Missing “Training” in Levittown

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For most of my life I’ve lived in towns near train stations. When I was a boy, I lived in a house equidistant from the Nassau Boulevard and the Merillon Avenue stations and would sometimes walk or ride my bike to the one of the stations to meet my dad who was coming home from the city. There I noticed the queue of station wagons as the suburban wives waited to take their husbands home. As there were no electronic devices other than the car radio, the moms often gathered outside of their cars to chat about the issues of the day. It was the early version of a “mom’s group” that has been replaced by their Facebook counterparts today.

In Freeport and later in Westbury, the churches I lived at were only a few blocks from the train stations and there was an obvious camaraderie among the fellow travelers who waited together each morning and who waved farewell each evening. I came to believe that there was something in the culture of communities with train stations that helped them to bond in a special way.

For all his brilliance in creating Levittown, one thing I think William Levitt missed was leaving a train line in our community. There was a line that brought the building supplies into the village, but that was dismantled once Levittown was completed. As a result train travel from our village involves a ride to Hicksville or Wantagh or Bethpage and if you want to park at two of those stations you’ll need a Town of Oyster Bay pass. So I started to wonder about the effect this has had over the decades on those who commute from here.

For one thing, the lack of a local train station isolates us from one another. We have a more independent attitude as we travel in our own cars to wherever we judge is the best link to where we are going. Even when relatives wait at the stations to pick up their loved ones, rarely do folks gather outside their cars—we’re not from the same village and now we can pass the time on our smart phones or tablets. We wait together alone and separated.

I’m not going to blame the lack of a railroad stop for the disconnects in our community, but it makes me wonder if that contributes to the fabric of life here. We really are quite isolated at times. It’s as if we live in our own secure worlds, which sometimes feel like insecure worlds. We do seek out advice and help but instead of doing this face to face, we rely more and more on our social media connections. Is it possible that “media” is coloring and degrading our social connections?

Many of us would remember our grandparents speaking of their neighborhoods of old where people raised each other’s children. Whether it was feeding the neighbor’s kids an after-school snack, or hosting the part of the street where the stickball game was taking place, people kept an eye out for the young people and weren’t shy about giving a “piece of their mind” to either a misbehaving child, their parents or both.

Today I read online how parents suffer from the rudeness of their own children, how they feel taken advantage of, and how it seems that the kids are in charge, rather than the other way around.

Naturally I’m going to suggest that coming to church each week is a helpful antidote to the isolated worlds we live in. At church there is a community of support, and a message for children and parents alike that calls them to be gentle and helpful to each other. And I’m also going to promote the Active Parenting Program run by our local Yes Community Counseling Center for parents of teens ages 12-17. This six-session program starts May 9 from 7:30-9 p.m. at the center and is designed to equip parents with new skills and enhance the ones they already have in order to face the lifelong journey of being a parent.Call 516-799-3202, ext. 127, to register. The cost of the program is $75. It’s not a Levittown railroad station, but it’s good “training”.

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Pastor of St. Bernard's since 2013 and known for his engaging homilies and community presence, Father Ralph Sommer is also a treasured columnist for the Levittown Tribune.

1 COMMENT

  1. Dear Father Ralph~ I loved your article about the lack of a train station in Levittown. As a person who grew up in Levittown, I thought of that often. Probably because my dad worked for the railroad. I spent the first 50 years of my life living in the same house in that beloved community. It’s funny how you and I seem to have imagined life with a train station – in such different ways. When people ask me to describe Levittown I would always say – Levittown had no train station. It had no “living on the other side of the tracks.” There were no rich folks, there were no poor folks. No bad side or better side. Just a community filled with veteran, volunteers, families, neighbors who shared, and everyone who lived there were pretty much the same. We were lucky enough to travel just a few miles to any of three railroad stations which my dad did every day. I remember it well and I remember appreciating how we were just plain folks, raising families in our in a close knit community, Levittown. Ah, a train station – exactly what we didn’t have that kept us together.

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