A memory-filled trip back in time


Many Nassau County residents have their roots in Queens or Brooklyn, having made the decision to migrate from crowded city neighborhoods to leafy, bucolic suburbia. My own experience is probably typical of many. Born in Manhattan, raised in Queens, I attended high school and college in Brooklyn, and moved to Seaford over 50 years ago, where Rosemary raised our family and where we still live.

While all has gone well over the years and I have no regrets about making the move, I do have lasting memories of the friendships I made and the values I learned from those city streets and neighborhoods. There’s a group of eight or nine guys from my high school days in Brooklyn that I still get together with regularly at the ValBrook Diner in Valley Stream.

My high school was Brooklyn Prep, near where Ebbets Field used to be and within walking distance of St. John’s Place, where my father grew up, and where my grandparents were still living during those years. I spent a lot of time hanging out with Tom Dewey, who was in my high school class and lived across the street from my grandparents. Dewey and his neighborhood group all shared his trait of never having a good word to say to or about anyone. Tom, who would eventually move to Valley Stream, had a successful career as a teacher and track coach, and was actually elected to Fordham’s Hall of Fame, without ever breaking his vow of surliness.

Last week, Tom and I, along with his cousin Allen Ryan and Charlie Norton, decided to spend a day in the old neighborhood. (Ryan, now in Hicksville, had lived in the same apartment house as Dewey; Norton a few blocks away.) Ryan and Norton had distinguished careers with the NYPD, and Ryan was on the crime scene unit the night mob boss Paul Castellano was rubbed out.

Joining us on this visit to the past was Melissa Zimmerman, a retired Nassau detective, who was on my security detail when I was in Congress, and for some reason found it interesting to listen to the endless banter and mindless conversations she would hear whenever our group got together.

Among our stops was Tom’s a famed luncheonette on Washington Avenue that has been around for almost 90 years and, as Zimmerman pointed out, still typifies neighborhood cuisine and personality. Then there was a walk up and down both sides of St. John’s Place, as we looked at the classically structured apartment houses still standing strong more than 100 years after their construction. This neighborhood and block went through several decades of rough times, but beginning in the 1990s had come back stronger than ever. (Listening to Dewey and Ryan reminisce, so too were their memories of St. John’s Place coming back.)

Then we went over to the local public school where we had played stickball, and then drove to Carroll Street to see what was once Brooklyn Prep and is now Medgar Evers College. Dewey and I pointed to the third floor window from which we could see Ebbets Field before that historic structure was torn down after our beloved Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn for the vacuous environs of Los Angeles.

We finished our memory tour at Farrell’s Bar in nearby Park Slope/Windsor Terrace, where we had a few beers (but not Zimmerman, who was driving) and enjoyed the company of the midafternoon customers. Farrell’s is a famed neighborhood gathering place being featured in a soon-to-be-released film documentary. It hasn’t changed even the slightest over the years.

This trip back to Brooklyn, and being with Tom, Allen and Charlie, was more than just nostalgic. It was a reminder of the days of neighborhood beliefs, of learning that life isn’t fair, that the world doesn’t owe anyone a living and that not everyone will get a trophy. What matters is not hugging one another or looking for praise or compliments, but being loyal and standing by friends no matter what — and being a proud patriot, loving America, respecting the police and military.

It was a great day. Thanks for the memories.

Peter King is a former congressman, and a former chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Comments? pking@