I am Harry Gralton
I am Harry Gralton. I was born in 1940 and lived on 44th Street until I got married in 1969. My father was the local handyman and the gardener on Lincoln Court between 44th and 45th Streets. I helped him by mowing the lawns and rebuilding some of the back porches around the court. I went to St. Teresa’s School on 44th Street and 50th Avenue. I delivered the LI Journal on 43rd, 45th and 47th Streets for many years.
My travels through the neighborhood were always by foot. The residents have changed over the years, but a lot of the real estate has remained the same. The buildings, the gardens, garages, and, of course, the tall trees with the giraffe-like shedding bark and itchy ball seed pods.
Permit me to share with you some of my recollections of growing up on 44th Street. Our main playground was the street and we devised much of our equipment and toys. The streets had little traffic and few parked cars, but the tall trees enveloping the street were a problem. The surface was a smooth blacktop, which made it easy to write on with chalk and great for roller skating and bottle caps. The block being divided by manhole covers turned it into a stickball field.
We played fast pitch stickball against the garage wall on 39th Avenue off 43rd Street. The garages were also a ready-made ballfield for punch ball that we used for many years. A mop or broom handle was a highly prized acquisition for it could have many uses, the best being a stickball bat. All that was needed was a pink Spaulding rubber ball and you could have a ball game.
We made scooters out of 2x4’s, one skate, an orange crate, and finished off with broom-stick handles.
In the late 40’s and early 50’s, 39th Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets was the site of regular roller hockey games on winter weekends until the playground on 43rd Street and Skillman Avenue was built. Roller hockey continued to be the neighborhood winter sport until the 1970’s when Queen of Angels sports organization stopped contributing.
One great summer activity at the same location was playing with the Monarch butterflies that thrived on the milkweed that grew on the strip of land between 39th Avenue and the LIRR railroad tracks. There must have been thousands. When the garages were built on the site, they were gone.
Besides playing on the street, I encountered many interesting things over my years in Sunnyside. We had marching soldiers, air raid wardens (a regular sight during the war), tattooed mothers, ice cream vendors on bicycles, and electric trucks riding on hard rubber tires. A lot of great material for Dr. Seuss.
The four apartment buildings on 45th and 46th Streets were used by the army as overseas replacement barracks. These troops were probably the reason there were so many fancy bars in the neighborhood. There was Davey Jones’ Locker on the corner of 46th Street and Skillman Avenue and The Merry Go Round, a bar on Queens Boulevard and 46th Street that revolved.
Our bicycle riding ice cream man was “Chuck a Luk,” Charlie Prentice, who rode his bicycle, loaded with dry ice and a full day’s supply of ice cream, from Astoria, across Northern Boulevard, over railroad tracks, and up cobblestoned 43rd Street to our blocks. No wimp there.
On my paper route on 45th Street, I saw young mothers gathered in the summer in the shade of the four buildings that had been barracks. I began to notice many of them had numbers tattooed on their arms. It was many years later that I mentioned to someone that I had grown up in Sunnyside. They said, “Oh. That is where many Jewish refugees from WW II were placed.” Interesting.
Another summer day paper route story – When delivering below Skillman Avenue on 45th Street, I heard someone call out, “Hey, you.” I looked around and saw no one. I heard it again – no one. I crossed the street, looked around and finally saw a parrot on one of the porches. “Hey, you,” it said. I said, “Hi.” It said, “Hi.” Then it said, “Hey, you,” again. It had perfect diction. I then said a few more things that it repeated perfectly. I could no longer help myself. I had to say “F___ you.” The parrot said it perfectly and continuously. I crossed the street quickly and continued my route.
Sunnyside was just a small pocket of homes bordered by railroads and my home for 30 years. I hope you enjoy my recollections of my time there.
Courtesy Deborah Heller
Harry Gralton, 2016