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‘Home’ in Queens

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My brother and I were the only children in our family to grow up in the suburbs of Long Island, but we often returned to the “homeland” of our parents, Queens, to visit with family, go to a Met game (“Go Lee Mazzilli!”), stop by the New York Hall of Science — before the remodel and mini-golf course, and, of course, meet everyone for dinner at Zum Stammtisch, the last surviving German restaurant.

My forefathers (and mothers), the Stoussels and Wehrmanns, were smart enough to settle in Glendale in the 1920s. Even then, they figured it to be the perfect place to raise a family. Both sets of great-grandparents purchased houses here, but the Stoussels’ home — where my father grew up with his sister, parents and grandparents — is closest to me.

Because it’s where I chose to raise my family.

Of course, living in Queens, like living anywhere, has its ups and downs.

When I complain about the lack of space we have for a family of five (which is daily), I remind myself that at one time there were three generations living in the exact same six-room apartment.

At that time, the neighborhood was mostly German, Italian and Polish.

These days, it is a true Queens melting pot. We live on a block with Albanians, Armenians, Croatians, Guyanese, Italians, Mexicans, Poles, Puerto Ricans, Taiwanese, and, yes, Germans. (Come to think of it, I really should have a pot luck night. Think how yummy that would be!)

That’s one of the reasons I love raising my kids in Queens — they are exposed to so many cultures, languages and people of the world.

But the affection for the neighborhood is not mine alone.

My son also loves the fact that he attends the same elementary school that his great-grandmother, grandparents, aunts and sisters did. Although we are always moving forward, there is something warm and fuzzy about that nostalgia.

Which is another reason I love Queens — the memories I have of my childhood visits, like the walks I took with my grandfather through (believe it or not) Cypress Hills Cemetery.

Every time we came in from Long Island, I would rush in, give my grandmother a kiss, see what was waiting for me on the porch table (usually a ball or a penny my grandfather found) and immediately leave the house hand-in-hand with him. We would be gone for hours, looking at all the interesting names on the tombstones while we walked to my grandmother’s favorite tree — which is still there, overlooking Franklin K. Lane High School and the Manhattan skyline.

It may sound a bit morbid, but that’s one of my fondest memories — and the reason I used to take my son, as an infant, on walks through the cemetery years later.

Cemetery walks aside, the best part of living on our block is the sense of community. We don’t need to schedule play dates or have supervised play. It’s like the “old days” when kids rang door bells or just went outside to see who was playing. This is our reality: there are more than 30 kids on our block! Neighbors look out for each other’s kids and they are able to entertain themselves with old school games like hide and seek or tag.

And we love being close to everything — swimming lessons in Forest Hills, bowling in Whitestone or Astoria, pediatrician in Bayside, great-grandmother (Grammy) in Riverdale, grandma (Moma) in Manhattan and Grandpa on Long Island. Queens is central to so many cultural places — my children have been members of the Hall of Science, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the American Museum of Natural History for so long that they are all like homes away from home.

Of course, there are days when I can’t stand the congestion, dirt, bad drivers, and all problems parking (the general lack thereof, the tickets, and the alternate-side). I sometimes think “There must be a better place to raise a family!”

But then I remember that I don’t have to drive my teenager everywhere because of really good public transportation, I can run to the corner for a container of milk, and when my son watches movies like “Night at the Museum” or “Men in Black,” he can visit the places featured in the films anytime he wants to.

Best of all, it’s background of my family’s own home movies, past, present and future.

Updated 10:59 am, August 16, 2010
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