Thanks for Old Friends

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Mingo, Mando, Juice and Sconz

The old adage goes that one can pick
one's friends, but not one's family. While I have certainly been
extraordinarily lucky with my family, I have been no less fortunate
with my friends. My wife, three sons and myself just spent a
fabulous long Thanksgiving weekend visiting Phoenix, Arizona for a
reunion with my three closest friends from high school and their
families, all of us staying at the home of one of those friends. We
have periodically met up with our families or sometimes just amongst
ourselves either all together or in smaller divisions, but as we are
all spread out around the country, not nearly as often as we would
like.

The four of us, myself, John (aka
Juice), Armando (aka Mando) and Dom (aka Sammy or Mingo) all grew up
in Brooklyn, N.Y. And attended Xaverian H.S. An all-boys Catholic
H.S. In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where we bonded tightly within a special
immersive Spanish language and culture program. Being at an all-male
school certainly had downsides for adolescent males, but it enabled
us to become tighter as a unit as we shared many of the same social
frustrations of the time. For all the stress, the school caused us
socially, it did right by us and many of our friends academically,
something I have only recently come to fully appreciate.

Each of us had other friends
individually and collectively throughout high school that we still
maintain and feel close to (largely thanks to the miracle of
facebook), but we were and remain a group within a larger group, with
a special bond forged from hanging together, studying together and
growing up together amidst 1970's Brooklyn and NYC, for unlike Tony
Manero and his crew from Saturday Night Fever, the bridge to
Manhattan was never a barrier for us. It was that spirit that
separated us for college, with each of us venturing to a different
part of New England and then subsequently around the country as we
have moved on to Oakland, California (John), Rhode Island (Dom),
Phoenix (Armando) and Upstate N.Y. (yours truly).

It had been almost ten years since we
were all together with our families in one place, that place being at
my home in upstate, N.Y. Thanksgiving in Arizona had its own appeal
and with the kind invitation and urging of Armando and his wife
Suzanne, we all managed to get ourselves there. Only one member of
our group has been divorced, John, who is now twice so. He jokes that
he has personally covered our group statistically, so the rest of us
should be ok.

With my two eldest sons flying to
Phoenix directly from college, Kitty, our youngest son and myself
were the last to arrive late Wednesday, the night before
Thanksgiving. Despite still being on East Coast time and tired from
traveling, we stayed up late, aglow in being all back together while
our children delighted in getting to know each other better. It is
amazing thing with friends like these, how despite the passage of
time, we interact like no time at all had passed. Finally, we went to
bed, with much to do the following Thanksgiving Day.

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Armando and I went out early to buy
bagels and a ping pong table. With everyone awake, we enjoyed our
first tastes of their home grown citrus, bagels with cream cheese and
lox (Acme) and the Arizona sunshine. With the elder boys putting
together the ping pong table and the younger children making quick
friends by the pool and over fussbol, all the adults got involved in
preparing the Thanksgiving dinner. There were two turkeys in the oven
and two types of dressing. One dressing was a traditional American
bread based stuffing. The other was an Ecuadorian meat stuffing
Armando made from his mother's recipe. It included Italian sausage,
cubed beef, ground beef and plenty of cumin and other spices. Other
dishes prepared included steamed broccoli, rice, squash, candied
yams, cranberry-citrus relish, sweet-rolls and corn pudding –
hardly an Atkinsonian meal. Regardless of the carb-load, the meal was
wonderful, a Thanksgiving repast made extra-special by the company.
For dessert, we did not have the traditional Thanksgiving array of
fruit and other pies. Instead, we had a trip back in time to our
Brooklyn days as both John and Dom had the same idea to surprise
everyone and have Junior's Cheesecakes shipped out to Arizona for
old-times sake. Juniors in Brooklyn was a restaurant that we
frequented in those days. The cheesecakes, all 4 of them, proved to
be as delicious as we remembered and suffered not in the least from
the transport. They remain, to us at least, the epitome of a NY style
cheesecake.

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Our old Brooklyn reminiscence was
topped off that night by viewing the saga of our borough-mate from
the late '70's, the afore-mentioned Tony Manero in Saturday Night
Fever starring John Travolta as Manero, the disco dancing Brooklyn
Italian who yearned for more. The film took place right around where
we attended high school and was a basically accurate portrayal of a
certain part of Brooklyn life of which we were very familiar, even
though we did not actively take part in it until we brought friends
home from college who wanted to experience that part of Brooklyn.
While the four of us reveled in the memories provoked by the film,
neither our wives nor our children appreciated it quite as fully as
we did. They never wore qiana print shirts or 6-inch heeled burgundy
corduroy platform shoes.

Friday was a day to hang around the
house, play games and reminisce, followed by a dinner for the adults
at Noca. That will be described under a separate column.

Saturday morning we drove to Pinnacle
Peak after breakfast for a hike in the hopes of working off at least
some of the calories from the weekend. It was yet another beautiful
day. Unfortunately, my eldest son had to fly back to college that
afternoon, foreshadowing the end of the weekend. The rest of us spent
our remaining time together fruitfully enjoying the reflections of
your youth both from our shared memories as well as seeing our
children get along and enjoying each others' company. By the next
day, we had all split, with John, Dom and their families as well as
our son, Andrew, heading back to where they came from. My wife, our
youngest son and I took a little extra time to visit the Grand Canyon
before flying home on Tuesday.

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Life has changed for each of my old
friends and I, but somehow, life hasn't changed our mutual
relationship and friendship. It is strange and gratifying that it
hasn't matter how long we have gone between seeing each other or even
communicating. Once we do, we revert to the easy confidence that we
share with each other and the easy way that we joke and needle each
other in that special way only New Yorkers do. As life changes for
better or worse, it is reassuring that some things apparently do not
change. Of course, that is something that neither we nor anyone else
should take for granted. It is something to be thankful for, however,
and something we hope to enjoy for the rest of our lives.


This entry was posted in Arizona, Food Events, Holidays, Musings, New York City, Slow Food, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Thanks for Old Friends

  1. Samingo says:

    John – when did you learn to write so well? It was indeed a great weekend – our kids are still happily chatting about it. That was a wonderful summary – thanks! Dom

  2. John Sconzo says:

    I learned to write in high school – from Ernie Nappo, of course!

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