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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Ah! It’s summer. 

Yes, there are miserable things happening that we are accosted with in the daily news briefs: congressional hearings, COVID numbers, climate change, warfare, inflation, gasoline price spikes, and so forth. But there is something magical about summer. Maybe it’s a carryover from our school days, when classes and homework ended and we could think about a trip to the beach or lounging in bed in the mornings, that make us feel the specialness of the season.

Come with me, then, as we do some time travel to my elementary school years, and I tell you what summers were like for me.

From first to fifth grades, my mother would visit my teachers in mid-May and get their lesson plans for the rest of the semester and the beginning of the next. She would then take me out of school, and I would not return until mid-September. We would travel to some rustic shack in the Catskill Mountains, a different one each year, where we would spend sixteen weeks in “the fresh air.”

My parents, you see, did not appreciate urban living in the summer, when I recall it used to get hotter than now. Air conditioning only existed in movie theaters, ice cream could only be purchased in bulk from drug stores with freezers, and to get a breeze, one would have to drive really fast along Manhattan’s East Side Highway with all the windows open—that is if one were lucky enough to get a ride in a car. 

My dad grew up in the mountains, my mom in Corona, Queens, which she said was so countrified that there were cows on the road when she walked to public school. They keenly felt the inevitable pollution in the summer air and planned the escape for us children and my mom.

It was lonely for me, fresh air not withstanding I would read a lot. Generally, there would be a farm or two within walking distance, and only occasionally was there a child to play with, only my sister, who was two years younger and had Down Syndrome. But my dad and sometimes my much older brother would come up and stay with us on the weekends, and then the pace of life would pick up.

My dad and I would traipse across meadows and climb hills, for the exercise and just for the fun. Sometimes we would see cows grazing, and they would look at us lazily as we went by. My dad always reminded me to stay alert for the presence of a bull and also to watch out for any snakes that might be sunning themselves at the base of the low stone walls that separated the meadows. Should we see a bull in the distance, we should look to climb a nearby tree.

Often we would find wild blueberry bushes, and we carried containers to bring some back to the rest of the family. We picked the berries in the classical way: one for the pot, two for the mouth, one for the pot, two for the mouth. As we moved around each bush, I enjoyed the warm sun on my back and the smell of wheat and grass carried by the soft breezes that caressed us on their way past. 

When it was time to return, I would wait for his suggestion that I lead the way, and it always came. My dad hoped I would develop a good sense of direction, especially when the terrain looked the same all around us. He would show me nature’s clues, like moss growing on the north side of tree trunks, as a help to finding my way.

One time I remember getting up early enough to watch the sun rise from the top of the nearby hill. I had never seen the sun rise before then, but the real treat was just being with my dad.

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President of Strong Island Rescue Frankie Floridia stands with the Bakewicz family after delivering the calves to the farm Feb. 13. Photo from Frankie Floridia

A North Shore-based animal rescue group has managed to save two young calves before they were slaughtered at a New Jersey farm, and now the animals have found sanctuary with a Wading River farm.

The young Calves Woody (green) and Buzz (blue). Photo from Justin Bakewicz

Frankie Floridia, president of the nonprofit animal rescue group Strong Island Rescue, said he learned about one of the animals from being tagged in a Facebook post. The four-day-old calf was born in Amish country in New Jersey, but was to be sent off to slaughter to not waste the mother’s milk production. Floridia drove up there and learned there was another calf, roughly the same age, that they could also save from the slaughterhouse.

“The Amish had taken [it] away from its mother because it was a male, and they don’t need the calves — they don’t want to waste the milk they’re selling.,” he said.

Back on Long Island, Justin Bakewicz, a member of the family-owned Bakewicz farm in Wading River, had recently experienced a terrible loss. Bakewicz had purchased two, four-month-old calves in January. The health of one of them, named Bo Duke, started to fail. The family brought the calf to Jefferson Animal Hospital in Port Jefferson, and then brought him home and kept it in their kitchen while theyconnected him with an IV and gave him constant shots. Unfortunately, the calf passed away Feb. 8.

“It was a real big disappointment to me, my family and the community — everyone was a big part of it,” Bakewicz said.

Only a few days later, people started to tag the farm owner on the Facebook post about the calves Strong Island Rescue had saved. Bakewicz said his mother, Marianne, thought it might be too soon for new calves, but once he saw the scampering young Jersey bull calves he knew they were right for him.

“We heard that Bakewicz had a calf that passed away a couple days ago, and [Justin] was saying ‘it was like fate,’” Floridia said.

Justin Bakewicz, left, helps feed the calves Woody (green) and Buzz (blue). Photo from Justin Bakewicz

Bakewicz said the two young animals are full of energy.

“The two babies — they’re like puppies,” he said. “One is one week old he’s so full of Vitamin D and I turned around, and there was the other one. I said, ‘well I can’t say no. I got to take them both.’”

The farm owner has taken to raising the calves in his own house where he feeds them from large milk bottles three times a day. Bakewicz has even taken them out for walks.

“I’m walking these things like dogs,” Bakewicz said. “I walked them around my block today and every neighbor was sticking their heads outside going ‘what the hell is that I thought it was a Great Dane.’ Everybody in the neighborhood is excited to watch them grow.”

It will be another week or two of watching the young bulls grow large enough they can move out to the farm.

The farmer asked the community for suggestions of names, and it has settled on Buzz and Woody, after the movie “Toy Story.” The names were suggested by Christin Paparelli Santillo who will receive a free t-shirt.