: All the Bums in Rockaway :

an excerpt by Dennis Vannatta


I hit the big five-o this year, but the second I walk through the door of the house on 134th Street, I’m “Little Bill” once more.  That’s OK.  I love “Big Bill” Dillon—my father—dearly, although, child of the Depression and strict Catholic upbringing that he is, he set standards of industry, frugality, and conduct that I often thought were impossibly high when I was young.  He’s mellowed, we all agree.  He’ll drink a glass of wine on special occasions now—Our Lord drank wine, after all—as he sits at the head of the table, and he’ll laugh at the anecdotes.  But even now I sometimes catch a glint in his eye that makes me squirm a bit.  Like at dinner tonight when my cousin Jenny Basch bragged about buying a Lennox vase for $12.95 after she switched price tags.

            “Did I say switched?  No, there was no price tag on it!” Jenny exclaimed.  She always sounded like she was trying to talk over a power mower.  “I took a price tag off something else and stuck it on!  $12.95!  Hey, how do I know, that could have been the price!”

            She’s the youngest of “the Gessler cousins,” while I’m the youngest of “the Dillon cousins.”  With children of our own now, and some of us with grandchildren, we cousins no longer gather at Mom and Dad’s in Rockaway for Christmas as we did for so many years.  We still try to have a get-together sometime over the summer, though.  We make a day of it, lunch here and there (Ted Gessler’s bunch always eating subs down at the deli on 116th Street, others heading straight to the beach, me and mine eating with the folks at the ol’ homestead), then all of us at the beach for an hour or two of horseshoes, taking waves, and catching rays, then back to the house for a shower and beer and snacks on the deck.  What we look forward to most, though, is dinner around the big oval table, Mom’s paella and monkey bread, a lot of wine and swapping lies about the old days. Mom and Dad are the only ones still living in Rockaway.  Aunt Liz and Uncle Karl Gessler are decades gone and we cousins and our families scattered all over the lower forty-eight.  Still, we all think fondly about our youth in Rockaway (only my mother ever calls it Belle Harbor) and love to reminisce.  Old times always seem good if you have enough wine under your belt.