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Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Last Innocent Age...The Fond Farewell...

There is no particular sequence to this series. I am writing stories as I remember them and so one day I might be recalling something from when I was seven and then next from when I was 20.
I say that because this morning I was moved by a particular memory of an event that I hadn't thought about until it suddenly burst on my heart this morning. It was the last night we lived on Monroe Avenue...I guess it was the actual end of the Innocent Age.
I don't recall the exact date but I would guess it was around the end of June. We moved to the new house on July 7, 1986. The week before the move, my mother and stepfather decided to host a party on the big deck we had in our backyard. It was an open invitation, come as you are, bring something if you want, stay until you feel like leaving. Pretty much the way all get-togethers on Monroe Avenue were since the day I moved there.
By now we had lived there 16 years. The neat thing was that in all that time, nobody on the block had left. All my neighbors...all my childhood friends were still there. Some of the older kids were married and gone but their mom's and dads and younger siblings remained. The whole gang showed up, including a few surprises. The Riccio's, of course, were there. (Of all the families on my street, it's the Riccio's and the Ferraro's and the Messick's I miss the most. They were the ones who I had a relationship with everybody in the house, not just the kids.)
The Ferraro's were there, Mr. Messick had passed away by this time but Mrs. Messick was there. The Campbell's showed up.
Mr. and Mrs. Savage came out. That was a treat, because they didn't do as much on the block as other families did but by this point they had suffered a few hard blows in life and I think they had drawn much closer to all the rest of the families than previously.
Mr. Wilkins stopped by. He was a big, gruff man and had been a widower a long time. But his youngest son Johnny was amongst my best friends and Mr. Wilkins had softened a lot in recent years. It turns out he was a really nice man under that gruff exterior. Our neighbors from behind us, whom we shared a fence with, The DeMattea's came out. Mr. Smith, whose grass I cut in the summers came out briefly. Dwight and Nancy from next door showed up.
They were all there and we enjoyed each others company until late into the night. We ate and swam and laughed at stories about what we did when we were kids. Our parents took turns embarrassing us...all adults by now...with "Remember when you and Tommy / Richard / Johnny / Monica...did _______? " stories. We cringed and we turned red...and the truth was we loved it. The night was sweet and it was more fun than we'd all had together in a long time.
Many times during the evening the parents would remark "We should have done this sooner...". But life is hectic and families take time. Sadly we seldom gathered all in one spot except to say goodbye, either temporarily like that night, or permanently, when we lost one of the family on the block.
We laughed and listened as The Riccio's told us stories about what the street was like when they first arrived. They were the first couple to buy a house on Monroe Avenue. They watched us all arrive over the years and they are still there..."The Mayor" and the "First Lady"'s comforting to me to drive down that street when I go home and know the Riccio's are still in charge.
They told us stories about all of us kids...the day I met the other kids on the block. The day my sister was born. The hysterical practical joke that Kevin and Johnny were playing that backfired when the cops were called. The trips to the drive-in and the beach and the haunted houses at Halloween.
My whole childhood...or at least the greatest part of it...was gathered there that night on our deck.
Toward the end, my mom got a radio and brought it out on the deck. They tuned to an oldies station and everyone started singing. It was wonderful. Then, in one of those moments that seem simple and yet you realize how deeply they touch you only years later, everything I loved about Monroe avenue was summed up in a five minute stretch.
The most surprising guest of the night was Ray Weingartner (Sr). Mr. Weingartner was older than the other dads on the block. I don't know how much older, but substantially. Maybe 10-15 years. By this point he was probably approaching 80 years old. He was a tall, long legged man whom the other dads christened "The Goose". He had been a widower for a number of years when his beloved Maybelle passed some time before. His only child, Ray Jr. was married with a young family and he didn't come around a lot.
Mr. Weingartner wasn't a recluse, but he kept to himself. He spent his evenings in Mr. Ferraro's garage and Mrs. Riccio checked on him every day. The Riccio's were on one side and the Ferraro's were on the other so he was never really alone. But I think sometimes he was lonely and I know he missed his wife. I know this because of what happened when the music started playing. Mr. and Mrs. Savage decided to dance together. They danced a wonderful waltz. I had forgotten how good they were until I recalled watching them dancing at Tommy Riccio's wedding some years before and thinking how they could have been on the Lawrence Welk show. They were terrific together.
At some point a few other couples danced together and Mr. Weingartner was singing along and getting teary eyed. My mom got up and asked "The Goose" to dance. And he did. It was special...even to a 22 year old young man like me who was only beginning to understand what all this meant and how much this neighborhood had shaped me and how much I loved it.
Mr. Weingartner danced with my mother and I think in his heart his was dancing once more with Maybelle and he was crying openly when it was done.
...And everybody thought it was magnificent.
He passed away a few years ago, and I like knowing that his later years held some happy times with his extended family on that street.
I don't know if places like this exist anymore. I don't know if neighbors still gather without pretense or agenda or unnecessary gossip. I don't know if the residents of entire streets remain in one place for a generation or two and really, truly, deeply love each other. But I know mine did. I know I had a place growing up that was special and wonderful and amazing and it left it's mark on my soul. I don't know one kid I grew up with who hated that street and doesn't have fond memories. There are precious few places like that in the world anymore. In the end...the street didn't change...society did.
What the world needs now...more than politicians and programs and for people to care about each other to the point that they feel like family. I wish my daughter could have grown up on Monroe Avenue.
Heck...I wish the whole world could have...

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