by Ann Scherel Heller
I always felt that I grew up on the wrong side of Sunnyside’s Queens Boulevard. Mine was the side with the Sunnyside Gardens wrestling venue, the Robert Hall clothing shop, the Bliss Street Movie, and the junior high school PS 125.
For me, the good side of Queens Boulevard included PS 150 and the Sunnyside Gardens with its private homes and gardens. My best friends lived in the Gardens and I was inclined to go to their homes after school. At the time I remember being envious of their lives. They had brothers and sisters; I was an only child. Their parents were “professionals,” and “progressives,” teachers, social workers, and guidance counselors, born in the USA. Their mothers worked. In contrast, my father sewed handkerchiefs in his small factory, and had emigrated from Latvia, and my mother was a housewife.
Living on the other side of Queens Boulevard presented some challenges when I started PS 150. The walk home for lunch became an arduous task for a youngster, especially in the wintertime. Sadly, one of my most vivid memories of childhood was wetting my pants on one of those noontime walks home and the shame and great discomfort caused as the urine dried and chafed my legs. After that incident, my mother arranged for my aunt who lived on 43rd Avenue, only blocks from the school, to give me lunch. This aunt was childless and gladly accepted the responsibility. She would meet me at the elevator and take me up to her sixth floor apartment for lunch and bathroom break.
I lived directly opposite the Sunnyside Jewish Center, and while my parents were active members of the synagogue, my mother was not religious and chose not to attend High Holiday services. Instead, she and I sat at our casement windows observing the parade of prayer goers, critiquing the women’s fashions that were on display.
I loved 43rd Street as a child because I had friends to play with. I roller-skated and skipped rope with Susan Diamond, Anita Wagner, Judy Rosenzweig, and Bonnie Liebman. I remember our mothers coming out of their houses and crying at the news of FDR’s death.
I was a loyal Queens girl, attending Queens College and taking the IRT Main Street Flushing line to the last stop and riding a bus on Kissena Boulevard to the school. It was a long trip and I would try to hitch a ride home after class with a driver who lived nearer to Sunnyside.
My parents never really deserted Sunnyside; their big move was to Woodside to live in the Big Six apartments on Queens Boulevard. But they still went every week to the new Sunnyside Library and continued to support the Sunnyside Jewish Center. I, on the other hand, remained in Queens, but moved a bit further out, to Rego Park after I married.
I recently visited my street. The White Castle is still there, but the synagogue is gone. Imagine my surprise to see that my home is now the residence of a Tarot Reader who advertises her talents in large purple letters on her windowpanes. Perhaps I will go for a reading.
Ann started her career as an English teacher at Julia Richman High School and served as the Reading Director of the Uniondale School District until 2001. "Known as granny Annie" to her three grandchildren, Ann and her late husband Paul raised their three children in Dix Hills, NY, where she still lives and is a literacy volunteer.