The kids from across the street

The Bialczak and Dorazio kids, probable year, 1971.

The Bialczak and Dorazio kids, probable year, 1971.

Remember the family that always seemed to be there when you were growing up, the troop that had somebody who pretty much matched up in age to somebody in your own tribe?

Chances are good that your mothers hung out.

Dolores Bialczak and Kitty Dorazio were quite pleased that their combined seven offspring were growing up about the length of a basketball court apart at the intersection of Chickadee and Redwing lanes in the Long Island, N.Y., suburb of Levittown.

This was the 1960s, and dads Frank Bialczak and Charlie Dorazio left the little World War II tract houses for their jobs while Dolores and Kitty ran the homes and raised the kids. I remember summer weekdays spent with them sitting at one kitchen table or the other, happily eying the younger kids and easy with the fact that us older ones were in a suburbia where we weren’t going to get in too much trouble.

As the story moves along, the seven ducklings will be identified by the photo above, taken a couple years after father Frank had moved us from Levittown to Stony Brook, a shuffle that had shaken Dolores and Kitty to the core.

Frank and Charlie, on the other hand, didn’t mind so much.

Charlie, a truck driver, I best remember as always sitting on the recliner in his own living room, watching old black and white movies. He loved it the infrequent times I sat down on their couch, and would quickly explain what had happened up until that exact point in some movie that I had no interest in whatsoever. I always watched for at least a couple of minutes because all of his own kids would wave their hands and ignore him and the TV screen.

Mid-level manager and weekend musician Frank, meanwhile, would rather hang out another block up with George Verielles, a swarthy Greek who owned a roofing company and liked to match his Scotches to my father’s Manhattans as they rolled the dice and loudly matched wits during whole-sheet Yahtzee for a penny a point.

So here in 1971, as I figure from estimating my little sister’s age, we’re bunched up on the bed in my room in Stony Brook during one of the Dorazio’s seldom visits.

On the right is dorky me. I’m in ninth grade, right before the eye doctor says I can lose the glasses. Dory, the youngest one, is closest to the camera. She’s a cutie and knows it. Frannie is over her shoulder, two years older and justifiably proud of her beauty, her bangs and her longer hair.

John Dorazio is slumped at top left, older than me by two years, cooler than me by way more, and pissed that they made him come that day because he’d outgrown his old friend. I mean, the dude is a junior in high school, with a mustache and John Lennon glasses, and look at me.

But inside my head intones, come on, fella! Just two years past, you were excitedly waving me into your room and latching the door. One day it was because you’d just discovered the new album from Creedence Clearwater Revival and had to show me how cool you were, and the next day it was because you’d scored a forbidden magazine and had to show me how really cool you were. John became a mystery man. I think this may have been the last day I ever saw him.

Ann Dorazio is next to her brother. She was in my grade. And as happens with ninth grade girls and boys, she’s much cooler than me already, too. Hell, she and I had been in different leagues since we’d toddled off down the block together in grade school. Was it because she parted her hair in the middle and intimidated me, or was it still all girls at the start?

In the fourth grade, I got put in the advanced class, and Ann in the much larger middle group. My fate was sealed. While our parents preened about how special their precious advanced students were, all the rest of the kids called us eggheads, taunted, pointed fingers and actually laughed at us in hallways, or so it felt like some days. We got annoyed at our parents and kept a wary eye at the other students.

So Ann and I stood next to each other for neighborhood kid pictures, and were always polite in front of the families. We even stuck up for each other against any really ugly outside forces in the school kid food chain. But when Kitty and Dolores hinted at anything more, we both knew, no chance.

And then came that day that Ann came to visit the summer after my first year of college. We went out to a Stony Brook bar, Tuey’s, to see a legendary Long Island rock band, The Good Rats. She hung out with me and my best friend, Mike Agostino, and some other of my high school crowd. We drank some beer. I do believe a joint may have been passed by some people in the parking lot. It was the ’70s, after all.

When we got back to the house, everybody else was sleeping. She followed me into my room and closed the door.

