It is impossible to forget Billy. His family was my family growing up because our mothers were close sisters despite their contrasting personalities. (And boy were those two different!) I think of him often, but in particular, as July comes to an end, I remember him with sadness and affection.
Billy and Alan: I cannot think of one without the other. Growing up without a brother until the age of eight, those two cousins were my earliest brotherly companions. (Sorry Tommy, but you were a bit too old for me in those early years.)
I remember camping out in our backyards with the two of them, our tent being not a tent but the back of the station wagon. We’d put all the seats down, and talk and laugh until late in the evening. One person, I think me, slept on the front seat and the other two slept in the “way back,” I don’t know how we slept in such cramped conditions, but to us, it was fun.
I learned to play touch football and baseball on the side yard of the Park Avenue house with my Palazzo cousins and the neighborhood Onorati and DeVite kids. I believed, until very recently, that the official major league rule was “four fouls and you’re out,” because that is how we played.
We played in those woods behind their house and rode our sleds down that hill which seemed so steep in my memory, but is actually quite moderate as hills go. I was shocked when I returned as an adult and saw how small the incline actually was.
When their family bought the Cornelia Street house two blocks down the street from our home, we got to see each other much more often. They moved in during the summer of 1967. I was twelve but Billy was fourteen, so when we would walk around town, I would get exiled to the other side of the street if one of their friends would approach us. It did not matter that we were related. I didn’t like it and was clearly traumatized, since I remember this event so many years later, but I always complied with their order.
I remember walking home from John Hill School where the summer school recreation program was held. Sometimes we would stop at Uncle Larry’s Liquor store (I loved going behind the counter), and other times we would swing by Uncle Tony’s “office”–Scerbo’s Auto Body Shop. I especially enjoyed getting nickel cokes in glass bottles from the vending machines there.
During high school, Uncle Tony would pick me up and drop the three of us off at school. Whenever I see one of those green, tree-shaped auto fresheners, I think of riding to Boonton High with Billy and Alan and Uncle Tony.
Then we grew up and things changed. I went away to college, got married and moved away, and nothing was the same. What reminds me of grown-up Billy is Queen, healthy eating and the kiss of peace at church.
He cut down on fats before it was the thing to do. I remember he told me to substitute applesauce for oil in my brownie recipe, or any other similar recipes when oil is added. So this past year, I made a box of chocolate chip pumpkin bread, and as I added the applesauce, I thought of Billy.
My last memory of him happened at Mt. Carmel Church. We were separated by our mothers, and when it was time for the kiss of peace, he was too far from me to shake hands, so he leaned over and gave me the peace sign. So whenever I am in church and do that, or there is a sixties-retro moment of peace and love, I think of Billy. It is a really nice final memory.