough to have our nightly barbeque on the beach. After lingering in the land of Play for a while and scrambling our insides on some scary stuff, it was time to hightail it to Beach 9th Street again to score some uncooked Sabrett hot dogs and marshmallows from Aunt Hope. Walking from Beach 98th Street to our Beach 9th Street barbeque for and by kids was fun. We could try the delicacies on the boardwalk that we missed on our way to the land of Play. Yay!
We gathered some bricks from the yard of what used to be a mansion on the approach to Aunt Hope’s Beach 9th Street concession stand. Rockaway used to have many mansions but, as people moved away, the mansions became few and far between. Only the large sunflowers remained to mark the perimeter of what used to be someone’s not-so-humble abode. I was fascinated by them because they withstood the demise of it all. Michael, another Greek-American cousin, joined us and gladly helped to haul the bricks, sticks, marshmallows and hot dogs to the sand past the swings. I held the matches and to think, a 6, 7 and 8-year-old threesome could legally build a fire on a Rockaway beach at sunset and cook a little feast for themselves! I really miss the freedom we had to do such in those days.
This was the modus operandi. We would dig a hole and then circle the bricks around it. Some of the twigs would go into the hole for kindling while the other sticks would be used for spearing the franks and marshmallows. As the sun set, the three of us would turn the twigs until we got just the right amount of charring on the choice morsels at the end of the smoking sticks. Then our little hands would delicately remove the crispy marshmallows from the sticky sticks. After devouring them, we’d eat the frankfurters as they tenuously stayed on the now half-burnt pieces of dried wood. Seacliff would have to wait until tomorrow.
Yes, life was a beach. Patricia Post is a new columnist here at The Wave. Her “Remembering Rockaway” column, which is a nostalgic view of her childhood in Rockaway, will be appearing monthly.