PORT WASHINGTON COMMUNITY ORAL
THE REMINISCENCES OF WANDA DEGOSKI
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,
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.
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
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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
ES: And you grew up in Port Washington?
WD: Yes, I was born here.
ES: What about your husband?
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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?
ES: What kind of work did your brothers
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?
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
WD: I believe so, because they had property
ES: Did you ever dream about the sandpits
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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
WD: That's an old picture.
ES: How did they dress when they went to
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.
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
WD: I don't remember.
ES: Did you ever hear the whistle for a
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.
Return to page 1
Bar Beach 8, 14
Beacon Hill 14
Colonial (Co.) 9-10
Degoski, Edward 7
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