THE REMINISCENCES OF WANDA DEGOSKI

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PORT WASHINGTON COMMUNITY ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM

PORT WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY   

THE REMINISCENCES OF WANDA DEGOSKI

 
Wanda Degoski

 

 PREFACE

The following interview is one of a series of tape-recorded memoirs in the Port Washington Public Library Community Oral History Program. This series was developed in order to systematically gather historical information about the important themes in Port Washington's history from before the turn of the century until the present time.

This interview focuses on sandmining in Port Washington, and was part of a New York Council for the Humanities Project, "Sands of Port," conducted by the Public Library in 1981-82.

This interview was conducted for the Port Washington Public Library by Elly Shodell with Wanda Degoski in Port Washington on January 3, 1982

The reader is asked to bear in mind that he is reading a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written, word. Editorial corrections have been inserted by hand, when required, to help preserve the authenticity of the verbatim transcript. Permission to quote for publication must be obtained from the Port Washington Public Library or from the oral authors, their heirs or forebears.


Elly Shodell
Port Washington Public Library
Oral History Program Director

Funded by the New York Council for the Humanities

(c)PORT WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

Interview with Wanda Degoski(WD) by Elly Shodell(ES), January 3, 1982

Click here for index

page 1

ES: Today I'm speaking to Mrs. Degoski at the Port Washington Public Library; the date is January 3rd. I wanted to start out by asking you if you ever stood back and looked at the sandbanks, and when you do, what do you think of?

WD: Well, it seems so differently (sic) now. Years ago, you had all these little houses here and where I lived, and where the little school was and the houses on top of the hill there. And now when you pass by you don't see anything but flat lands. There's not even very much sand around. I think it was more nicer that time than it is now, because we were so close to one another there that I had to carry pails of water from across the street to my little house.

ES: Where was your house?

WD: Coming from Port Washington, it was on the right hand side. It was just before Langone's store. And I had a little bungalow there that my husband had fixed up so we could live in it. Across the street was Mr. and Mrs. Ben Wallace (?) that lived there. They had a larger house. It was right across the yard, and that's where our children played. My husband worked there when Bert Thompson was the supervisor-superintendent, I don't know which. And we lived there for quite a few years, my children went to school there, my two daughters went to school there. Frances was 4 1/2, Rosemarie was 5.

ES: What were the approximate years that you lived there?

 

page 2

WD: Well, it was about fifty years ago that I lived there.

ES: For how many years?

WD: Oh, let's see now, after my husband was laid off, then we moved into Port Washington and then from Port Washington we moved to Flushing.

ES: Around what year was he laid off?

WD: He worked there, I think, a few years, maybe five or six years.

ES: And the company he worked for?

WD: Goodwin and Gallagher's at that time.

ES: Can you describe what your house was like. It's not there any more.

WD: Oh, God, when we moved in there, it was so bad, the roaches were so bad in there. We cleaned it all out. My husband fixed it up on the inside and fixed it on the outside . We had chickens, we had a garden, and it really looked nice after he got through with it.

ES: How did you find the house?

page 3

WD: I don't exactly know. There was an empty little house there and when my husband worked there he got in touch, I guess, with Bert Thompson and Bert Thompson told him there's a little shack there and maybe you could fix it up and move into it.

ES: I wanted to ask you about your husband's experience working in these sandbanks. How many hours a day did he work?

WD: I think he worked eight hours and then he got sick and he's been sick for a long time so he couldn't work too much after that. That's why he had to quit or he got laid off, one or the other, 'cause he couldn't make it every day to work.

ES: What did he do when he was working?

WD: I really don't know. All I know is that he's working there.

ES: Did he enjoy working at the sandbanks?

WD: Yes, he did.

ES: Can you tell us a little about it?

page 4

WD: No, I can't. I don't remember, really. It's been so long ago.

ES: Who are some of the people you remember best who he worked with?

WD: Well, I know Benny Wallace worked there. I know, I think, Parchevsky (?) worked there. There's quite a few that worked there that he knew, but I can't recall their names.

ES: What would a man have to be like to work in the sandbanks?

