Memories of Growing Up in the 1950's / 60's in Levittown New York - by Desse Hagan
Although I was born in Brooklyn NY, I have no memory of actually living there. Our family of six (at the time) moved to Long Island in the summer of 1954. Levittown was one of America's first suburbs. It was during the early stage of the baby boom years that multitudes of city people were looking for housing and their slice of the American Dream. Our dad, Jim Hagan, told me he chose the location on Hollyhock Rd because of it's central location between the high school and the grade school. It also had a large yard and nice trees, including an oak out front. At the time it was thought of as spacious compared to the cramped one-bedroom apt. we all shared in Brooklyn. As the years went by, four more siblings came along but we managed to function in that small Cape Cod house. Two of our Aunts and Uncles also purchased houses in Levittown. Our Aunt Joan also brought along our Grandmother who lived with them and an older cousin, Donna, who still lives in Levittown to this day. We kids; Richard, Roger, Desse, Victor, Greg, Bart and Adam, all had freedoms that today's kids don't. We roamed the neighborhood, went to local parks, playgrounds and swimming pools, all on our own. When we had bicycles, we explored outside our own neighborhood and followed trails along the Wantagh State Parkway. On weekends we sometimes went to see movies or went roller-skating but mostly we made up our own fun with neighbor kids and played in each other's yards, an empty lot or even in the street. I don't remember ever being bored. Even on rainy days, there were always books to read and we were all avid readers. We played a lot of board and card games as well. We were all imaginative with our toys and made up games. We were pretty good about sharing stuff including bicycles. There were never enough for everyone to have one at once. Most of the families on our block were large families and my dad grew up in a large family so we didn't think it too unusual to live in a big brood. We did however get taken in by relatives on holiday weekends and a few weeks during the summer months. We would visit grandparents in Brooklyn, (usually two at a time) cousins in Connecticut, or just go across town to our Aunt Joan's house. One time my older brother, Roger, was taken to North Carolina to visit my mom's relatives and I was sorely disappointed that I didn't get to go. I was willing to go where ever anyone wanted to take me. I loved traveling and seeing new places. Riding a train or subway was a big thrill to a young kid. Going to Milford, CT and spending whole days at the beach (within walking distance) with a cousin with no adult supervision was the epitome of freedom. There was even a small island off the coast (Charles Island) that we could walk to at low tide. Sometimes we had the island all to ourselves and played pirates. Usually the tide was higher when we walked/swam back and we could feel the small fish bump into our legs. We got so much great exercise with all the outdoor activity and running around we did. I ran so much I used to get growing pains in my lower legs that made me cry at night. My dad used to massage my legs with witch hazel to alleviate the aches. He was a good one for home remedies. We did also get a lot of doctor visits. It was common then for doctors to make house calls. Diseases were very prevalent and we seemed to catch whatever was going around including measles, mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox, impetigo, and probably a few others I don't remember. I can probably now attribute my sturdy constitution to all that I was exposed to in my youth. It was miserable at the time but I'm glad none of us caught the dreaded polio. I have little memory of my Hagan grandmother because I was so young when she passed away. I also had two Hagan uncles and some cousins I barely knew because they were Air Force families and usually stationed far away, sometimes outside the country. My dad always worked in the city and commuted to work so he was gone from seven in the morning til after six at night. He was a good cook however and made fabulous (to us) meals on the weekends and holidays. A family favorite was his slum gullion. My mom was over whelmed having so many of us to look after and keep track of and it took a toll on her health. She died young as a result which changed the whole dynamic of our family. Our relatives tried to help out as best they could but it all seemed to fall apart after 1965. My dad was always a drinker and losing our mom just exacerbated his drinking. It was a hard time to come of age for me personally but looking back on the earlier years, there were some good times and I do get nostalgic for those days. That upbringing shaped us into the kind of resilient adults we are today. We all have our warts and imperfections but are still glad of the time period we grew up in.