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booths in a diner

Photo by Lee Cartledge on Unsplash

I want to thank the Premier diner in Commack on Long Island who allowed me to spend four hours there with my friend, J. We came prepared with lists of events, emotions and random moments to trigger memories of the friendship that began the day I was born when she was just 25 days old.

We were next-door neighbors in Middle Village, Queens, and we traveled back there through stories, photos, laughter and revelations. We lived in row houses, essentially townhouses, built post-WWII. Middle Village was an idyllic place to grow up. I think I appreciated it even then but not as much as the view in retrospect.

Evidently, others who grew up in this community feel the same connection to the old neighborhood. J told me there is a Facebook group and even a movie that honors Middle Village, aptly named. It was a quiet residential enclave amid busy sections of Queens. Tree-lined streets with sidewalks burst with trick-or-treaters on Halloween, the park stretched out the length of the neighborhood, and the small elementary school within walking distance felt safe and nurturing. Kids were always at play in the street, in the common back alley and in each other’s houses; biking, walking, playing ball and chasing down Mr. Softee.

Juniper Valley Park was the focal point of the neighborhood. That’s where I went to run through the sprinklers in the stone foundation as a child, climb the monkey bars as an adolescent, play handball as a teenager, cycle as a young adult and stride through excitedly to meet J at her grandma’s house on the other side of the park, an annual tradition after her family moved away. As a kid, the swings were a source of joy that ignited a sense of flight, soaring high and alighting softly. As a brooding teen who took life too seriously, the swings were a place for reverie, swaying back and forth gently in an effort to sort out conflicted emotions. When the snow quietly fell, strolling through the park was like moving through a Currier and Ives masterpiece. School closings brought delighted children to glissade the small hills surrounding the ball field, leveraged for sleigh riding on snow days.

Reflecting on our reminiscence as we indulged in lighthearted yet heartfelt reflection over coffee, matzoh ball soup and vegetarian sandwiches, exchanging poignant stories and tattered photos, I know I will always remember those four hours at a diner. J said it best: “For those 4 hours in the diner, I was home.”