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My Turn: Childhood friendships formed in the Bronx transcend geography

From left, Ellen McGrath Rettig, Mary McGee Aretakis,

From left, Ellen McGrath Rettig, Mary McGee Aretakis, Pat Colgan McDermott and Terry Dick Anselmi grew up together in the Bronx. Photo Credit: Mary McGee Aretakis

There were four little girls — dress-alikes, talk-alikes and think-alikes — all living on the same block, all going to the same school, all BICs (Bronx Irish Catholics). The year was 1948, and they became the gang — inseparable. They became all things to each other, compensating one another for their not too-perfect home lives. The four became an entity unto themselves.

They shared their clothes, their homes, their first cigarette and drink — even their boyfriends. Strolling home evenings down the tree-lined terrace, they harmonized to the tunes of the Four Aces and poured out their fears, heartbreaks and confidences to one another. On the outside, they were the tough kids of the neighborhood, prancing around in their Lee Riders, pea jackets, gypsy kerchiefs and Capezios.

The foursome went off to their first neighborhood dance together, feeling like they were Arthur Murray’s star pupils. Hadn’t they practiced enough together so they wouldn’t step on their partner’s toes, should they be lucky enough to have one?

When one of them was asked by a daring young man to be squired home, he automatically had three more damsels to escort. They pranced and rolled through the early ’50s — Friday night dances, Saturday night roller skating and more dancing on Sunday nights — they never tired.

Summers saw them at Rockaway Beach, where the dancing in-crowd hung out and they treaded more on the dance floors than on the sand; they had what you would call a barroom tan.

The year was 1956 and they all married boys from the same crowd, the same neighborhood and each of them walked down the aisle in the same Bronx Catholic church four times that year, once in white and three times in differently colored bridesmaid dresses.  They settled in the same neighborhood and the women had their every-other-Friday night club, playing mahjong or canasta amid the constant chatting. Even new husbands couldn’t get them to miss those get-togethers. New Year’s Eves were always spent together. Boring or not — it was a tradition.

They became parents together, together and together and so on. Come the 1960s, though, and the exodus began. Apartments overflowing with children, the first of the women went off to a new ranch home in Selden on Long Island, hoping that all would follow. But the second settled in upper New Jersey, the third in Westchester County, and the last one went to lower New Jersey. It took a long time but the gang had been separated.

It’s 1983. Four mature women, each with their own personality and lifestyle, tempered by life’s experiences. They have long since relinquished their childhood neighborhood but not their childhood friends. After 35 years, childhood memories keep them together. Though they talk frequently on the phone to each other and manage a reunion once or twice a year, I often wonder, if they lived on the same street, in the same neighborhood, would they still be such close friends?

Now to 2018: Four widows, all having lost their husbands within the same year, 2015. After 70 years, they are still the closest of friends, still the support system of their youth despite two moving to Southern states. They have all made other friends through the years, but none have been there since the beginning.

I wish we all lived on the same street, in the same neighborhood again. The answer is yes; if we all lived on the same street, in the same neighborhood we would still be close friends today.

Mary McGee Aretakis,

Selden

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