My First Exploration
by Bob Stonehill
The summer of 1945 was fast approaching, and my older brother Lee, about to reach the responsible age of 7, was preparing to attend his first summer sleep away camp. In a stroke of genius or self- preservation, my parents decided to add one more name to the shipping manifest.
Little Bobby Stonehill, not yet five years old, would spend part of the summer with his older brother at Camp Niavelt, the first of many Jewish camps we would attend. Not much of that summer is remembered, only the anguish of a perpetual bed wetter who longed for his parents and the comfortable surroundings of Sunnyside Gardens. Between 2-4 weeks of suffering was enough, and my parents were strongly encouraged to end the experiment.
For the next two summers (1946-47), I would be bused to Queens Day Camp in Whitestone. The highlight of the summer was an evening theater event put on by all campers. My parents attended and saw my theater debut in a non-speaking role as a wooden pole, holding a clothes line in my hand, never moving. "For this we had to schlep?" was the grumble I overheard while standing on stage. My parents must have taken a train and a bus from Main St. to get to Whitestone as we didn't acquire a car until December 1950.
Somewhere in 1946-47 my parents bought me a burgundy tricycle. Not long after I started to ride, an older youth asked if he could borrow my tricycle to ride around the block. As he and the bike disappeared in the distance, I realized I had been an easy target. When my father got home from work, we followed the route the thief took, and headed towards the "garages" on 39th Avenue. This was the first exploration of my life, but there was no joy to be had. We walked through each concrete lane of the corrugated steel buildings. At the rear right was a steep staircase which descended to Barnett Avenue. It was strewn with garbage accumulated over decades. In those days, no auto related businesses had been built along Barnett, and we searched through the (the barrens) grounds as they sloped uphill to the LIRR tracks.
My father took me by the hand from the LIRR underpass at 48th street to the underpass at 43rd Street where, looking down, we saw the underground LIRR turn around, then followed meandering 43rd Street towards Northern Boulevard, passing wild chickens belonging to one of the homes, since demolished for industrial use. We never found the bike. Years later, at the end of 1950, my brother and I got our first two wheelers.
That extensive search for the tricycle was my introduction to exploration, a passion which still drives me today.
Lee and Bobby with their good friend Carol on 46th Street.