by Maria (DeFina) McAndrew
Memories of Sunnyside would have to include my extended Italian-American family. The first members to settle there were my paternal grandparents. Seven of their nine children contributed $500 each toward a down payment on the 2 family house at 45-15 Skillman Avenue. They moved from a tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, probably in the late 1940’s, and lived there with their youngest daughter for the rest of their lives. It became the family gathering place. The basement had a full kitchen and a very long table, and we’d celebrate every holiday there.
My family was the next to move to Sunnyside in 1951. We purchased the 3 family house at 44-05 Skillman Avenue. Though I lived there for only 11 years, it was then, and still is, HOME. My parents, Peter and Rose DeFina, my younger sister, Paula, and my maternal grandmother lived there. The Puma’s, Rosalie, Frank and their two sons moved to 43rd Street across from Torsney Park, and Uncle Nat and Aunt Alma lived on Skillman between 47th and 48th Streets. While it was usually wonderful being surrounded by family, during my teenage years, there were times I wished there weren’t so many relatives around. You couldn’t steal kisses behind the garages without being spotted by someone and being reported to your father.
Another vivid memory is of the “Mom and Pop” stores we frequented before supermarkets and big box stores appeared. Charlie’s Market on the corner of Skillman and 45th somehow stocked all our grocery needs in a tiny space. There were packaged goods and fresh fruits and vegetables. Charlie’s math skills amazed me. He’d write the prices on a paper bag and add them as quickly as any adding machine. The store was shared with Jerry Geany, who ran the meat market. Jerry was a charming and friendly man and an avid Brooklyn Dodgers fan. He’d post the inning by inning scores above the counter during World Series games. We referred to the candy store across the street from my grandparents as “George, the Greek’s.” I know, not PC by today’s standards, but with no malice intended. His name was George and he was Greek. I made a daily visit there to purchase The Daily News and The Daily Mirror for my father. If I remember correctly, they cost 5 cents each. Phil and Bill’s on Skillman and 46th was a much superior candy store. There was a soda fountain where you could get an egg cream and toys a visiting uncle would buy while he nipped into the pub across the street for a quick drink.
Though I lived in our Sunnyside home only until I married in 1962, my father lived there until 2004, so my roots run deep. Some of my happiest memories are of growing up in Sunnyside.
My paternal grandmother with a cousin in front of 45-15 Skillman Avenue.
Walking the dog in the backyard
My sister Paula
Maria DeFina is a retired Special Ed Teacher Assistant living in Westchester. Married to Jack McAndrew of 39-39 47th Street for almost 50 years until his passing in March 2012, she has two wonderful children and five amazing grandsons.