It was a time machine of a different sort… stepping back in time yet seeing one’s future through the eyes of their youth. This is what happened to twenty-two alumni as we attended the first reunion of the 1974 graduating class of Public School 49 in Middle Village. The reunion, on September 20, 2014, was the first time that many of us had seen each other in 40 years.
Having moved from Middle Village, in 2001, it was pleasant to return to a neighborhood that my family has lived in since the 1940’s and see that it has retained its unique ambience. Approaching Juniper Valley Park on Dry Harbor Road, I was comforted that the park’s appearance has greatly improved. It was then that I looked beyond the park and was startled that modernization had come to one of the most iconic structures of my youth, my archetypical ‘Plymouth Rock,’ the place that in many ways was the center of my formative years. This building, constructed during 1931 and 1932 at 79-15 Penelope Avenue had changed. Public School 49 was now P.S./I.S. 49 with a modern addition to the original structure, sitting on the same lot but inhabiting the old schoolyard, and now sporting an 80th Street address. My eyes darted back and forth between old and new, following contours of what had been created and what was no more. It was fascinating, bizarre, but this was only the beginning. Continuing through the park, I approached the intersection of 80th Street and Juniper Boulevard South, seeing nondescript people standing on the corner. I crossed the street, noticing that the people were roughly my age and, stepping onto the curb, saw these 52-year-old faces become familiar, rapidly transforming into 12-year-old faces that I hadn’t seen in a very, very long time.
Heartwarming, yet thoroughly surreal, is the only description that approaches our feelings at that moment. It was as though the long span of time had never passed.
Our little family was reunited. The school’s principal, Tom Carty, kindly guided us on a tour of the building. His hospitality was beyond compare and he was as curious about our history and us, as we were about him and his vision for the school. We walked the building’s interior, again fascinated by the contrasts between old and new. Naturally, we were drawn to the original structure and delighted to see that vestiges remained intact: water fountain troughs, Bakelite room number plates, original radiators, and most touching, our kindergarten ‘cubbies’ were just as we had left them. Other things had changed completely. Our ‘Gymnateria’ on the Penelope Avenue side of the ground floor, which alternately served as a place for physical exercise, or as a lunchroom, was gone. However, the new addition contains a modern actual gymnasium/auditorium that is a fine example of architectural artistry. The original auditorium is also gone, its stage and thick curtains removed, now serving as a music room. Mr. Carty finished out the tour by showing us archival class photos.
Next, it was on to lunch at Woodhaven House on Woodhaven Boulevard, were we met up with twelve more alumni, some of whom attended Junior High School 119 in Glendale, the next stop for P.S. 49 graduates in 1974.
More amazement was in store as the alumni divulged revelations. Forty years had passed and the statute of limitations was long expired. From the boys, the mystery as to who really caused the 1973 flood of our fifth grade classroom and who deposited a dead bird on the teacher’s chair…answered! Even more astounding was the collective, open admission from the girls, now quite freely, of a highly guarded secret… who the most desirable boy in the class was (yes Mark, it was you.) Of course, no gathering is complete without a speech and the one that I delivered seemed to echo the alumni’s sentiment:
“In 1962, the cosmos sent to Earth a special model of its product line. They were resilient and intelligent peace children, yet ‘hard as nails’ punks. We are seated here today. Born during the Cuban Missile Crisis, our formative years allowed us to witness advances in civil rights, demonstrations and riots, a never-ending war, a popular music explosion, and an American who actually walked on the moon. We saw a president impeached and our own city almost go bankrupt, and then, took our own magical journey from conservative PS 49 with its traditional, tenured staff to JHS 119 where young NYU and Columbia trained educators awaited. For us, that alone was like the Apollo mission and Woodstock Festival all wrapped in one.
Our formative years…bittersweet, yet, educational beyond imagination, produced a group of upbeat, creative, worldly, individuals. We are fortunate to have been raised during this remarkable period in history, the likes of which hasn’t occurred since, and may never occur again. From this, we have all gained great wisdom and, best of all, experienced this together as our own little community. We are blessed to have grown up during such an exciting time, and I am thankful to be part of our unique group of individuals.”
Soon, the lunch had ended and we returned to our families and our lives. Nevertheless, during that afternoon, the year was 1974 again. It is said that you are only young once, but our class reunion proved that the adage is not necessarily true.