June 28, 2011
The Forest Hills kid 1942-1954; my childhood roots
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By FRANK BARNING
Once upon a time, more than 50-years ago, there was a young Forest Hills lad who loved to eat dog biscuits. That recollection is one of my childhood memories.
My family’s Forest Hills roots go back to the 1920s. Dad, Harry Barning Jr., grew up in the house at 71-06 Juno Street. Ruth Maunton Barning, my mother, lived at 72-35 Loubet Street for about 20 years.
My family resided in the Loubet Street house for about the first two years of my life, I was born in 1942, and then it was on to 73-20 Austin Street (Tilden Arms) until the Barnings moved to sprawling Levittown in late 1954.
I was 12 when we left Forest Hills where I had attended P.S. 101. My ties with my childhood roots were snapped, almost totally. The people and places from my childhood slipped deep into my memory, mostly forgotten until I stumbled across the Forest Hills Club website in mid-2008.
I had gotten into family genealogy, using the internet to pick up pieces here and there. It came to mind that my father had a cousin, Henry Hof, who had lived in Forest Hills when I was a child, so I searched for him. Little did I know that there were multiple Henry Hofs, and Henry 3rd had an email address listed on the website. So did his brother Rob who I vaguely remember from P.S. 101 because he was a classmate of my Tilden Arms buddy Bobby Taylor. Henry Jr. and my dad were first cousins.
And so my reconnection with my roots began, and what an adventure it has been. Henry 3rd, I call him Trey, and I have become buddies who are kindred spirits, while Rob and his wife Susanna have also welcomed their long-lost second cousin into the family.
Trey and Rob’s grandmother, Lillian Barning Hof, and my grandfather, Harry Barning Sr., were siblings. Unfortunately, I did not know Henry 3rd and Rob years ago. There was an unfortunate distance between our families, probably caused by my mother. But that’s a story for an analyst’s couch.
The Forest Hills website’s list of members included several people I fondly remembered from P.S. 101, Bobby Taylor being paramount. I am an only child and in retrospect, Bobby was like a younger brother to me. We recently had the most amazing phone conversation. Ah, the memories.
Henry 3rd and Jeff “Cap” McGann and I have shared numerous phone calls and emails since I found the Forest Hills Club. Jeff and I both have incredible and often parallel memories of roaming the streets of Forest Hills, recollections of many of the local characters of our childhoods, and both of us have shared tales that we probably would not want to have published until after our deaths. Boys will be boys.
What has been especially neat for me is that Jeff, maybe he is Cap to you, filled me in on dozens of people I only knew until the age of 12. We moved to Nassau County in 1954, so that was 54 years ago. I’d ask about Taylor, Dave Dufault, Jay Page, Billy Relyea, Andy White and more than a few girls, and Jeff was encyclopedic in his replies.
One of my favorite childhood hangouts was the schoolyard at P.S. 101. I spent my summers there playing softball. Jeff and I batted around a few names and I mentioned Sam Sununu, who played some ball with us. I had learned that former New Hampshire governor and Presidential chief of staff was former Forest Hillian John Sununu. I asked McGann if Sam and John were related. He said that they weren’t related, that they were the same person. That was a wow for me.
The Hofs and I have shared genealogy information and so much has been learned by all. Henry has forwarded information to his daughter, Karina, in Amsterdam, and she has been a wonderful pen pal via the internet. Susanna has been kind enough to take photos of the old family homes on Juno and Loubet Streets.
After leaving Forest Hills, I went to junior and senior high school in Levittown and then moved on to Hofstra College, which became Hofstra University the year I graduated, 1964. While at Hofstra, I ran into a few people I knew from Forest Hills, principally Dennis Hevesi, who lived in the Tilden Arms. Dennis and I shared a love of journalism and worked on the Hofstra Chronicle together. He is a long-time writer for The New York Times and the winner of some prestigious journalism awards.
Dennis and I remained friends for several years after college, but over the years, we drifted apart. Taylor hooked us up recently via the telephone.
What I did after college is another story, mostly positive. It involved sports public relations on the college level, various kinds of journalism and a major involvement in the baseball-card industry for more than 25 years. My wife, Vivian, and I published Baseball Hobby News from 1979-1993. There is a Wikipedia page that explains the publication.
We moved from Nassau County in 1982 to San Diego and in 2005 we moved east to Las Vegas. Good fortune allowed us to retire early and much of my time is spent reading mystery novels and following sports. It turns out that several of my absolute favorite authors are represented by Forest Hills Club member, the distinguished literary agent Philip Spitzer. I also remember Phil from Hofstra.
The particularly persuasive Jeff McGann and Henry Hof 3rd have encouraged me to contribute articles to the website and I have promised to do so. So you will be reading about Mr. Knockey, the great ice cream parlors of the 1940s and early 1950s, the joys of playing softball at P.S. 101, how we tormented the movie-theatre matrons at the Forest Hills Theatre, and tossing balls of wet toilet paper off the roofs of Austin Street apartment houses.
The adventures of the crazed Neely brothers, Ronnie and Connie, and other assorted morons who tormented us on Austin Street will also be recalled, from more than a half century ago. And of course there is the tale about a boy, not yours truly, who loved to eat dog biscuits.
This story originally appeared in The Forest Hills Club newsletter