There’s a concrete courtyard between a nondescript apartment building and some low-slung garages in Central Queens. Just like a million other spots in the borough. Squirrels and birds in the trees behind the garages, cats wandering through: They’re the only signs of life in the nondescript, paved-over spot.
Except for the garden. A narrow strip, about 3 by 20 feet, it sits along one brick wall, in a tough spot, facing north. The ground is bare now, where it’s not covered by snow. But the decorations are there. Twin wind chimes hanging from the fire escape, adorned with colorful little tin cats and fish. A piece of wall art on the brick facade that says “Garden.” Other outdoor knickknacks with an animal motif: a snail, a frog, a butterfly, a dragonfly.
This is the garden outside the apartment of Marie Forrester, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. A livery car driver. A friend to everyone and an animal rescuer.
But now the garden suffers an emptiness beyond winter’s. Forrester died Jan. 30 at age 66, after suffering a brain hemorrhage.
Her loss is a blow to her family, coworkers and friends, of both the two-legged and four-legged variety.
“We all love and miss her,” said her son, Vincent Forrester. “She’s very important to us. Now that she’s gone, we’re going to work to keep our family close. She was the keystone.”
Marie Ann Forrester was born on Dec. 31, 1947, to Thomas and Angelina Licata of Brooklyn, who predeceased her. She is survived by Vincent Forrester and his sister, Florence; their mother’s siblings Margie Licata and Guy Licata; her grandchildren Richard and Christopher; and her great-grandchildren Kaylee Rose, Mia Angelina and Christopher Vincent; as well as several nieces and nephews.
Forrester reared her children in Richmond Hill and moved to Rego Park about 10 years ago. She loved to cook and to read, her son said, including making dishes for her coworkers at Four Ones Car Service in Forest Hills, just a little ways down Woodhaven Boulevard.
Her coworkers at Four Ones, where she worked for about 25 years, are among those mourning her loss.
“She became like the mother of all the drivers; she knew everything about everybody,” operations manager Rocky Collazo said. “She had a heart of gold. She was well-liked by her coworkers as well as the customers.
Breaking down as he spoke, Collazo continued, “She will be dearly missed. I loved her a lot. She made a family here, and her family here is going to miss her.”
Owner Paul Colletti, an avid Yankees fan who often makes baseball analogies, added, “If all the drivers here had numbers, we’d retire her number.”
Coworker Ron List recalled how sweet Forrester was but also how tough she could be.
“Through the years that I’ve known her, I knew her to be very direct and forceful at times,” List said. “She’d challenge people, sometimes in ways I wouldn’t. She was a forceful personality.”
It was the same in her neighborhood, where even those who didn’t know Forrester well knew her as the woman who walked her little white dog, Tinky, up and down Woodhaven. Jay the locksmith, Eric the postman, Winnie the grocer: They all liked Marie.
A true faunitarian, or animal lover, Forrester had two dogs and three cats, including a stray kitten she had rescued when it was very young.
“She was a very nice lady,” said Winnie Alim, co-owner of the J & J Superstar Deli, recalling how Forrester once drove her daughter, Jasmine, back to Stony Brook University on Long Island when Winnie’s husband, Ayman, was tied up.
Lisa LiCausi, the Queens Chronicle’s office manager, once helped Forrester out with a homeless animal. Forrester came in shortly afterward with a bouquet of flowers and a card to thank her.
“We laughed together and we cried together,” neighborhood friend Jenny Baptiste said. “She would leave herself behind and take care of other people first, and she would take in the stray cats no one wanted. I’m going to miss her badly.”
A wake for Forrester was held at Cassese Funeral Home in Ozone Park, and her remains were cremated.
There’s no life above ground in her garden right now, but underneath the surface are the perennial roots that will sprout anew come springtime.