The train hurtled eastward through Queens on an early-January day when dingy brick buildings and bare trees turn New York into the bleak set of a Tim Burton movie. As Manhattan receded, so did part of my past.
I was born in the Bronx where my sister Kay had been delivered, but I grew up in Queens. My parents moved to Rego Park about two years before my arrival. Our apartment was my only home until college.
In December 1969, a few months after Carolyn and I were married in San Antonio, we visited my parents. (My mother Blanche alerted my father, “Morris, David has a girl in his room!”) We visited often as a couple then with our kids. After my father died in 1983, I spent one or two long weekends with my mother each year.
After my mother died in 1999, Carolyn and I continued visiting New York. We stayed in Manhattan and usually took the train from Penn Station to Long Island to see Kay and my brother-in-law Herb.
We also took the subway to Rego Park. We’d walk up 63rd Drive, stop at the old building, stroll the neighborhood and have lunch at the now-departed Shalimar Diner. (See “Death of the Diner.”)
My parents ate thousands of meals and desserts at the Shalimar and later, Carolyn and I entertained family and friends there. In Rego Park, I felt connected to my past, and Carolyn knew the neighborhood well. We shared memories.
The Shalimar’s closing made the Rego Park phase of my life more distant, but I thought we’d visit one last time during spring, summer or fall weather. We’d walk up the Drive, stop at the building, then head through the Crescents—tree-lined semi-circular streets with detached homes—pass P.S. 174 and go on for lunch on Austin Street in Forest Hills. We’d return to Manhattan via the E or F train at Continental Avenue.
Two weeks ago, we took the train to the Island to see Kay and Herb and be joined by my nephew Barry and his wife Heidi. I saw a sign.
Always when we’d approached Rego Park, I’d look out the window for a snippet of 63rd Drive. This time, the noon light outside was dim, and not being seated at the window, I was subjected to glare. I sensed when we passed the Drive but couldn’t see it. Returning at night, everything was a dark blur.
The message was clear. My parents are long gone. The Shalimar is a hole in the ground where an apartment building soon will rise. I’m 75, and there’s no more connection to be made with Rego Park—not on the ground.
I’ve always believed that a neighborhood, which undergoes continuous change, belongs to the people who live, shop and work there. At my age, I’m focused on the here and now—life in San Francisco. Without being maudlin, I understand that I’m on a different journey. It’s taking me forward, not back, and the station isn’t all that far off. I’m content to take each day as it comes and let memories unfold in my mind rather than on the sidewalk.
In 1940, a Thomas Wolfe novel was published posthumously: You Can’t Go Home Again. You can. But not forever.
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