by Steve Kappel
In 1945 we lived in Sunnyside Gardens, a small community, about 250 square blocks that was part of “greater” Sunnyside, a community sandwiched between Long Island City and Woodside, no more than a ten minute drive over the Queensborough Bridge to midtown Manhattan, if the traffic was light. My dad had bought a car after the war, a 1947 green DeSoto, complete with fluid drive. He used it whenever it was feasible. That’s how I know how long it usually took us to get into the City. (For any New Yorker living in one of the five boroughs, Manhattan was always the City.
The car: a 1947 green DeSoto
Steve with his dad
Typically, it was a Sunday, just me and my dad in the car. After making the turn on Skillman Avenue, Dad would say, what do you think, Bub, lower or upper deck? He knew already, but I would always reply, I think upper. I always wanted upper because it was higher, with less obstruction from the iron girders that always reminded me of the tinker toys from my younger days. And of course, it was higher and I could see more of the river. The war in Europe was over but I was still looking for the periscopes from German subs that I was sure were lurking below the surface.
Typically we weren’t going anywhere specific, Dad might cut through Manhattan to the west side, pointing out sights along the way. He would drive all the way to the Hudson and on to the West Side Highway, downtown, passing huge liners like the Normandy that had been crippled during the war, and past that, we even saw a captured German U-Boat. Dad said he had heard that we might be able to actually board it, go down inside it. I was astounded by this news and pleaded that we turn around and try. Dad said, no, maybe next Sunday. So we continued downtown, around the Battery, and then headed uptown, keeping pace with the East River, and Dad would continue his tour, his left hand on the wheel, the right pointing at buildings to the left.
Much too soon, we were back at the Queensborough Bridge and Dad would always cruise in onto the level we hadn’t taken out. Unless the traffic was too heavy. We would be home in time for breakfast. It was always the same: scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. Coffee for dad. I had orange juice. We would eat in the “Breakfast Nook,” a small extension of the long, narrow kitchen, where there was room for a small round table and three small chairs. From the nook you could see out into the gardens behind our house. This wasn’t our garden, but a “common” garden that was owned and considered the property of all houses that surrounded it. These were all attached, small two or three bedroom houses. Together the rear of each house formed a common, each house having a back porch and a small back yard. It was like country in the city. It was marvelous. The families mingled back there, among the grass, the bushes and the small and tall trees. They talked to one another, held a variety of get-togethers, including cookouts and such. The children loved this greenery. They could play games like “Hide and Go Seek” and “Catch Me If You Can.” But most of all, we were still playing “War,” hiding in the shrubbery with our wood guns and crashing through the bushes when an attack had been called. It was during one of these games that a new kid in the neighborhood (he was from somewhere in the Midwest) turned to me when we had taken cover behind a particularly dense bush. He looked me square in the eye and said: “You know, you’re the first Jew I ever met.” It startled me. I never knew I was somebody important.
If it was fall, Dad and I would go out and throw the football around…