“You’re From Massapequa,” a Memoir

by Gary Iorio

    Nostalgia-driven groups on Facebook are common. The one I joined has 5,000 members. We’re mostly boomers and our posts start with the phrase:

    “You know you’re from Massapequa if. . . .”  And then we take off.

    Today I gave a “Like” to a grandmother who once babysat for a kid who would eventually have a long-running sitcom on the television.

    Last week I had to unfollow an endless chain about rock music from the 1960s. I didn’t see enough of a connection to my hometown.

    A transplanted real estate agent in Arizona misses our iconic hamburger drive-in.

    Another member gave the link to her cookbook. Her posts were seasoned with remembrances of her life, mother, and family. She spoke of the sanity she found through cooking and writing the book. Her links, posts, photos, and comments were shared the way you would share a bowl of seafood stew, with ingredients from the Great South Bay.

     Some recalled the high school history teacher whose sons became famous actors. Some didn’t.

     Members remembered the town before the mall, and the necessity of the bookmobile in the decades when most wives stayed at home without cars and couldn’t get to the main branches of the town’s library. 

    Members of the group often posted about the joy of having a boat in the backyard. We were South Shore kids; many of us felt like the East End was an extension of our town. There were posts about washing dishes in Montauk restaurants to get tuition money. Our first long bicycle trips naturally terminated at the lighthouse. Some of us rode the waves at Ditch Plain.

    Shared memories — nostalgia or religion? Five thousand people sitting at their laptops!

    Order is maintained in the group by a retired flight attendant with impressive research skills and a wonderful sense of fair play. We had a member who tried to promote his direct-sales company to our group. Our leader spoke. She commented to him and the member deleted his post.

    There were many posts about our schools and teachers. The retired flight attendant did yeoman’s duty researching historical articles about the rapid growth of our school district. She posted the links. There were articles about serious men in Eisenhower-era suits, who would build the schools.  I didn’t read the stories but gave them the “Like” anyway.

    Finally, my posts. I know I’m from Massapequa because. . . .

    My family lived on a dead-end street with a canal in the back. I had a boat, my dad had a boat. We were originally from Brooklyn.  My mom got along great with the history teacher whose sons became famous actors.

    In Massapequa, the four of us lived in a house with so many rooms that some rooms were only visited by the housecleaner on Tuesdays. Back in Bensonhurst I shared a room with my older sister Karen, until she was 11. I was glad to get out. I was 9.

    My parents traveled a lot when we lived in Massapequa: There were trips to Hawaii, Florida, and Vegas.

    Karen and I were teenagers left alone and we behaved the same as the other 5,000 members would have behaved. We had two insane open houses, but then got bored and felt used. We entertained our dates. And we explored. I found a marital guide printed in 1912 in an end table in our parents’ bedroom.  And of course, the liquor cabinet.

    My posts to the 5,000 often deal with Karen. Some of the 5,000 were her classmates: Massapequa High School, ’67. Some were students in the three first-grade classes Karen taught at Fairfield Grade School in the years before she died in a car crash in 1975. The students recalled her as a gentle teacher who cared. I knew this, and knew she could teach.

    I make the following post for those first-graders from the early 1970s, grown now, and members of the 5,000:

    I know I’m from Massapequa because of a memory I have of your former teacher. . . .

    It was midwinter and we had the house to ourselves for a week. You guys have probably done the same stuff. Our duties were simple: Take in the mail, walk the dog, call Uncle Joe if something goes wrong.

    We walked Co-Co together often (no poop had to be scooped in 1967). Our block dead-ended at the Seaford Creek, and you know you’re from Massapequa if you know that long canal divided us from Seaford and the Town of Hempstead.

    At the end of our block there was a vacant lot with two large, ancient weeping willows where Co-Co liked to go. And one night, after the liquor cabinet, and after being bored by everything in the house, we headed to the lot.

    When we got there a large station wagon pulled in. It was the kind of station wagon that had little windows along the side of the roof for sightseeing. The commercials on the television for this car always showed it loaded with a big family, with kids pointing at the Grand Canyon and Disneyland.

    That night, at the lot, Karen and I were worried that someone was going to let out a big dog, and she said “Hey” to me, meaning I should watch Co-Co.

    The people in the station wagon didn’t have a dog. Two women got out of the front seat and got in the back where the seats were folded flat. Karen and I stood for a moment, watched, and then stood for another second. We watched for a short third moment.

    I knew one of the ladies from the Little League. Karen knew them both. Later, I asked Karen who we should call. “What?”

     “Don’t we gotta. . . ?” I asked again. And then finally my gentle teacher made me understand.

    You know you’re from Massapequa if you know the Baldwin Brothers, and the All-American Drive-in, and Jerry Seinfeld; and, you know you’re from Massapequa if you were taught by a 17-year-old that no love should ever be forced down a dead-end street, behind a willow and into the dark.

    Gary F. Iorio has a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop. He lives in Montauk and Islip and works as a real estate attorney. His fiction, memoirs, and poetry have appeared in numerous journals and newspapers, including The East Hampton Star.