The Seeds of Many Things
by Amy Brook Snider
The Sunnyside Stories website and our reunion here today have brought back a lot of memories. The other day, I began looking for things I had saved from the period dating 1940 to 1957, when my family moved to Queensview West, in Long Island City. I couldn’t find my WW II ration book nor my autograph book from our PS 150 “graduation, “although I do remember what my parents and our fifth and sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Musnik wrote and how disappointed I was in their words.
Although I now understand that their entried had more to do with them than me, what they wrote did not give a young girl the confidence she needed to cross the great Sunnyside divide of Queens Boulevard and attend JHS 125. It was my mother who had ofthen accompanied me to Woolworths (where I once stole a pack of trading cards). She took my sister Jenny and me for our weekly visits to the Queens Public Library where I could borrow 10 or fifteen books. I remember the big day when the library allowed me to graduate to the Adult section.
And speaking of a divide, there were the Gardens themselves. We lived in an apartment house on 45th Street between Skillman and 43rd Avenues. Oh, how envious I was of the Birrell family and my friends Valerie Lewis and Susan Vladeck, who lived in the Gardens with an upstairs and downstairs and so many rooms! My father was a practicing architect before the war and he knew Henry Wright, who with Clarence Stein, designed the Gardens. He often told my sister Jenny and me about its history.
I realized that although I couldn’t find the things I had saved, I didn’t really need them, thanks to the website. For example, I just read Laurie Beckoff Wellman’s piece about the plays her class put on for assembly – which was always on Wednesdays, when we all had to wear blue skirts or pants and a white middy blouse /shirt and a red tie. It made me recall a song that our class wrote that was sung by my old friend Roanna Judelson. Ro, as we called her, didn’t live in the private houses I had coveted but in a low apartment complex on 46th Street and Skillman Avenue which was still part of the Gardens. Her father was in the Furrier’s Union.
Our class had written an original play with Mrs. Musnik for the assembly about the Presidential Convention. Roanna sang it to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy. The following is only one of the several verses:
If I’m elected President for every son and daughter
I’ll see that there is soda pop instead of running water.
There’ll be no school on sunny days, the movies will be free,
There’ll be a circus every day if you will vote for me.
Bob Stonehill (we called him Bobby) told me he had played the part of Senator Starren in the play, a combination of Earl Warren and Harold Stassen. He said that he had drawled, in a deep South accent,
My dear friends, the nomination has touched me deeply. I didn’t expect it at all. Of course, since one good turn deserves another and you have let me appear here, I shall return the favor 100-fold if I should be elected President. And just to show you that I mean everything that I say, I’ll do you my first favor by not giving you the long speech I had prepared.
In assembly, we learned songs like, “Our Flag is the Flag for Me,” and “I’d Like to be the Sort of Man the Flag Can Boast About,” with Mrs. Musnik conducting.
In the prepared talks, and in our conversations afterwards, I remembered other things and met some interesting people I hadn’t know back then, since they didn’t live near me or weren’t in my grade at P.S. 150.
Was it Mrs. Polk’s interpretative dance classes that led me to study modern dance at the New Dance Group in the city or attend dances performances at Needle Trades High School with friend and soon after, Balanchine’s ballet company at the City Center? Were my short-lived piano lessons with Augusta Cherry where I had seen David Horowitz, Ruth’s brother? Did Joel Shapiro and I get married because we both shared a Sunnyside childhood although we never knew each other there? I’m sure that the seeds of many things in my life today are a result of those days living in Sunnyside during and after World War II.
Queen of Angels Parish
44th Street and Skillman Avenue
Sunnyside, New York
June 3, 2017
Dr. Amy Brook Snider chaired the Department of Art and Design Education at Pratt Institute for 30 years. As Professor, Emerita, she has been working as an educational consultant, conducting professional development workshops, writing, and advocating for educational reform since 2014.