By Ruth Horowitz
“We live at 39th Avenue and 44th Street.” Although three doors in from the avenue, this was my mother’s stock reply to anyone asking directions to our house. Said with certainty, this often asserted short phrase gave me a solid hook into my place in the world. Easy to learn, easy to remember, it definitively mapped where my roots took hold.
If my brother and his friends played street hockey, it was at the end of our block on 39th Avenue that they played. If dog walkers walked their dogs, it was across 39th Avenue, on the wasteland below the railroad tracks, between the skunk cabbage and catalpa trees. And if, when the sun set over the railroad tracks, sweethearts arrived to smooch in parked cars - that too happened on 39th Avenue. Cars came by, but we were made wary of the danger because 39th Avenue was a two-way street.
Barnett Avenue was another street entirely, the one that began at the corner of 45th Street and veered off from 39th Avenue towards 48th Street. Undeclared by signage, it was a rugged street, only partially paved with cobblestones showing, and lined both sides with derelict garages, no sidewalks. Up a scrubby rise lay the LIRR tracks, and at the 48th Street end loomed a towering red-brick turreted and fortress-like building, a bus garage. You had to wonder how all the trash got there when no obvious human presence seemed to exist. Barnett Avenue was mysterious, a borderline, a no-man’s land.
Forbidding as it was, over the years clusters of friends would travel this route to Bryant High School each morning - it was, after all, a shortcut. Teen babbling and laughter, last minute test study, talk of baseball and world issues, and plans being hatched echoed down the early morning street scene. At the 48th Street crossroad, we headed left towards Northern Boulevard and school, through the detritus beneath the LIRR overpass.
Nowadays, on any map of Sunnyside, Barnett Avenue begins at 43rd Street, and it is 39th Avenue that begins at 45th Street. If you visit the area, except for the LIRR, Barnett bears little resemblance to that Barnett of old - the dreary desolate landscape lightened by the promise of young people – a memory resisting erasure.
Ruth Horowitz has been homesteading with her husband in the woods of Nova Scotia since 1974.