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I visited my hometown, Glendale, in Queens, New York last Sunday, the setting for much of my recently published memoir, Only You. It’s been at least 15 years since I drove around this place where I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s.

So much of the landscape has changed, but the “old” Glendale stays fresh in my mind. I’m still walking up the side streets, humming “Maybellene” as I head for the candy store and my teenage friends on Myrtle Avenue. My girlfriend, Janice and I make jokes as we ride our bikes on 72nd Street; my cousin, Buddy and I laugh while we dance the Lindy in the backyard of our two-family house.

Forest Park, where we spent so much time during my first 20 years, with its carousel and band shell, its playground and golf course, its ball fields and parking lots is now closed off to traffic. No more drive-throughs on the way to concerts or to the “passion pit”; no more shortcuts to Woodhaven Boulevard and to Rockaway Beach.

The narrow, winding Interboro Parkway where, as teens, we once recklessly ran across the road from one cemetery to the next, avoiding the speeding cars, on our way to Moscowitz’s tomb overlooking the stock car racetrack in East New York, is now called the Jackie Robinson Parkway.

As for cemeteries, which surround Glendale on all sides, they’re still there. And on Cooper Avenue, facing St. John’s Cemetery where my grandparents and other relatives are buried (along with some Mafioso like Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino and John Gotti who lived in nearby ‘hoods; see Wikipedia for the Organized Crime roster) is the most famous house in Glendale: Archie Bunker’s house. He “lived” here from 1971 to 1984 and, as I just read online, “Funny that the show never mentioned Archie’s view off the front stoop: a graveyard across the street.”

St. Pancras Church, my church for so many years, was locked when I tried to open the large front door on Sunday afternoon. Wasn’t it always open to the devout in years past? The writer Jimmy Breslin’s father-in-law, a super religious parishioner, used to kneel and chant in the center aisle at early Mass — an alarming sight for those of us who had been up all night at a pajama party.

My library, the Glendale Public Library, is no longer open on weekends. I wanted to visit but it wasn’t possible. Budget cuts are the reason, a librarian explained when we spoke by phone. The building was such an important part of this writer’s life, and there were no days, other than holidays, when it wasn’t available to me. Buddy and I went to Story Hour every week – as important as church to us then – and I wonder, do they still offer this to the kids?

There is no more Granny’s candy store on Myrtle Avenue, such a prominent “character” in my memoir. And next door, Warnecke’s Funeral Home is gone, too. The boys in our crowd would bounce basketballs off the awning (when no wakes were in progress) for fun – and to annoy old man Warnecke. He would come out shouting at them and, several times, he called the police. Like hoodlums, we all had to run and hide. Once, two boys were arrested for “loitering” – and they had not bounced the basketballs. They just didn’t run away. Mr. Warnecke is gone too; only the memories of funerals I attended there as a teenager remain and have been described in my book.

The residents of today have different faces and speak in other languages. My Glendale was primarily a German-Irish community, with some Italians. A large population of Asians, Indians and Latinos are now in the mix. The restaurants and stores reflect the new demographic.
Not everything has changed, however, and I may write about this in a future blog. I’ll be returning to Glendale in the fall, where I will read from my book to new people in the area and (I hope) some of the old timers who have stayed.

In what ways has your neighborhood changed since you were young? Does it make you happy or sad or are you indifferent about it? I’d love to know.

8 Responses to Glendale Revisited

  1. Nice piece, Eileen. You write in such a way that I was on the walk down memory lane with you.

  2. Jerry Giammatteo says:

    Hi Eileen:
    I think there is always a tug at the heart when you return to your childhood memories. I went back to my childhood neighborhood in the Bronx in 1991 and was so aghast and sad at how rundown it had become, I vowed never to go back. At the prodding of my two boys Chris and Scott one day in 2006, we went back and was so pleased to see the neighborhood had bounced back. Like you said, different faces and languages, but once again vibrant and I was surprised at how good it made me feel. Thanks for writing such a great piece that opens us up to our own thoughts.

    • Eileen Obser says:

      I’m so glad what I wrote resonated with you, Jerry. Maybe you’ll get your own essay out of this idea of going back to visit, and seeing all the changes. Thanks so much.

  3. Ria Kushner says:

    I also visited my past through “0nly You,” having lived in Richmond Hill in the 40s, 50s, 60s,70s. I know every cemetery on Woodaven Boulevard, and my son admits to his first cigarette in Forest Park. To add to your knowledge of Famous Homes. Eileen,John Gotti’s family still live in their home in Howard Beach. The book is a fun, sad, joyous, tearful read. Brava! Your student, Rita K.

  4. Eileen Obser says:

    Guess what, Rita? So many years before your son, I had my own first cigarette in Forest Park! Closer to Granny’s on Myrtle Avenue, but there in the park, near the playground (80th Street). You don’t forget moments like that. Thanks for your comments. They’re very gratifying.

  5. Jim Gonzalez says:

    Eileen,
    Good stuff. I was one of the four arrested for the “Awning Caper”. I relayed the story at our Catskill reunion and we all got a big laugh. Thse were the days when crime consisted of hitting an awning. John Gotti has nothing on me. Regards from Toni (Terri).
    Jim

    • Eileen Obser says:

      So there were four of you! There was another incident, with Warnecke or not, where two were arrested, I believe. I’m sure someone will know the details. Great to hear from you, Jim. Love to you and to Toni.

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