I gulped and asked her again — fifth time of the night? — about her steady boyfriend, the guy I remembered as the very biggest dude in our Levittown class, Timmy Smith, I do believe, average kid in every way but his size.

She laughed, punched me in the arm, and told me to relax.

We talked all night, about growing up, things I didn’t know about her family, things she didn’t know about my family, things I didn’t know about her, things she didn’t know about me, two 19-year-olds with eyes wider open. Before the sun came up, she leaned in and kissed me on the cheek and then went into the guest room.

After she’d gone home, Dolores told me that Ann had told her she’d had one of her best dates ever, and that she’d raised one hell of a man.

I shook my head slowly and told my mom that I didn’t even know I had been out on a date.

Lynn, the Dorazio’s youngest, is next to Ann, and Katherine, second youngest, is at top right. They were wonderful friends to Frannie and Dory, I am quite certain. I liked them fine growing up as they were buzzing around my knees. And they feared John too much to bug us when he gave his older-brother stare and told them we wanted to listen to his records without them hanging in the doorway.

A year after Ann and I found out what the Bialczak-Dorazio family dynamic had evolved to mean to us, my half of the equation imploded. Frank and Dolores divorced. Dolores moved to Florida, then married a guy that none of us but her liked.

But she divorced him, too, and moved back to Long Island and married husband No. 3, who happened to be her high school sweetheart. Decades went by.

Then Dolores reconnected with Kitty Dorazio. On the phone telling me about it, my mom sounded as happy as the 30-year-old Dolores sitting across the Levittown kitchen table from her best friend Kitty.

In fact, they were together, walking down the hallway of a casino in Connecticut, when my dear mom fell dead from a heart attack at the age of 65.

Kitty came up to me during the calling hours and held my arm, crying, as she told me how she immediately called for help, how emergency personnel were at Dolores’ side in seconds, how nothing could be done.

Katherine stood next to her mother at the calling hours, and she was there at the church for the funeral services, too, remembering the woman she called Aunt Dee, and those days when two families lived a medium touchdown pass away from each other in Levittown, N.Y.

Was there a family in your neighborhood that matched yours kid-for-kid? Was there a family you hung out with because your mothers were friends? Are you still friends with kids you grew up with in the same neighborhood?

61 thoughts on “The kids from across the street

  1. Pingback: When Life Should Have Sunk In (Part 2) | The Infinite Abyss(es)

  2. Where I grew u in NE we had a circle street. When you turned onto our street the car had no choice but to drive the circle to get back out. The strangest cul de sac ovalish type street to live on. It was like our own personal racetrack. Every adventure we ever had started from that point. Loads of hide and seek, searching for fireflies and running from parents as the street lights turned on for the night. Fritz, Fig, Phil, Muffy, Jody, Kelly, Angie, Audrey, Chris, Jelynda, Leah and Ryan ran a muck of that place. Old Hollis Brown the mean old Archie Bunker of the area hated us for sure.

    Good memory maker, Mark. The highlight of the story was your early morning talk with Ann. Something tells me you hold a captive audience and I’m slightly envious of that great conversation you two had. A treasured memory, I’m sure.

    Oh! I’ve never tried pot. Grew up in too small a town I guess. Loads of booze and liquor, however. πŸ™‚

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  3. You have already read about most of my childhood friends Mark. When you grow up with so many cousins in a one mile area, they naturally become your first, best, and last friends forever. Makes me wish sometimes we had all stayed the same age, but as long as we all have our memories, they will always be the same. There was always someone sitting at the table with mom, exchanging recipes, quilting, sewing, shelling peas….hands always busy, talking, talking, talking. I still miss the old days, way back before your old days started.

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  4. Lastly, I am sorry you lost your mother at a young age. I suppose she was happy and had a great day, though. This should be of comfort but I am saddened by your Mom’s death. Robin

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    • Thank you for your wishes, Robin. My mom was only 19 when she had me so we kind of grew up together. It was a big shock. Then my dad died six months later, heart attack, 66 years old. And he was only 20 when I came along, so we were three kids together until my first sister was born eight years later.

