I have a recurring dream that tends to wake me up out of a sound sleep. In the dream, I’m riding a bike on 14th Street, the street where I grew up. I’m about 10 or 11 years old, and flying down the road, going like a bat out of hell.
There’s another kid on a bike in front of me, even faster. I can never catch him. He’s about the same age, pedaling furiously, like he’s trying to get away from me. The more specific details of my dream are the color of the sky – a deep, indigo blue, the kind you’d get just before a summer sunset – and the length of the ride.
You see, 14th Street is a side street just a few blocks long. In the dream, our two boy bike race goes on forever. The ride never stops.
Even though I can’t be sure, I’m convinced the boy on that bike is my Uncle Anthony.
I can’t be sure because I never knew him. He passed away when I was a baby, almost 50 years ago. He was only 13. Although I didn’t know him, I felt like I did from listening to all of the stories about him, mostly told to me by my grandmother. From her perspective, he was a loving and kind person, a real “Mama’s Boy.” But for purposes here, a slightly different perspective is required…
(Note: The following recollections are not my words, but from the excellent memory of my cousin – also named Anthony.)
What Was – And What Could Have Been
Big Anthony was as solid as a rock, a good tough fighter. He could run like the wind, and in my opinion, could have been one hell of a halfback.
He was called Big Anthony because he was almost seven months older than me, and to make sure my mother and your grandmother knew who to blame for something when necessary. Thus, the titles Big Anthony and Little Anthony.
The best times we had were when your family lived lived downstairs and we lived upstairs on 14th Street. With all of the cooking going on on both floors, it’s no wonder I was 200 pounds by the 2nd grade.
Your uncle, on the other hand, was not a big eater. And the fact that he loved Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs really pissed off your grandmother. We would go to the ice cream parlor down the street and order two huge banana splits, at fifty cents each. I took your uncle because he could never finish his and I always ate the rest.
We were constantly together when Anthony lived downstairs. We would bang on the pipes to signify that something was needed, or that a meal was ready. We would spend every Christmas Eve together to wait for Santa Claus. We never slept. I can still hear Anthony telling me to shut up and go to sleep.
One year, two weeks before Christmas, we found the presents that your grandmother was hiding. To appease us and keep us quiet, she gave gifts of toy guns and holsters to tide us over until the holiday.
Your uncle had a very hard time in school. It may have been attention deficit disorder in today’s terms, but back then they didn’t know how to handle it. Your grandmother hired college students as tutors, but that didn’t seem to work. He had trouble reading, so I would read to him a lot. I wish now I could have helped him more.
My father was a big boxing fan, and he used to put the (boxing) gloves on me and Anthony, and your uncle always kicked the shit out of me. I told you – he was tough.
Football and basketball were not big sports back then, but we did love baseball. We lived and died with the Yankees. Mickey Mantle was our favorite. Anthony could play ball, too. He could hit, and as I mentioned before, run like the wind.
We would go to the newsstand around the corner to buy our baseball cards. And do I mean buy. We had hundreds. I know for a fact I had five Mickey Mantles and a Roger Maris rookie card.
Lastly, your father had a reel to reel tape recorder that we thought was the top! We used to fool around with it, making jokes. I still have a tape of your uncle singing a song about being in love with a girl named Mary Ann. I never knew who she was, but I remember the song well enough to sing it for you. It’s amazing, I can still hear him sing after 50 years.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of him. I still wonder what could have been.
(Thanks to Anthony Prezio for providing these great stories, and wonderful memories.)
The Ride Never Stops
I won’t forget the television images I saw this December of a father who just lost his six year old daughter to a violent end, a senseless tragedy. I couldn’t hear the audio or anything else happening around me. Just the images. The face of pain. I know my Nonna and my grandfather were once those parents, the faces of loss.
It’s hard to know how much grief they experienced. My grandfather was the strong, silent type, capable of hiding emotion. My grandmother would mention my Uncle’s name at the kitchen table, cry for a few minutes, and then fiddle with her coffee cup.
At my uncle’s wake, one of the Roman Catholic nuns that taught him in school told her that he was an angel of God. That his time on Earth was meant to be short. That made my grandmother angry, and she would always tell that story with a defiant tone. But in her later years, she softened her stance.
Just because she believed in God and angels, and heaven and hell didn’t mean she had to buy the idea that her son was an angel before his time.
After a story like that, the two of us would always sit at the kitchen table in silence. No more words were necessary.
If the subjects of banana splits, Chef Boyardee, or Mickey Mantle ever make an appearance in my life, the first thing I think about and remember is my Uncle. Still here, still being thought of, not fading away with time.
In my dream, the race doesn’t end. On the bikes, still pedaling, sweating. That other kid is so far ahead there’s no reason for me to keep going, really. He takes a moment to peer over his shoulder, look back at me. All I can see are his eyes, and I recognize them from faded photographs. His lean frame on the bike fades into the distance just in time for me to wake up, and stare at the ceiling.
The race goes on and on. Bike tires kicking up dust into an indigo horizon, the summer heat soothing. The forever of 14th Street is my concrete paradise, as I chase a boy named Anthony.
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