WD: They'd have to be really alert because, you know, with the trains and they have these things running that the sand goes on, and it sifts the sand for the gravel and fine sand. And you had to be alert because you could lose your hands or your fingers, like Mr. Parchevsky (?), he lost both his legs there. And that was many, many years ago, even before my husband worked there. My brother still works there. And my nephews work there, too. My other brother, he worked for Metropolitan at that time. That was towards the hill more.

ES: What was your other brother's name?

WD: Dominic Kline (?) He's been working there for years.

ES: Given all the dangers, how did you feel about your husband going to work every day?

page 5

WD: Well, I was scared. But he had to make a couple of dollars so we could live. He didn't mind. He didn't mind. I had two children at that time, pregnant on the third one. So he had to work.

ES: Do you remember how he got his job?

WD: I think he knew Bert Thompson.

ES: Can you describe Bert Thompson?

WD: He was quite tall, he was thin. I don't remember if he had a little moustache or not, but he was a very nice man. He was the boss there. Then, after he died, someone else took over, I don't remember who.

ES: Do you remember the date of his death?

WD: No, I don't.

ES: How many men were working under Mr. Thompson?

WD: He had quite a few men. There was a lot of men. At that time, they had a lot of banks. Not like now. It was in full bloom at that time.

ES: Where did Mr. Thompson live?

 

page 6

WD: I think he lived in Port Washington.

ES: Do you know whereabouts?

WD: No, I do not.

ES: If you had a problem at home or at work, could you go to Mr. Thompson?

WD: I imagine you could. I remember when we needed any coal, I went up there and got soft coal which I got caught at it (laughter). But at that time, we didn't have too much money and the men weren't paid like they are now 'cause there wasn't a union then. Now it's a union. But he was a very nice man. You could talk to him.

ES: How old were you when you moved into your house in the sandbanks?

WD: I think I was about - maybe thirty years old.

ES: And you grew up in Port Washington?

WD: Yes, I was born here.

ES: What about your husband?

 

page 7

WD: My husband was born in Flushing.

ES: What was your husband's full name?

WD: Edward S. Degoski.

ES: When did he die?

WD: He died in 1950, New Year's Eve. I'll never forget it.

ES: Was his illness connected with the sandbanks.

WD: No, when we moved to Whitestone, my husband got a job in a shipyard there, near the water, and I guess he contracted his colds there and he lingered for thirteen years that way.

ES: A respiratory problem?

WD: No. And later, after he had died, I found out that he was diabetic. He was in and out of the hospital every year. First he started out with lobar pneumonia and then he continued... for thirteen years he didn't work.

ES: Getting back to where you lived, did you ever go out of your house and just look at the sandbanks.

 

page 8

WD: We used to go largely to the beach, Bar Beach at that time. Now it's fenced in. Years ago, you just had to go across the street and you were in the water. It was nice. It wasn't so crowded with people as it is now.

ES: How did you feel about moving into your own house at the sandbanks?

WD: I didn't like it because it was so isolated. 'Till I got acquainted with all the ladies, all the neighbors across the street. They had all these little bungalows there. And one of them where I used to carry the pails of water, for washing the clothes, washing the house. 'Cause we had no water where we lived. The neighbors were very nice. And then Langone's store, Marino's store, and that was all. But we enjoyed it because we had friends to come over to the house.

ES: Were there any social activities that the sandbank companies sponsored, like dances?

WD: Not that I know of.

ES: Could you tell us a little about the school?

WD: It only went up to a certain grade and from there they had to go to Port Washington schools. It looked like an ordinary house, but outside they had a fire escape. Otherwise, you wouldn't think it was a school. It was off on a hill, but it's not there any more.

 

page 9

ES: Do you remember when it went?

WD: No, I don't. Because then I moved away and I lived away from Port Washington for quite a while.

ES: Did you ever visit your daughters in the school?

WD: Oh, yes. I don't remember the teachers. They liked it. They stayed in the school until they were about six or seven years old.

ES: When was your first daughter born?

WD: She would be now, let's see, 56 years old if she had lived. My son is 51, he's the youngest one.