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      • I did not realize how young your parents were when you came along! This is nice to know about and you all were ‘kids’ in the sense of growing up with them. The reason I said that about your Mom’s last day, was she was at a casino, right? Fun and although sudden, a quick way to die. I was not meaning any disrespect or anything. As I reread this, I hope it came off that way. It is sad that both your parents were far too young to die. My Dad was 69 and I felt that was way too young, too. Hope your memories are always good of your parents and now, with Karen, you have happy times always! Smiles, Robin

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  5. Wow! I don’t think we had a family quite as extraordinary as this one or yours, either, Mark! We would make friends with families who had girls, for me. Then, we would have neighbors with boys, like my 2 brothers. I did like it best when we were all 3 in h.s. at the same time and we shared friends. My Mom had teacher friends and my Dad hung with those couples the most. Smiles and hope Karen has a wonderful Mother’s Day! Robin

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  6. Great post, Mark! I’m sure sorry to hear you lost your mom so suddenly. Well, just in the fact that you lost your mom young. I can’t imagine.

    The neighbors across the street from us were our cousins, the Morris boys, and my sister and I fit perfectly between them. We had fun for ages when we were growing up. I often get very nostalgic for those easy, breezy fun days!

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    • That must have been fun, CBXB, having staggered-year boy cousins living across the street from you and your sister! Great setting for growing up in Hawkeyeland, my friend.

      Yes, it was a shock to lose our mom at 65. And to make that a worse year for us three siblings our dad dies six months later, also a heart attack, at age 66.

      Thanks for your kinds thoughts. It was more than a decade ago now, and time does heal it somewhat.

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  7. What an awesome post. By the way, I really like those glasses. Next time I am able to purchase a pair, I’m going with a more classic look.

    There weren’t too many surrounding families with kids matched in ages. There were age similarities, but many of us were stacked, scattered and covering a good seven-year span. Many of the families are close, which is uplifting. My friends are practically my siblings.

    Do you still keep in touch with the family?

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    • You still live in the very near vicinity, which is cool in its own right, Chris.

      Me, no, so I have not seen John since 1971 and Ann since 1976.

      And, yes, I do believe you would lke good in classic frames.

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  8. Well, I got here late because every one else already said The Wonder Years thing. But I’ll repeat it because that’s also what I was thinking the whole time I was reading. You had be both laughing and crying out loud. I knew it was you in the white shirt before you even told us, (which is a big deal because I have limited facial recognition, so Yay, me!). And I don’t think you looked one bit dorky, by the way. I, too, wonder what happened to John, and I’m afraid the ending would be a sad one from the way of the times back then when too many teenagers felt lost and took to self-medicating. I thought it was funny that you didn’t know you were on a date with Ann, because as you described it, even I knew you were on a date with Ann. But then when you got to the part about your mom, I was mortified! 😦 My eyes instantly started watering. In fact, after such a great story, I didn’t even like hearing she divorced your dad, and then ended up married to someone no one else liked (which can never be good for the love-is-blind wife), so I was already feeling a tug on the heart for your Mama and then that! I’m very sorry for you that she’s gone, and so unexpectedly, too. 😦 But as for the overall post, two thumbs, way up! πŸ˜€

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    • Thank you, Rachel, for the thumbs-way-up. Congratulations on recognizing me, and for not thinking I looked dorky!

      Yes, there are parts of this story that are so very sad.

      But there are parts of life that are so very sad, and a true throwback must deal with it all. We laugh and we cry and we even sob. The fact that I could get that through in the blog post, well … it was a tough writing night last night.

      Thanks for your kinds words.

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  9. Mark, regular reader Shults here. In Okla. This was a great story. It brought me back to the days of awkward and growth. Trying to figure life out and just hanging out. No internet, cell phones, texting, etc. Unfortunately, a lost art.

