NO, NOT SUNNYSIDE GARDENS
by Nina Relin (Adams)
No, I did not grow up in Sunnyside Gardens. That was the club, the playground and the place where the “real” Sunnysiders lived. I grew up in an apartment on 41st Street. It was across from PS 150 (though tempted, I could not cross in the middle of the street and had to walk to the corner); it was just down the street from The Broiler (I can almost smell the delicious greasy burgers and fries); I had a bedroom view of the Empire State Building (now obscured by the CITI tower (grrrr)) and I loved the summer rhythm of the thunk of the handball in the schoolyard across the street. But it was NOT Sunnyside Gardens.
Our apartment was one large bedroom, one large living room, a small opening into a large entrance foyer, a kitchen with breakfast area and, of course, only one bathroom. (Years later, when my grandsons were fighting over which of their 3 bathrooms they would use, I said New Yorkers grew up with only one. They were shocked).
My younger sister, Toni, and I shared the bedroom and my parents set up their beds end to end in the large foyer with bolsters and end tables. Somehow it never seemed crowded BUT there was no privacy, especially for a pre-teen who wanted to bring friends home (after my folks’ bedtime). How could we walk past my sleeping parents into the living room? Oh for my own bedroom!
And so, under great pressure (my father never wanted to own anything), we looked at a three bedroom, two level house in Sunnyside Gardens. But I didn’t like my proposed 8x8 bedroom and the tight squeezed living room/dining room/kitchen was not very appealing. And so we didn’t. Would I have felt more connected if we had moved then? Who knows? But why was Sunnyside Gardens THE place to live?
Back in the apartment my mother, ever creative, made a bedroom for themselves in the breakfast room (which had a window) behind the kitchen. With custom built beds (they were very short) and a single bedside table and a folding door into the kitchen it was cozy (very) and adequate (I guess) though I felt a bit guilty and self-conscious about their sacrifice. And, though it solved the problem of sleeping parents, my mother ALWAYS heard me come in. The squeak of the folding door was followed by my mother in nightclothes. Was the plan really any better? My mother, who ultimately did have the big bedroom, remained in that apartment for a total of 72 years!
I was even more distant from Sunnyside when I travelled daily to the Bronx HS of Science. I was from The Queens (as contrasted with The Bronx) which always limited my dating and friendships. Perhaps my love for the city, with its theater and museums and excitement, came from my feeling of separation from both school and home.
Now, often to my amazement, I am back in Sunnyside with a weekend place on the south side of the Boulevard. It is a spacious top (6th) floor apartment again across from a playground (oh the thunk of the handball) and the voices of children. The neighborhood has changed from my childhood; no longer Italian, Irish, some Jewish and oh so white. It is now colorful with families from all of over the world. The clothing, faces, languages…and ethnic food at good prices…. are a real joy. We’ve been there for 10 years and see more change coming; younger folks who cannot afford Brooklyn are moving in and there is now a sampling of coffee houses and more upscale restaurants. Hopefully the higher rents will not predominate and that the wonderful mix will remain. And, every morning when I walk out of the front lobby I have a long view down 47th Avenue and can see the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings.
But it is still SUNNYSIDE GARDENS, now a National Register Historic District Community, which is The Place in Sunnyside to live.
Nina Relin (Adams) now lives outside of New Haven, CT, is a retired Nurse Practitioner, a curator of independent films for film festivals and the same theater absorbed person that she was as a teenager in Sunnyside.