Summertime-Part Three …


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One view from Sunset Park

Moments we keep …

He was my buddy, my confidant … my best friend. In real life he was the Petie I’ve often use in other street stories. He was “the only boy I didn’t hate.”

The friendships we forge in childhood can last a lifetime. We talked about a month ago, two aging boomers, two kids who took different routes out of the park, who grew to raise families and become good-law-abiding citizens. The sound of his voice threw me back to those few precious years before his family moved to Long Island, before we lost touch, before time and space left its mark and childhood ended with a stinging slap.

Playing with my good buddy was an all-season event. We thought nothing of frolicking for hours in snow, relished rolling in autumn leaves down the hills of the park, became enchanted by the new growth of spring, and best of all, we lived for summertime.

Summertime was for street games, the pool at Sunset Park, the beaches,street skating, and flying kites along Shore Parkway.

In the book Sunset Park, his name is changed to Michael, and as I often wished, we were fast friends through high school. In real life, he lost his mother in third grade and moved away two years later. In real life, my family also moved to a new place in Brooklyn.

Naturally, writing fiction gives us license to rewrite history, to have those moments we might have missed, to embellish and to pretend.

In my snippet from Sunset Park today, and the last installment of Summertime, there is little reason to embellish or pretend. This one day is an amalgam of countless days of street play.

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From Sunset Park

Through no fault of her own, there just were not many girls to bum around with, not girls that were as cool or as much fun as Michael. Snooty Irene next door and Teresa Rosario around the corner were like foreigners to Antoinette and she never ventured to their doors. Slow Rosie was, poor baby, much too slow for the likes of Antoinette Gallucci.

Waiting for her friend Michael to return from the mountains, Antoinette contented herself on her alone-days riding on her skates, and with her parent’s permission, chasing around the block helping Mario complete grocery deliveries or just reading in her bedroom. She was reading more of her Nancy Drew and a few other books Joey had found for her at the library.

Antoinette sat back on her pillow at night and imagined sleuthing murder mysteries, being the only daughter the prominent Carson Drew, and doing a host of things she could only dream of doing. Joey laughed listening to her tell of the latest tale of her new found heroine, and when he found the time, read more of Mark Twain to her chapter by chapter.

When Michael came back from the mountains they were off and running, skating, and tearing up the streets in fine kid-fashion.

They had been skating in Sunset Park for hours. “Wow Toni, you’re really fast on those skates.” He flopped down near the circle by the flag pole.

“Yeah, it was great Joey gave me these skates for Christmas. Of course my mom nearly jumped into the stove. She thinks I’ll kill myself.”

“Why ‘cause they’re speed skates?”

“Yep.” She gazed longingly down the hills and tried to imagine how it would feel to finally go all the way. Perhaps today was the day. “Michael, could you do me a favor?”

He pushed out his lower lip. “You gonna get me into trouble the first week I’m home?”

“Naw, of course not. I just want to know if you could go to the bakery and get my father’s bread.”

“I thought that’s where we were going now?”

She spoke the words she kept to herself, the words that gave her a secret thrill. “Yeah, but I want to go all the way down.”

“Like I could stop you.” Then he relaxed his stance and shrugged.  “Sure, I’ll go.”

“Don’t forget to tell Josie it’s for me or she won’t let you have it.”

“I won’t forget.”

“See you by my airy way.”

Antoinette tightened her skates and waved him off. The wind pushed her hair back and felt cool against her face. Nothing else compared to the feeling of being wide open and free on speed skates. She thought hard steel against the asphalt and wind buzzing in her ears was more exciting than racing down the hills on the bike.

Standing high on solid steel Antoinette jumped the curb and made the light on Fifth Avenue. Ignoring the blare of horns she weaved in and out of traffic. Her body curled for speed, she took the second hill as the houses, the trees, and pedestrians, all blurred in her peripheral vision.

As luck was on her side, she made the next light, and doing several spins across the double wide of Fourth Avenue, waved to cars halted for the red.

When she got to Third Avenue to make the turn towards the corner bar and back home, she saw a clear and empty road ahead. No traffic on Third Avenue.

She kept going!

Once across Third Avenue she continued towards her final destination. Her excitement grew as she thought of the possibility of skating to the end of the dock and screeching to a halt just before lunging off the dock into the Narrows.

Second Avenue was ghostly vacant for the middle of a work day. With a tickle of laughter, she did three more turns and headed for the docks.

Unfortunately, the side street off Second Avenue was cobblestone and she almost took a header.

She paused for a moment to enjoy the sight of two tugs entering the harbor, turned the corner, and skated over to the Trolley House. “Hey Tim! Can you drop me off on Third?”

“You bet I can. Hop on.”

