I've been living in Syosset for 37 years, minus a few in Manhattan and Forest Hills. I can always tell how long someone's been here.
Conversations go like this:
"You grew up here?"
"Yup," I reply, not sure if I'm being quizzed about local folklore or judged that I had never left.
"Remember what Mim's Restaurant was?"
"33 Berry Hill, named after their address. Do you remember what was before that?" I ask.
"Uh…," [scratches head].
"Heads and Tails," I say, knowing he moved in during the 1980s.
Other benchmarks are staggered starting times in overcrowded Syosset High School or the legendary football rivalry with Farmingdale—nostalgia for the 1970s.
Three elementary schools closed after the glut of baby boomers graduated: T.V. Summers, Split Rock and Locust Grove. Lollipop Farm Petting Zoo where Borders is—early 60s on the timeline.
Old timers attended Oyster Bay High School before Syosset High existed. They're circa 1950. People talk about: Bruce's Estate (connected to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon's daughter) and the woods behind Webber's Golf Driving Range (now Syosset Plaza), whose trees I grew up climbing; or Weintraub's store; or Scott's 5 & 10 to buy the perfect spool of "Robin's egg blue" thread; or way back to the 1920s potato farms.
We came by way of Westbury, then Arizona, to land in Syosset. My parents calculatingly sought out this town–great schools, on an easily accessible Long Island Rail Road artery into Manhattan for culture and work.
My father was a graphic designer commuting from Westbury to his own business in the city. In 1973, hunkering for an adventure, he suggested we move to Scottsdale, Ariz., where many artists were migrating. Mom obliged.
We packed the bare necessities into a silver Mercury Marquis, including our cherished Monkees records in the overhead bin. Chicklet, our tranquilized Chihuahua, slept in a crate between my older sister and me in the back seat and like the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath, we headed west to a new life.
We survived six weeks.
Pasty white with thick New York accents, we learned fast you can't trap Islanders in the desert. We stuck out. I was 7. I remember that it was truly hotter than hell or any New York summer I'd ever endured before or since. My sister said there were Scorpions in the desert. I'd pull the covers off the bed searching for the slinky vile creatures, scared to be stung.
"Want white or brown gravy on your mashed potatoes?" the waitress drawled at me three times before my parents translated. What the heck is white gravy? Where are we? Sheltered? You bet. But more than that, we missed Long Island, surrounded by water, with four glorious seasons to look forward to year after year. You see, Mom, Polish/Russian from Brooklyn then Ozone Park, has four sisters who still live within 15 miles of each other. Dad's Irish side from the Bronx, also all lived in New York–and we left.
For six weeks.
Dad returned to the Arizona apartment one day after looking for work to find us women crying. "I am not the bad guy. We made a mistake. Let's go home." My sister and I jumped up and down. Long Island here we come! We didn't tell anyone. We drove back, surprising our grandparents and loved ones, stuck our family crest in Syosset soil and none of us ever left again for 37 years. In fact, we multiplied with three children each.
I ask my parents now, "What happened out there in the desert to warrant our never leaving?" My mother says, "I guess your father had to get it out of his system." We were left with great memories and warped Monkees records–in all that heat!
The thing is, I love living here. Yeah, there are issues. Taxes are high; two major highways cleave through neighborhoods; and that supposed "Bridge to Connecticut" was cut short, dumping Route 135 traffic north into the heart of town. (Ya think they could've at least gone to Route 25A?)
Being that Syosset spans middle class to very wealthy folks, it has a reputation of privileged snobbery. Billy Joel even reminisced at a Nassau Coliseum concert about growing up on Long Island and said Syosset girls "never put out." Yup. Syosset takes pot shots all the time, but it's primarily hooey. There are many hard-working people of all classes and ethnicities woven into the fabric of our community. Syosset has great restaurants, some sharp-shooting businessmen and women and much industry.
It's special moments that make me smile, like driving around town when Canadian Geese babies tie up traffic waddling on the roads near the Syosset-Woodbury Park or Geico. Or how the sunset catches the clouds just right some evenings facing west down Jericho Turnpike.
Stick with me, and I'll show you Syosset then and now.