The Real Boys of Summer

We're lucky that we came up before iPhones or video games. We had our neighborhood, and that's all we ever needed.

By: Neil D. Garguilo, La Nostra Voce

The year was 1963…

It is August. At approximately 8:30 a.m., a great rush took place out the doors of my neighborhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It’s midsummer and another day has begun.

One by one we met, whether it was in front of my house (the only attached house with a 1/2 as part of the address) or another friend’s house. The group would number around eight, and we had to decide a critical issue on this hot morning: what game were we going to play?

You see, when we were growing up the world was our oyster with so many sports and games at our fingertips. There was stick ball, slap ball, punch ball, stoop ball or touch football. Then there were the games that were interspersed with the sports, like marbles, skelzies (an asphalt board game using bottle caps stuffed with melted crayons), tag, red light-green light, hide-and-seek, Simon Says, ring-a-levio, and Johnny-on-the Phony. Oh, what fun we had — so much to do with not enough time in the day to accomplish all this activity.

My neighborhood was an enclave of Americans of Italian descent. They were hard working families trying to make the next generation better than the last. It was an area of approximately 10 blocks by 10 blocks, nestled amongst all the other nationalities and minorities.

All the houses were attached and neatly kept. Most were just two-family homes or apartments throughout this cozy, little neighborhood. It was safe. Our mothers would let us play from the early morning to 9 p.m., with lunch and dinner breaks in between. But, these wonderful Italian mothers never worried “one bit” whether we were safe. It was a given. We weren’t afraid of being kidnapped, hurt or run over by a car. And remember, I am talking about rough-and-tumble Brooklyn.

Just one hour?

With the advent of computers, iPhones and so on, the modern kid of today is stuck looking at a screen. I feel bad for them. They have so much … we had so little … but we had so much fun and healthy exercise.

Recently, a sports team issued a public service announcement saying, “let’s dedicate one hour each day to get outside and have some fun” (I paraphrase). When I heard this, I knew we as a country were in big trouble. One hour? For us, that was the first sport or game! We had 11 other hours to run around like “lunatics.”

The streets were teeming with activity. What I wouldn’t give for one day to go back in time to play on the streets of Williamsburg with all of my friends.

There was Frankie Boy, Dennis, Vinnie, Bennie, Mike, Joey, Johnny, and yours truly—Neilly. A golden age of sports, games, exercise and “good clean fun,” as Art Carney from The Honeymooners would say.

We were truly “the Real Boys of Summer.”


This article first appeared in La Nostra Voce, ISDA’s 28-page monthly newspaper, which chronicles Italian life, culture and traditions. Make the ISDA pledge and subscribe today.

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