Toni took the trolley to the far side of Third Avenue and skated the rest of the way. She spotted Michael standing in front of her airy-way, waiting. She raced faster, breathless, lest Carmela lean out of the window and see Michael holding the family bread.

“You been here long?”

“Naw, just got here. Whered’ya go?”

“I almost went straight into the bay, but the side streets over to the docks are still cobblestone and I couldn’t skate.  Wow, I didn’t hit one light all the way!  That was from Sixth town to Second without stopping.  Wow!”

He poked her middle, mocking. “O h   W o w.  Ohhhhh.”

“Cut that out. It was great.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m just jealous.”

They sat on the steps while Antoinette took off her skates.

“It’s late. Don’t you have to give your mom the bread?”

“I know. I just don’t want to go up tonight. I want to stay out and watch the sun go down and sit by the water and think about stuff.”

“You know? I think your mother dropped you on your head.”

“Yes, sometimes I think so too, Michael.” Carmela was leaning on the windowsill in Antoinette’s room just above their heads.

Antoinette leaned her head back, wiggled her fingers and grinned. “Hi Ma.”

“Don’t you hi me, young lady. Get up here now.”

She was on her feet in an instant. “Aw nuts.”

Michael looked worried. “You in trouble?”

“Naw, that’s just the way she talks.” She slung her skates over her shoulder and tucked the bread under her other arm.  Tomorrow we go to the beach!”

“Yeah, see ya.”

And as always, they said in unison, “Not if I see you first!”

##########

He asked me if I had grandchildren. I told him my son has three and my daughter was expecting, expecting the little bundle who arrived three weeks ago this Monday.

We exchanged retirement stories, promised to stay in touch, promised to hook up when he comes to Florida for his winter vacation.

We won’t. Not because we don’t want to … but maybe for the same reasons we look back and see things differently than the way they really happened. We would not want to ruin the magic of those few precious years.

Memories, so fleeting, never meant to be paired side by side with reality, memories we alter for the sake of our ego or to preserve those dreams we might have lost along the way to growing up.

 Who was your best buddy?

Are you one of the few fortunate ones who keep in touch?

fOIS In The City

 

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20 Comments

Filed under Ramblings

20 responses to “Summertime-Part Three …

  1. You’re so right about ruining the magic – as anyone who’s been to a more than twenty year class reunion can tell you!

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    • Perhaps, Thomas Wolfe was right, Laura. You truly can’t go home again. That is, unless you are a crazy writer. Then you can go home and make it anything you like.

      I applaud your courage for going to a 20 year class reunion 🙂

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  2. Twenty class reunions! Wow! That takes courage above and beyond the call of duty. I’ve gone to none – but then I like to think, my real life started when I left those high school days behind and moved on to college.
    My summer buddy as a kid was always my dad’s border collie, ‘Ole Tuffy. He was a great working dog for Dad when it came to working cattle but better days were when Tuffy and I could hide out in the barn and read. I’d still a bit tin of Mom’s homemade lemon aid and made-from-scratch assortment cookies from the freezer and off we’d go. Tuffy allowed me to read to him aloud and he heard the series of Cowboy Sam all the way through Nancy Drew, the Pollyanna Series and later Hemingway and others.

    Tuffy passed my freshman year of college but a better companion a farm girl never had. When you live 40 miles from the nearest concrete there aren’t many to associate with.

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    • Gotta say, Sheri … Tuffy was certainly a unique childhood companion. I’ve know a few who grew up in rural country and they might share your companionship with a dog. My friend here in FL is like Patti … her best friend was her horse and the only way to travel from one farm to the other for years and a lot faster than her bike.

      BTW … loved your reading material. I bet Tuffy loved them too 🙂

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      • Florence – In the southeastern part of the state, the farms/ranches were at a minimum 15 miles apart. We couldn’t ride our horses on the gravel roads and I was the youngest. With my 6 older brothers all helping in the fields during the summer, I pretty much had to make do with what I could find at home. My saving grace was having the public library. Mom went grocery shopping for the items she didn’t grow in the garden or beef and pork in the freezer and of course young fryer chickens were a staple of the family table in the summer. Anyway, back to the subject at hand. While Mom was at the grocery store, she’d drop me at the library and I was allowed to pick up as many as the library would let me (10 was all they allowed). Eventually Dad let me start taking one of my brothers cards also and that way I could get 20 books! I love your writing about growing up in the large city. It’s so different from anything in my imagination. I don’t have a hard time thinking about different aspects of living in that part as an adult but as a child, what a cultural difference.

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      • Sheri … I have a life-long love affair with libraries starting with Storybook Hour at age five.

