Hurricane Sandy destroyed many homes, but not the memories within them. For many New Yorkers and former New Yorkers, these homes represent a piece of family history, filled with tales of family lore, and singer-songwriter Christine Lavin has one such story. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One On 1 profile.
Singer-songwriter Christine Lavin has written hundreds of songs throughout a long and accomplished career. But in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, she keeps coming back to a song she wrote in the early 1980s, "Rockaway."
"I'll take one last walk along this angry ocean," she sings. "Maybe stoop to find a pretty piece of beach glass, to remind me of Breezy Rockaway."
The song is inspired by a bungalow on Oceanside Drive in Breezy Point, Queens.
"It was 1982 or '83 where I helped my uncle Tom close up the bungalow before it was winterized, and it was a little bit warmer than it is today but it was this kind of day where it was sort of gray and there’s a chill in the air," says Lavin. "And I just remember how sad it was for us that the bungalow would be closed up, because that meant summer's over, back to real life. 'Cause this is just an amazing, magical place."
The bungalow on Oceanside Drive in Breezy Point has been in Lavin's family since 1922.
The pictures in the video for her song "Rockaway" show generations of grandparents and parents and mostly children in seaside bliss.
Now, when NY1 brought Lavin out to Breezy Point for her first post-Sandy look at the house, she found only ruins.
"I saw the pictures and I didn’t realize how bad it was 'til looking at it now," says Lavin.
Her 90-year-old Uncle Tommy was living in the bungalow before Sandy. He was safely evacuated.
This house was the place where Lavin and her extended family would come every summer for a day or two, or sometimes a week.
"I remember very vividly, my cousins, the Baychers from Sea Cliff, they had 11 children and our family had nine children, and all of us were here in our bathing suits, running around and screaming," says Lavin. "And I couldn’t believe the bungalows on either side, nobody ever complained about that many children."
Not surprisingly, this visit to the bungalow brought up a raft of stories.
"There was a back bedroom, there was a middle bedroom, the kitchen was on that side, there was a living room and then a deck, but it was all a very small space. I can’t believe how small it was," Lavin says. "To think that, you know, my eight brothers and sisters and I and my parents would visit and stay here. My grandparents were here too."
She was filled with happy memories at a sad time.
"My brother loved graham crackers and when I was three years old, I was wearing just a shirt and I ran all the way down to the beach with a graham cracker for my brother Gregory, with my bare butt," says Lavin. "But luckily I don’t remember that."
There were other experiences shared with the entire Breezy Point community.
"The little kids would sell the paper, they would have a little red wagon and they'd go up and down and they'd go 'pay-pah,' 'pay-pah,'" Lavin says.
Another nearby lot that now just has a floor and a rickety wall holds more memories for Lavin.
"Well, this was The Sugar Bowl, this was the hangout for all the teenage kids and all the adults from Breezy," she says. "I stepped on a lit cigarette there once, 'cause nobody ever wore shoes, and I think I smoked my first cigarette here, too. Don’t tell my mom."
Lavin is beloved in the folk music community. Her career has taken her around the country and the world, and those stories are recounted in her 2010 memoir "Cold Pizza For Breakfast."
She grew up in Peekskill, and vividly remembers the trips to the beach.
"We would eventually come to the Marine Parkway Bridge and we called it the 'singing bridge,' because when you drive over it, it makes this humming sound. And as soon as we heard the humming sound, we would scream 'yay' because we were so close to the beach," Lavin says.
"Our grandparents were so sweet and kind to put up such a huge family again and again, and there's a picture of my grandparents that is everyone's favorite picture. And they're standing on the deck and have the ocean behind them and my grandfather’s looking very happy and my grandmother's sort of looking off to the side," Lavin continues. "It sort of just captures the whole feel of who they were and just the beauty of the place."
The beauty of the place has been drastically and irreversibly changed by Sandy, but the warmth inside the bungalow will never fade from memory.
"My mom is in a long-term care facility now and she has the painting that my grandmother did of Breezy up on the wall and it makes her so happy," Lavin says.
"We wouldn’t have never gotten to know our cousins if we didn’t have this, 'cause this is the place we always met and had fun with them," Lavin continues. "So we’re all good friends all these years later cause of the bungalow at Breezy."
As for possibly writing something new about the bungalow in the aftermath of Sandy, Lavin says she never knows when the inspiration for a song might hit.
Besides, Lavin has already written a song that captured the spirit of the bungalow 30 years ago and it still resonates today.
"I’m always surprised when people ask for something that I wrote so long ago, but this kind of a place just symbolizes a lot for a lot of people, 'cause it is this place of innocence and charm and beauty and simplicity and it’s a kind of place that you always want to come back to," Lavin says.
She will next perform in New York on Saturday, December 15 at Symphony Space.
As for her 90-year-old Uncle Tommy, after the destruction of his home in Breezy Point, Lavin says the family has moved him to an assisted living facility where her cousin works in Nyack.