It was our little piece of Heaven. The block, 77 Street Brooklyn. It’s where we all grew up, had fun together, spent our early years together. Some of the best years. Before marriage, before growing up and having responsibility. Before having children of our own.
The 77 street boys got together for breakfast this past weekend at the Vegas Diner on 86 Street in Brooklyn . About 23 of us. Not all of us were there. Some couldn’t make it for this meeting, some lived too far, others are no longer with us. Many of us had not seen each other for almost 30 years. About 4 or 5 years ago we had a reunion and have been keeping in touch ever since, meeting for breakfast at the Vegas Diner a few times a year.
It’s hard to think of your childhood friends as adults and older men. As you sit and bring up stories from the past you don’t think of the person sitting in front of you but of their younger self. It’s not until you look at pictures of the meeting that you realize that their children are older than we were when we played stick ball together in the streets.
The “older guys” don’t seem so old now. It’s funny how later in years the age spread doesn’t make much of a difference. But at 7 or 8 years old an 11 or 12 year old seems like another generation. Nat, Steve, Charlie, Lou, Basil, Johnny D were driving cars while we still rode bicycles. Except for Nat. I don’t believe I ever saw him driving a car. Nat used to have a baseball mitt sewn to his hand. Today he’s a bank VP.
Some of the rivalries still exist, like the first time we got together after all those years and Nat and Louie V challanged each other to a game of box ball to see if after all that time Louie could finally beat Nat at a game. They didn’t stretch as far over the boxes and couldn’t get up as quickly but the competition was still there.
The one thread that tied us all together, besides being 99.9% Italian, was we were all born and lived in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Most of us lived on 77 Street. A few hung out on 77 Street. Over the years, especially after high school, many went to college. Most of us married. And it was between those years that the “gang” went their separate ways and many lost touch. Thirty years is a long time to abandon your roots.
Some of us searched the Internet to see if we could contact some of our old buddies. Joe Duck was masterful in reaching out to the old gang, getting everyone together for the first time in over 30 years. And the funny thing is, when we all met again, we all recognized each other immediately. We all were a lot older, lost some hair, got some grey and gained a few pounds, but we knew exactly who everyone was and the curiosity of what happened to your neighborhood buddies was finally satisfied.
For the most part, many of us stayed in the tri-state area. Many moved to New Jersey, Staten Island, Long Island, even Rockland County. A few stayed in Brooklyn. But after all these years are hearts stayed on 77 Street. And coming back to the old neighborhood reminded us all of who we are and where we came from. I don’t think any of us would give that up for anything in the world. We all had a unique experience of growing up in Brooklyn during the 50’s and 60’s. And not one of us would trade that for anything else. We were lucky. I guess we could have grown up anywhere else on the planet. But by chance, we grew up in the greatest borough, during the greatest time imaginable. The neighborhood has changed. Other ethnic groups have moved in, the way our grandparents transformed the neighborhood when they settled there in the late 20’s and 30’s. But the soul of the neighborhood still exists. And that’s what keeps us coming back.
My mother and grandmother used to make pastina with ricotta for us when we were young. I guess you can say it came from the “children’s menu”. But every once in a while it’s a great little dish to make for a snack or a late Sunday supper. It’s quick and simple to put together, and tastes awfully good. Add a tossed salad and you have a wonderful comfort meal any time.
Pastina with Ricotta
- 1/2 cup pastina
- 1/4 cup ricotta
- 1 teaspoon butter
- salt to taste
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil an a saucepan. Add the pastina and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Cook until pastina is tender, about 5 minutes.
Place the ricotta and butter in a bowl.
Drain the pastina and place in a bowl with the ricotta and butter. Mix well, add some black pepper and grated cheese and serve immediately.