When I Was A Kid
by Ron Billing
When I was born, I lived on 47th Street by the cooperative nursery school, and later on, at 39-39 46 Street. I still have some pictures taken in the backyard. Life was so great then when we did not have the problems of life - just fun, fun and more fun.
I was just a kid who loved sports and lived for Torsney Park and the PS 150 schoolyard - even when it snowed. I played basketball in the Sunnyside Gardens Park on 39th Avenue with Pete Scheiner and Billy Wolfe and Martin Skala. The "older" guys had a fantastic softball team and played against teams from all over the area and in tournaments out of state.
The PS 150 schoolyard was a major stickball and softball place. We broke a few windows here and there when the ball was hit over the schoolyard fence. I had friends who lived in the building on the 1st floor just on the other side of the fence and early on weekend mornings, I would climb through their window to be one of the first guys there so I could play as soon as there was enough of us for a game. Some of the guys who played were Joel Steinberg, Jimmy Smith, Rich Herman, John and Paul Eisenberger. I knew many more whose names are in the back of my head but I just can't bring them up. I had a few girlfriends also and went to the movies a lot and usually sat in the last row - guess why. The most interesting person who was a friend and played ball with us is the actor James Caan. As far as the type of player Jimmy Caan was, I would call him (pardon the expression) a tough ass guy. He played the game real hard. He and I went to summer school together at Rhodes School in Manhattan.
At the private park on 39th Avenue and 49th Street, I also learned to become a sort of decent tennis player as I went there with my dad who played every Saturday and Sunday. Every once in a while I practiced with him, and along with playing every summer at sleepaway camps, I became fairly decent at something I accomplished that I'm sort of proud of and enjoy thinking about from my past when my bones were healthy.
An outstanding but not such a great event in my life happened at the park at 43rd St and Greenpoint Avenue. My father, who was an avid handball player, usually took me along. One day while I was playing, I shimmied up the thick pole that sometimes held a volley net and then had to come down too. I felt so proud as a little kid that I could get up - until it was time to come down. This time the hook the net hangs on went right into the top of my eyelid. Policemen, firemen, EMT’s, and doctors came to try and get me off that hook and not damage my eye. Luckily, somehow I moved and the hook came out. I and anybody else who knows this story has no clue why I had no permanent damage. The only thing I had to do was go to an eye surgeon for cosmetic surgery.
Another not so good time, I was with my mother outside the A&P on 43rd Avenue and while she was talking to a friend, I shimmied up the pole that held a fire alarm box for emergencies, pulled the handle, and with my mother in hand, ran home and to hide in the closet from whomever I thought might come to the house and arrest me. That was until my father came home, reached into the closet, pulled me out and was so furious at me - something he never was ordinarily - that he gave me the only spanking I ever got in my life.
I was in the SP classes at JHS 125 with Mrs. Meany who I loved and who also loved me. She was the only teacher in whose class I was well behaved. When I got to Bryant High School and hung out with guys from Astoria, a lot of my behavior and school marks started going downhill which is why my parents pulled me out after my second year and sent me to a prep school called Monson Academy near Springfield, Massachusetts. I left Sunnyside to hopefully and successfully pay attention to my education. There, I turned myself around and got into Adelphi College and did pretty good and played on the varsity basketball team.
I stayed in touch with Mrs. Meany, and in the early 1990's, went to pick her up in my car and brought her to our house. She was quite old by then but boy did my wife Daune (like Dawn) and I give her a happy day. She lived right off the Long Island Expressway in Maspeth and when she was housebound we stopped there every once in a while and gave her some real happy days just by thinking about her so many years after my school days. Made me feel real proud of myself because of the happiness Daune and I gave her.
Recently my wife and I went to a very interesting and enjoyable one person show by a woman whose father was a friend of mine and lived on 49th Street near 39th Avenue by the private park. His name is Martin Skala and his mother was Lilia Skala, a somewhat well-known actress. Her daughter is Libby Skala. She is very talented and performs her shows all over the country and in Europe too. Part of her show refers to Sunnyside. She has several different shows she does. The one we saw is called "Felicitas." Her website www.libbyskala.com/ lists the different venues where she performs. She is a very talented and versatile performer.
Ron Billing's backyard birthday party, ca. 1943
Daune and I live in Bethpage and have owned a courier service called Ron's Rapid Delivery for 33 years based in Hicksville, which means I'm still working. I have 2 children Jill and Greg who also live on Long Island, and between them 5 grandkids.