ES: Would you have wanted him to work in the sandbanks?

WD: No, because I wanted him to go to school. Take up architecture. He's a painter now. My brothers worked in the sandbanks. Steven (Kline) worked for Metropolitan, and Dominic (Kline) worked for Colonial.

ES: Is he still working there?

 

page 10

WD: Yes.

ES: What kind of work did your brothers do?

WD: Steven is a mechanic.

ES: Can you describe what is involved.

WD: I guess fix whatever was wrong with the trains or whatever. And my brother Dominic, he was on the cranes, then he got to be head one at the union and I don't know whether he still is, but he's the one who ran the trains, a very smart boy. That's all I know about my brothers.

ES: How long has Dominic worked in Colonial?

WD: A long, long time, I don't know how many years, but that was his only job, I believe. Steve, too, quite a few years.

ES: Ten, twenty, thirty?

WD: I don't know for sure.

ES: What does working the crane involve?

 

page 11

WD: I don't know, 'cause I never went in to the banks itself where they work. It was dangerous and we weren't allowed to go there. You never know when something will fall down when the crane is carrying the sand or whatever.

ES: Did your daughters enjoy growing up in that area?

WD: Well, they didn't mind. But when they moved out when they got older, they enjoyed themselves more 'cause we were among people. There was nothing there at the banks for the children.

ES: There was no playground or library in the banks?

WD: There was a little library there, in the school, I think, and a little playground for the children, and that was about it. It was lonely for the children that lived around there. Where I used to get my water, there was about eight or nine little bungalows, and across the yard was a bigger house, where Wallace lived, then a little over they had the store. There was Marino's, where the fellows used to go when they had a little rest time, they would go there and buy their lunches and Langone's had a grocery store.

ES: Did you know the Marino's?

WD: Yes, I did. I knew the Langone's, too.

ES: Did their families also work in the sandbanks?

 

page 12

WD: I believe so, because they had property there.

ES: Did you ever dream about the sandpits at night?

WD: No, because I was glad to get out. That wasn't the kind of life I liked.

ES: Were there many other Polish people working in the sandbanks?

WD: There were quite a bit, I don't know who they were, but there were quite a bit. It was Italian peoples mostly.

ES: Was there a language barrier between the Italian and Polish people?

WD: No, because most of the Italian people who worked here, they were born here. Just maybe a few, like Parchevsky (?). I think he was born on the other side, I'm not sure.

ES: Did you think of the sandbanks as beautiful?

WD: I didn't think they would turn out as they did. It's really nice now. With those buildings there. And the grounds are so nice. It's not all cranes and those things standing up in the air.

 

page 13

ES: Was it noisy living near the sandbanks?

WD: I couldn't hear too much of it. Just the trucks going back and forth, that's about it.

ES: What did you think when you heard the library was doing a project on the sandpits?

WD: I said, my goodness, I don't remember too much about the sandbanks. I was surprised, really, I was really surprised.

ES: Do you think it's important for the grandchildren to know what once went on there?

WD: I imagine it would.

ES: Do you see any reason why the sandpits should be preserved?

WD: Well, for the people that worked there it would be nice, they would have a job longer. This way, if they finish it off, that would be it. By that time, most of them would be retiring, like my brother Dominic, he would be retiring soon, too.

ES: Do they get any benefits working in the sandbanks?

 

page 14

WD: I imagine they do, I imagine they do. I never asked my brothers questions. I figured it's none of my business. If they want to tell me, they can tell me.

ES: Where was the location of your house?

WD: I lived on the other side of the road from Bar Beach, on the opposite side of the water, toward Roslyn. It's hard to find now. Every time I pass by I'm trying to find if there's anything familiar so I can see where I lived. But there's nothing here familiar for me to see. It's all cleaned up now. You don't know. There used to be a house near the gate to Bar Beach, and I don't even see that house now.

ES: What kind of a house was it?

WD: It was just a house... We used to have to climb Beacon Hill if we wanted to get into Port Washington. They used to have like a ladder, and we used to climb to here.

ES: Was there any other means of transportation, other than walking?

WD: Oh, yes, they had their cars.

