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Remembering Gerritsen Beach in the 1930s and 1940s, II

by Richard Bartholomay

I was reading about the seasons and the memories as described by Helen Quinn, and, yes, it brought to mind many things. 

In the summer the neighbors would get together in the evening and light a fire to ward off the "skeeters." There would be a lot of socializing during these times, something I miss down here in Florida. We kids would throw onions and taters into the edge of the fire, and when they were black we would poke a stick into them and pull them out. Then would come the fun of peeling the black skins off them and then enjoying the best-tasting treats this side of heaven.  

Most of the summer for us kids was spent fishing, crabbing, and swimming off the dock at Kiddie Beach. We would also tread for clams there when the tide went out and the muddy bottom was exposed. There were stickball games on dirt roads (quite a trick) and touch football. In those days there was nothing known of the dangers of too much sun (something I have since paid for many times). My mother used to kid me by turning down the edge of my pants to check whether I was black or white. 

There can never be another Beach like that which existed in the 1930s and '40s. Start to paint your house and there would be three neighbors standing there with their own brushes. Naturally a keg was in order after completion. Sometimes at night we would take a rowboat and row over to Sutter's Boat Yard to scalp crabs and spear eels around the docks. John or Vick Sutter would always show up to see who was skulking around with the flashlight. There wasn't any fear of muggers in those days. There was always the trip of the honey dipper taking the semi-solid sewage around to the sands to dump. And the St. James parade--I see pictures of it in the GB website. I'm trying to find the pictures of my sister and myself dressed up for it. A gal just moved into a house on our street and she used to live in Sheepshead Bay. She remembered the St. James Cadets and Band marching in the parades down Emmons Ave. There is soooo much to tell but I don't want to take up too much room.  

During the war you could hear and feel the big cannons of Fort Tildon as they rattled the windows with their practicing. They later built these queer-shaped cocoons and nobody had any idea what they were. Later we found out about radar.

The crash boats used to back up the creek to Sutter's with the help of the honey-dipper tug. They were serviced there when the Navy Yard couldn't handle the engine maintenance. My dad had a special permit allowing us to fish and get extra gas. You had to fly signal flags when you went out. They changed every week or monthly whatever the situation called for. In return we passed out fish to the neighbors. Everything in those days were being done to supplement the food supply so that most could be sent overseas to the servicemen.  

We spotted that German sub off Rockaway Beach early one morning. There were no radios, so we weren't sure what it was until the Coast Guard made its customary inspection and we told them about it. We had to follow them in and through the sub gates where we were questioned. I'm afraid we weren't much help because we really didn't pay much attention. This made an inerasable memory for this eight-year-old (I had started to steer the boat when I was 5). 

There were always military things going on off the beach. We had to keep a log of any debris from torpedoed boats that we spotted and give the information to the CG when we got in. One day we were out there and got buzzed by a PBY* from Floyd Bennett; we couldn't figure what they wanted. Then the CG showed up and told us to get the hell out of there. We had wandered into the new tow area for the target barges that the cannons were going to fire at. I can truly say that I never saw before or after the boat make the speed that my dad got out of it that day.  

Remember those oleo bags with the orange pill that had to be broken and kneaded into the margarine to make it look like butter? Going up to the health place for milk and getting shots? Saving the fat in cans and turning them in so the could be made into explosives? Rolling the silver foil from your dad's cigarettes into a ball to also be turned in? Ration stamps and the figuring your mom had to do to make them stretch? By the way, a book of those stamps recently sold for $9,800.  

Then came fall and winter and another hundred memories.  

* A PBY is a Navy plane capable of landing on water or land. It had a high wing with two engines and was very slow. It was primarily used for sub hunting but also was invaluable as a search tool. Believe it or not when I joined the Naval Air Reserve in 1950 they were still being flown from FB. Matter of fact I used to fly in them as air crewman when they needed people. They were so old the we had to carry a pocket full of pencils to stick in the holes when the rivets popped during a water landing. A friend of mine that lives in Staten Island now is rebuilding a PBY at Floyd Bennett that will be used in shows. It's a labor of love no pay.

Last changed: July 15, 2002