Rhonda And Barbara
Wherever life takes you, the uniqueness of growing up in the Rockaway community always seems to remain. As Rhonda Feterman-Cronin said, “The memories and who we are will forever be colored by the hues of the sand and ocean, and the soothing roar of the waves.” Unexpectedly, the friendship Feterman-Cronin formed in the third grade with, Barbara Dommermuth-Catlett, is just as strong as ever 50-plus years later.
In the summer of 1964, Feterman-Cronin’s family moved to Beach 68th Street. She started school at P.S. 42, where she met her best friend, Barbara. The path of their journey continued through JHS 198, and Far Rockaway High School, where they proudly graduated together in 1974.
Like any true Rockawayites, the two girls went to the beach as much as they could. Feterman-Cronin joked, “I even have all the freckles and sun spots to prove it!” The girls spent their summer days soaking up the sun, singing, and writing stories. Feterman-Cronin said they would bring a marble notebook to the beach, and each write stories which they modeled after the famous, "Archie Comics." They’d alternate who would start the story first, and pick up where the other left off, not leaving the beach until the whole notebook was complete. Even after all these years, she remembers all of their stories always had the same premises—one good girl, one bad girl, and one nerdy guy. When reflecting on the stories the girls created, Feterman-Cronin joked, “Ask me what I had for breakfast today, and I couldn’t tell you. But these memories always seem to stick out in my brain.”
While the beach will always be the first spot Feterman-Cronin thinks of when speaking about how her friendship flourished with Dommermuth-Catlett, she also expressed how much they enjoyed going to the famous, Rockaway Playland. Because she grew up on Beach 68th, she remembers watching the fireworks at Playland, from her mother’s bedroom window as they lit up the sky every Wednesday night. On the rare occasion when the girls weren’t together, they would insist on talking on their landlines, while simultaneously listening to their 45 tracks, specifically their all-time favorite, The Monkees.
As their lives progressed, Feterman-Cronin moved to Forest Hills, Queens, and Dommermuth-Catlett moved to Richmond, Virginia in the late 1970s. However, their separation across different states didn’t stop them from keeping in touch. They wrote letters to each other, keeping their memories alive. When they both settled down and got married, the importance of their friendship remained, keeping both their families in touch. Feterman-Cronin visits Dommermuth-Catlett almost every summer at her home in Virginia. Although they’re not in Rockaway anymore, she says that Dommermuth-Catlett brings their childhood memories back to life by hosting big barbecues, just like her Aunt Gladis did for them on those warm summer nights back on the peninsula. Feterman-Cronin said, “We share a history and an understanding that can only be likened to family.”
Throughout it all, and even with lapses in communication, their bond remains unbreakable. Feterman-Cronin expressed how much fun the pair had, and how they could not have grown up in a better place. “I feel the beach calls back to me. I’m constantly begging people to bring me back to Rockaway in the summertime, because I really feel Rockaway in my soul.”
There truly is something magical about growing up in Rockaway Beach, where childhood friendships certainly do last a lifetime.
By Marina Cregan
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