        The distance between the city and country mice is not as far when you consider that no matter where any of us grew up … we found our way to spike the imagination and make growing up more fun 🙂

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  3. I had a best friend, Babe, whose real name was Denise (go figure) and when I moved a few miles away at 10 years old, we lost touch. Back then, moving 12 mile away was like moving across the country. I don’t understand that to this day, however I remember feeling devastated that Babe and I would no longer be living across the street from each other. I have not kept in touch, though we saw each other at a my mom’s funeral and I didn’t go to her mom’s funeral a couple years ago. When we’ve talked on the phone I still like her, she’s a very nice person. But our time together was “youth time” and as adults, I have no clue whether we’d still be friends.

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    • Hey, Patti. Maybe Babe was named like me. I was “Baby” until I was pregnant with my second child ’cause I was the late-comer, baby of the family.

      It is true that at certain ages we think a few miles is across the ocean, but then when our worlds are so small … that is kind’a what it is.

      Me and Petie did meet a few years ago at a dinner for the paesans who were born in my father’s village. His two girls were teens, my two were also. But last month when we talked it was very strange, like we had best leave the good stuff behind where it belongs.

      Maybe that’s what happened to you and Babe … you left the good stuff where it belongs … in your memory 🙂

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  4. annerallen

    I had a best buddy one summer. He came to stay with his aunts who lived on our block. They had a huge pet tortoise and wove tapestries on vast looms that took up the whole living room.. Very strange for 1950s suburbia.

    We must have been about eight. His name was Tommy. We loved to play in my attic, wearing my parents’ old formal wear and putting on little plays just for ourselves.

    Once we were both mad at the grown-ups and decided to run away to New York City to become actors. We didn’t make it as far as the bus stop, but we had such fun. When I look back, I realize he was probably gay and my very first gay best friend. That winter his aunts moved away and I never saw him again. If you’re out there, Tommy Hansen, I remember you fondly!

    Ooooh. I think I have the beginnings of a story!

    Thanks for the wonderful time-traveling, Florence. I always have fun here.

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    • Oh yes, Anne. You have the beginning of a wonderful story. The aunts weaving, you and Tommy play acting in the attic. Love the images you evoke. Do write it for us.

      Memories are like that … they can call to us from far away and bring the best fun back into our life 🙂

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  5. I haven’t kept in touch with my childhood friends. They’ve all moved away and we lost touch. But the memories…ah, thank goodness we have memories that we can treasure for the rest of our lives. 🙂

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    • Sheila … I think because we write stories, we especially use those memories to create some of the characters we use. Even when we don’t realize that’s what we are doing. And they are indeed a true treasure 🙂

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  6. Like Sheila, I haven’t kept touch. I was very isolated at a child for many reasons. Once I left home, there was no looking back. But your story did bring back fond memories of roller skates and Nancy Drew. I think they saved me one summer. Ah, Ned Nickerson, why were none of the boys like you? 😉

    BTW, Florence, your post image of the view from Sunset Park is breath-taking. I want to go there now!

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    • Debra, the reason my friend Petie remains so vibrant for me is because he was my only real friend. The rest of the time and sadly, once his mom passed, I spent many years on my own.

      Two things saved my childhood … reading of course … and that park. That park was a part of my life until I was in my late thirties and then again after my mom moved back to that neighborhood. And believe me … those pictures don’t do justice to the majesty of the Brooklyn Narrows from the highest point. A twenty year battle was waged AND WON by locals to keep any high-rise buildings from being constructed so as not to ruin the lovely vistas 🙂

      Hope you one day find Net 🙂

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  7. christicorbett

    I absolutely love that description…”the only boy I didn’t hate”.

    Thank you again for sharing your childhood memories via this blog. I grew up in the suburbs and love living your “city life” through your posts 😀

    Christi Corbett

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    • Yeah, thanks Christi. I told my mother that when I was in first grade and it stuck in my head. And indeed, he was the only boy I didn’t hate.

      I think the memories we keep from our childhood form who we become … and no matter where … we can create great images from those memories. Glad you like mine 🙂

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  8. I had a best friend who lived next door, but in high school, we went separate ways. I have 2 friends from church and we stay connected thru FB. Some work friends from high school, etc. Maybe if internet had been around back then… We’d be different.

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    • Vicki, I don’t know how many times I’ve searched FB for old friends. Can you imagine how different our younger years would have been if we had that type of instant communication?

      The only way I’ve stayed in contact with that one boy (now a grandfather) is through my father’s side of the family. I’m grateful I still have him in my life … but I never told him that he is in my stories 🙂

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  9. We all seem to see things a little different. I supposed that why writers can write about the same thing yet end up with a totally different story. ” Memories, so fleeting, never meant to be paired side by side with reality, memories we alter for the sake of our ego or to preserve those dreams we might have lost along the way to growing up.”–what a beautiful way of expressing this, Florence.

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    • Thank you so much, Laura. As writers, we all do have our own individual perceptions. Yet, I think there is one common thread. Our work, like us, is shaped by the total accumulation of experiences 🙂

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