 

page 15

ES: Do you remember the Gallagher house near Bar Beach?

WD: Maybe that's the house I'm thinking of. It was a big white house. It's not there any more. We weren't too far away from that house.

ES: Where did the owners of Metropolitan live?

WD: Further down toward Port Washington, before the hill. It's so nice to see the old houses, but they tear them down, so you don't see them any more. That stone house of Marino's was very nice. It wasn't that dilapidated, or anything like that. Whoever bought the property, tore it down and built stores and stuff.

ES: Do you know what kind of salary your husband made when he worked at the banks?

WD: It wasn't a big salary, that's for sure. I don't know how much now, but it wasn't a big salary.

ES: Was it enough to keep you all?

WD: Well, barely.

 

page 16

ES: You told me a story about Mrs. Pupa's father. Could you repeat that?

WD: Well, I know he lost his legs, I think at Goodwin Gallagher's. I don't know too much about it; all I know is he lost his legs.

ES: Is Mrs. Pupa still alive?

WD: Yes, she's still alive. Her father and mother are not.

ES: How do you know this story?

WD: They lived up the hill from the school. There was a little hill there and there were little, tiny bungalows up that hill. Mrs. Pupa was about fourteen years old when I knew her.

ES: When your husband worked at the sandbanks for the five or six years, was your daily routine difficult? Can you describe what a day was like.

WD: It's not like it is now. Now, you have a washing machine. You stick the clothes in a washing machine. At that time, I had to carry my water in a tub, boil the water so I could get hot water for washing clothes, and there for a while we didn't have any electricity, had to use the lamps. So it really was much harder than it is now.

ES: Was there danger of fire in the bungalows?

 

page 17

WD: Not really. The kids were trained so they were careful.

ES: What do you think your daughters remember about living in the sandbank?

WD: I don't think they remember it, because we moved out when they were young. When they were children they played. But I don't think they would like that life now. If they were bigger they wouldn't have liked it 'cause there's no place to go for children.

(Discussion of Mrs. Reese's photograph of group of miners)


ES: What year do you think that picture might be?

WD: That's an old picture.

ES: How did they dress when they went to work?

WD: They wore work clothes, overalls and jackets, and caps, they had caps. My husband had a skull cap as they called it. He always went out with a skull cap.

ES: What was that for?

WD: Well, he always wore it on his head. Just a little cap to keep the top of his head warm.

 

page 18

ES: Did they work all year?

WD: I think so. Unless they got slow. Then they would either be laid off for a while and called back or whatever.

ES: Let me show you one other picture.

WD: There's the hills that we used to climb. There's the train. The shovel, they call it a shovel. Picks up the sand. That's like it was years back. These must be the bosses.

ES: Why do you think so?

WD: Because of the way they're dressed.

ES: How are they different?

WD: These guys are dressed up in their caps and coats. Maybe this guy is a foreman, I don't know.

ES: Did you used to hear the 12 o'clock whistle blow?

WD: I don't remember.

ES: Did you ever hear the whistle for a cave-in?

 

page 19

WD: I don't remember. That would have been a different kind of a whistle. I was young then, I didn't pay attention. I had my three children, you don't pay attention.

ES: If you had to tell your grandchildren what the importance of the sandpits were to the development of Port Washington's history, what would you tell them?

WD: Well, if they ever ask me, I would tell them whatever I know. They wouldn't understand anyway. Because they were too young. My grandchildren, they wouldn't understand at all. 'Cause they weren't here.

ES: Thank you so much, Mrs. Degoski.

INDEX
Return to page 1

Bar Beach 8, 14
Beacon Hill 14

Colonial (Co.) 9-10

Degoski, Edward 7

Gallagher 15
Goodwin & Gallagher 2, 16

Kline, Dominic 4, 9, 10, 13
Kline, Steven 9, 10

Langone's store 1, 8, 11

Marino's store 8, 11, 15
Metropolitan (Co.) 4, 9, 15

Parchevsky (?) 4, 12
Pupa, Mrs. 15-16

School 8-9, 11

Thompson, Bert 1, 3, 5-6

Wallace, Ben 1, 4, 11