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Sunday, April 16, 2017

BELLPORT, NY (A reprint)

Main Street, Bellport, NY

Back in the 1950’s, when I came to live on Long Island, a whole new world for my family and I was opened up. We had left the grime and depression of the Brooklyn neighborhoods that were transforming before our very eyes. No longer could one walk the streets at night without fear, elements had moved in and were turning it into a place that we didn’t know. It was a different neighborhood than what we were used to, so we like thousands of others, fled. Even the Dodgers would do so eventually and for the same reasons.

Funny thing is my #1 Son often says that I remember every meal I ever had, and I do remember the last meal I had in Brooklyn as a resident. As we waited for the movers to come to take us away, my mother sent me down to the corner bar and pizzeria on Hull Street and Stone Avenue and I got us a couple of meatball heroes from their kitchen.

From the dirt, grime and clatter of Brooklyn, with her overhead els, car horns and the mounting crime we went to the serenity, tranquility and charm of a sleepy neighborhood town called Bellport. Bellport Village resembles this day a New England village, on the water, with quiet little lanes and country roads. There seemed to be woods everywhere, and the water was a big part of people’s lives.

From sitting at home cooped up in an apartment in the city on a wintry Sunday afternoon we went to going down to the bay and watching the sailboats on runners, as they skimmed along the frozen stretches of water. In my mind today, some 57 years later it all seems to be romantic in a way, like a Currier and Ives print, complete with billowing sails and shouting children. There were ice-skaters and crowds of them, scattered along the beach front looking out across the Long Island Sound, and the clear crispness of the day allowed one to see Fire Island, an almost foreign land.

Spring was beautiful, and I recall the first days living out in the sunshine of country life. It was an uplifting spirit that took hold, as I would remember the days in Brooklyn when we used to go to Cypress Park or Highland Park and feel the sense of country, and how I wished I could go to Patchogue, just west of Bellport and be with my lucky cousins who roamed that pleasant place!

In the summers as a young child, I would get a vacation of a few weeks and go to Patchogue to stay with my uncle and cousins. Next door lived my aunt and more cousins. Those days were beautiful in my eyes, the going to the country. Suddenly, moving out to Bellport, I was on a baseball team, and playing in an organized league, not a stick ball game dodging the traffic that flowed through and interfered with a 2-sewer homer of Brooklyn. Every summer morning at my uncle’s I would awaken with sleepy eyes to the soft 'toot' of the Long Island Railroad as the trains would pass through the town, telling me I was in a paradise. Suddenly, living in Bellport, if I listened, I could hear them run through Bellport, and the funny thing is I took them for granted and stopped hearing it.

Many a summer day I went to the Bellport beach, laying in the sand feeling the warmth of the grains that engulfed my feet and romping in the water of Bellport Bay, the saltiness clearing my head as it ran up my nose or down to Duncan Avenue and the cool waters of the lake. The hottest days found me at the lake, where the trees covered you with shade and helped cool you down. I recall the thrill of taking a rowboat with my friends and rowing around the lake, with the water reflecting the shoreline trees that made it seem like a blue-green lagoon and returning the boat after seeing a snapping turtle or some swan swim toward the boat. We were good kids and never destructive, returning everything in its proper place.

The village of Bellport with Trotter's supermarket and the bookstore became a part of the whole scene, the fish market on the corner and the drugstore occupying the other side corner of the street, the luncheonette in the middle of the block and Brown’s Garage or salesroom all gave a flavor to the wonderful village. If you went east along Main Street there stood the old white I think Presbyterian Church and further down the old converted barn that became the famous Gateway Playhouse. Along the north-south path: Bellport Lane that led directly to the bay and the magnificent gazebo where the band played on 4th of July nights was the Bellport Hotel, where I would stay during the summer months as Mom and Dad ran the kitchen at the hotel and fed the off-Broadway actors who came in, many who became famous later in life. There were and still are the wonderful art shows that run along Bellport Lane, closed off to traffic on the 4th of July!

But Bellport is a special place, frequented by and lived in by such notables as:
Tiki Barber, NY Giants running back, Giovanni Capitello, filmmaker, Frank Castellano, captain of the USS Bainbridge, artist William Glackens, William Higginbotham (1910–1994), a physicist at nearby Brookhaven National Laboratory. He developed one of the earliest video games, Tennis for Two, Salina Maitreya (born 1955), international photography consultant and author, Mike McAlary (1957–1998), journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner, Samuel Irving Newhouse, Jr. (born 1927), magazine publisher, Jacqueline Kennedy, Isabella Rossellini, Charlie Rose, Randy Smith, (1948–2009), former NBA player, Elmer Ambrose Sperry, inventor of gyroscope and founder of Sperry Rail Service, the first internal rail flaw detection company, former governor of Massachusetts and New York gubernatorial candidate, William Weld, E.B. White, (1899–1985), author and P.G. Wodehouse's (1881–1975), English comic writer.

The town is small, maybe 2,000 people in all, but it is special, a gem set in the midst of some wonderful memories for me. 

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