Centenarian reminisces about life as a farmer

08/04/2013 10:00 AM |
Yakaboski turns 100 in Calverton

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | John Yakaboski says he’s not sure what he’s done in life to allow him to live so long, though he’s never smoked and rarely drank.

There was a time, many years ago, when a loaf of bread cost 10 cents and the only traffic on Riverhead’s Route 58 came from the occasional horse and buggy. It was a time when people didn’t lock their front doors because, well, there just wasn’t much reason to.

It’s an era, long since past, that John Yakaboski of Calverton, who turned 100 July 11, yearns for.

“Give me the good old days,” he says. “We didn’t make no money but living was cheap.”

For around 60 years, potato farming was the way Mr. Yakaboski made his living. The second of five kids, he was born at his parents’ home in Orient in 1913. The family moved to Calverton when he was about 10 years old, and he has lived in the same house ever since.

His father died when he was just 15; Mr. Yakaboski quit school and immediately went to work planting and digging potatoes on the family farm.

“That was rough times,” he recalls. “We had to dig with a one-road digger. Then we had to pick up the potatoes in a basket and put ‘em in bags.”

Life wasn’t all work, though. One of Mr. Yakaboski’s favorite childhood pastimes was going fishing with his older brother, Frank.

“He’d go for pickerel and I’d go for pumpkin seed,” Mr. Yakaboski says. “You can’t buy them in a store.”

For a time, when he was 18, Mr. Yakaboski worked at a duck ranch.

“My job was killing ducks,” he says. “There were three duck ranches in Calverton and now there are none. I got 18 dollars a week from six o’clock in the morning to six at night. That was good money. Oh, well.”

Mr. Yakaboski was 33 when he and his wife, Wanda, were married. The couple, who met through a relative of Mr. Yakaboski’s in Bridgeport, Conn., had three sons: John Jr., Ed and Walter. Wanda Yakaboski died in 2004 at age 85.

Today, most of Mr. Yakaboski’s friends — and all but one sibling, his 96-year-old sister Albina — have died.

“All my friends are practically gone,” he says. “I’m still kickin’ around. I miss them.”

To help occupy the time, Mr. Yakaboski talks on the phone, visits with nearby family members and watches television – well, a little.

“I watch television but there’s nothing on it – just a lot of junk,” he says. “Most of the time, I start with the weather and the news at four o’clock. At seven o’clock I watch ‘Jeopardy!’ and then watch ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ Then I shut it off and that’s it.”

Mr. Yakaboski goes to bed at half-past nine and wakes up around 6 a.m., perhaps because he’s unable to shake a lifetime of rising at dawn.

“One day, about a week ago, I couldn’t fall asleep, so I got up and put my clothes on,” he says. “I ate, then looked at the clock and it was two o’clock in the morning. So I says, ‘Well, I guess I’ll undress and go to bed again.’ ”

If there’s a secret to living a long life, Mr. Yakaboski says he isn’t aware of it. He never smoked and rarely drank as a younger man and, aside from having a pacemaker, he’s in good health.

“I don’t know what’s keeping me around,” he says, chuckling lightly.

ryoung@timesreview.com