By Elaine Feerick
Ask any non-Long Islander about the town,Flanders, and you are likely to get a blank stare back and a shrug of the shoulders. I will even go as far to say that if you ask any Long Islander (with the exception of East Enders) whereFlandersis located, and you will get the same response. Throw in the landmark, Big Duck, and you might get a nod of familiarity, but that’s it. Geographically, it’s a mere passing blink on the ride out to theHamptons, but to those of us who have roots here, it is so much more.
I was raised inQueens,New York, and have always been proud of my neighborhood and upbringing. As a result of my growing up in that rough around the edges borough, I can parallel park anywhere, use the subway, and play handball on any solid vertical wall. I lived ten months out of the year there and the friendships and experiences helped to shape me into the person I am today, but for two glorious months of every year, what filled my heart and soul, was living inFlanders,Long Island.
I spent those summers in a bungalow that my grandfather, my mother’s father, built way back in the late 1930s. He bought the property, an acre, with his good friend, Teddy, and split it. It cost them each $380.00. Both men set up tents for a few summers and worked on clearing the land. After the World’s Fair ended in 1940, the wood that was used for the exhibits and rides was available to anyone who would cart it away. Teddy was an engineer and he designed both his house and my grandfather’s house that they built from the discarded wood. Once the bungalows were completed, they brought their families out from their apartments inRidgewood,Queens. The bungalows didn’t have hot water, heat, or a basement, but it did have shutters that were propped up during the summer, and then screwed in over the screened in porch at the end of the season, and of course, it came with its own musty bungalow smell.
Eventually, my mom and dad brought our family out there, and that became my beginning inFlanders. Every year, the day after school ended, we packed up everything, and we didn’t go back toQueensuntil the day before school started. We were five children total, and we all crammed into the main room and front porch. My parents occupied the only bedroom, but it was also the only storage area for clothes. There were cots and high risers in the main living area, and there wasn’t any privacy or hot water. Oddly enough, we didn’t care.
I knew the Big Duck when she was more than just a landmark/souvenir shop. On special occasions, I was sent to there to buy dinner. I would take the short cut and run through the pit (an unsightly sand mine behind the bungalow) and across Route 24 and buy a rotisserie chicken and fresh eggs. Since that time, I don’t think I’ve ever had chicken that delicious. Things were tight during those summers, but we didn’t need much. My mother drove us to the beach in whatever second hand car we had at the time (which were never very reliable-unlike our neighbors that always came to the rescue), but the jalopy of the summer got us to the beach, library, wildlife preserve, and supermarket. They were simple times and we were easy to please.
I am a summer baby and was lucky enough to celebrate my birthdays at the bungalow inFlanders. Homemade cakes and no frills presents were what I got, and I loved it all. The magical year for me was when I turned fourteen in 1976. That year, I made new friends who just moved onto the block, and they introduced me to the stable where they kept their horse (which was was within walking distance from the bungalow). My life changed that summer. I fell in love with my new found friends and horses. During that summer, I learned how to ride (and fall off) horses, to French kiss, and smoke. For the next four summers, I got up early every morning to let the horses down from the fields and feed them. We worked as guides and took out trails (without pay of course), but mostly we just loved to ride, take care of the horses, and at the end of the day, hang out with each other. For my fifteenth birthday, my stable friends chipped in and bought me a pony, Raquel. While she is long gone, I still think of her as the best birthday present I have ever gotten. June, the following year, Bruce, was killed in a car accident. He was the oldest in our group and the glue that kept us together. That was the summer we all grew up and learned how brutal life can be. We clung to each other, but things were never the same. The stable had lost it’s magic, and we drifted apart.