While visiting my mother over the holidays, she brought out some photo albums. She’d organized them into separate albums for her individual grandchildren and, of course, myself and my brother.
I was born on Lincoln Avenue in the East New York section of Brooklyn in 1957. As part of the first “group” of grandchildren in what would soon become a vast extended family, I hadn’t yet begun to accumulate many cousins my age. They would come soon enough, but at that time, I only had a handful of them. Also, we were isolated on Lincoln Avenue and not within easy walking distance of my grandparents. They lived just two houses away from each other on Ashford Street.
While perusing the photos, I came upon a picture of me playing with a red-haired kid outside of our house on Lincoln. He was my first friend, living just a few doors away. I remember playing with him but couldn’t recall his name. Unfortunately, neither could my mother. We moved from Lincoln Avenue to Cleveland Street when my brother was born in 1961. Now we were right around the block from my grandparents. From then on, I was surrounded by cousins and the need for friends became secondary. I don’t remember if I ever visited or played with him again, but I’ve seen that picture a hundred times, so I still had a memory of that red-haired kid.
Then I got a message from someone named Michael Schiano on Facebook.
The name was vaguely familiar but didn’t ring a bell. The message said, “If you lived near Belmont and Lincoln in ENY (East New York) around 1960 we might have played together. I think you moved to Cleveland Street. Anyway, I might have that wrong.”
Along with the message was a small headshot of a guy with glasses. He was wearing headphones and positioned behind a microphone. He had a salt-and-pepper goatee, only the pepper part was red and not black.
I asked my mother about the name “Schiano,” and she immediately confirmed her friendship with Michael’s mother (Ann). Michael’s family were also friends with my father’s Aunt Francis, who owned the house we moved to on Cleveland Street. Talk about a small world.
I responded to Michael’s message and confirmed he was correct. I asked if he was that red-haired kid I remember from the picture. Sure enough, he was. He was my first friend in life and I was his. Turns out he and his family remained in East New York for many years. Michael became a music theory professor for the University of Hartford and currently lives in a suburb of Hartford today.
He recognized my name on a Facebook group named “Growing up in East New York, Brooklyn, 50’s & 60’s.” This group is dedicated to people’s memories and stories from back when life was vastly different than today. It was a time where neighbors were family, friends and colleagues. Life seemed so simple back then.
I caught him up on my life since we moved from Lincoln Avenue. Although his mother and father have passed, he felt connected enough to ask that I give his regards to my mother in hopes she would remember them. She did. She always told me those days were the best times of her life. Most people would agree that being newly married, living on your own for the first time and starting a family was indeed the best part of their lives.
Nobody knows where life will lead them. Michael and I are now “friends” again, only this time it’s on Facebook, picking up where we left off 60 years ago. “This is pretty neat, actually,” he said in his message to me. “We should have said we would continue this conversation in 60 years.”
I’m glad we finally did.
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a Press Club of Long Island award-winning columnist (2018, 2020) and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.