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    • This was in between our two years at Morrisville, Shults, when it seemed that every day we were learning something new about really growing up. In the summers back then, we used to write letters, you, me and Ten Eyck. And I still have that picture you drew of me with the stubble beard. We arrived there as strangers 39 years ago. Too long since we’ve been back swapping life stories like now. Have a good day in Okie, Mr. Fanokie.

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  10. The Wonder Years indeed, Mark. Very nice. Reminded me of growing up a couple of streets away from three brothers — the oldest was my age, and the others just slightly younger (sort of Irish triplets). I was over there so much, their parents called me their fourth son. Lots of good memories. Thanks.

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  11. The is a wonderful, beautifully written story. So sorry about your mother.

    Really brings back more memories of The Seventies. Inspires me to continue with my “One The Street Where I lived” series.

    Thank you for brightening my morning.

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    • Lance, I want to read more of your On The Street Where I Lived series. Write on, 1957 co-fellow.

      Thanks for your kind words and condolences. Yes, our mom went when I was just 46. Way to young for both of us.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I love this story Mark, it could be a movie like stand by me or My Girl or something! I laughed about you not knowing you had been on a date. Once I told a male friend that I couldn’t meet him somewhere, I don’t remember what, and he asked me if we were breaking up. I said no, because we’ve never been a couple!
    Diana xo

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    • Thank you for your kind words, Diana. I still don’t think that night with Ann started out as a date, but the way our conversation clicked, it ended up as one, somehow and in some way. Unbeknownst to me, of course. I still hadn’t caught up all the way, obviously!

      And oh, you, heartbreaker, pulling the rug right out from under the feet from some suitor who probably had been telling his friends how happy he was having you as his girlfriend!

      Have a good day. πŸ™‚

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  13. Just wonderful. We never had any big families in my school or neighborhood, so it was nice to read about yours. Such a pleasant read until the sad part. I guess she did raise one heck of a man.

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    • Thanks, Kerbey.

      It was really cool that Dolores and Kitty got back together after decades apart, and I glad that my mom had that comfort before the the sad part. Life is like that.

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  14. What an amazing post! I loved every word. Since there were ten of us in my family, it was rare for us to see that kind of matchup. But there was one family (pikers only had six kids…) down the street. In those days, all the neighborhood kids ran as a pack, but their dad had built an incredible treehouse that became the neighborhood fort. Naturally, that family were the coolest, the neighborhood rulers. Fast forward to my second year of college, and first apartment shared with three other women. One of our former neighbors, a few years older than I, asked if he could couch surf for a few days. The first night he announced that he always slept naked, and by the way, he’d had a vasectomy.

    There wasn’t a second night.

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  15. mark, this is one of my favorite posts of yours, ever ) we had a family like that across the street, and we matched 4 for 4 and i married my match )

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    • This is one of my favorite comments of yours, ever, Beth, and certainly the one with the biggest surprise ending! How I Met Your Father, Beth Style, in one sentence. Precious, my friend. You shall have to give me another episode someday, maybe, pretty please.

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  16. Mark this is a fantastic story. It took me back to the seventies in our neighborhood. We had a couple of families with matching kids. One family next door and one family across the street. No girls close in age to me. I was surrounded by boys. Brothers. Neighbors. All the girls were much older or much younger. At the time even a few years made a huge difference.

    I can’t help but wonder about John. Where is he? And what would he think of that picture now?

    I’m sorry about your mom. My father died unexpectedly at 65. So young!

    I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about my neighborhood of the seventies, all day now. πŸ™‚ Thank you.

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    • Thank you for sharing your memories that poured out while reading mine, Colleen. We are like “Wonder Years” kids in age and era of America, the two of us, I picture. That must have been tough, no girls to hang with and plot against the fellas with and … whatever the girls in my neighborhood were doing.

      Wondering about John today, here’s an interesting one for you. Another old friend of mine for some reason already has gone Facebook surfing and come up with links for — he says, in an IM message to me, but he was from my second school, not their school — John and Ann. Do I want to click and check, 43 years since I’ve seen John and 38 years since I’ve seen Ann? I have to think about that for awhile.

      Thank you, Colleen. Later!

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