Like the proverbial tree that grows in Brooklyn, the roots of my most important friendships began in the middle of East 27th Street between Avenues L and M. We were a tribe of about 40 girls and boys with no more than four years difference in our ages. On any given afternoon, our moms could hear us roller skating, biking and playing stickball in the middle of the street. The manhole covers marked home plate.
Life was simpler in the B.I. (Before Internet) era. Not only was it safe to play in the street without supervision, but starting in first grade, we walked to school by ourselves. After homework, we could go to our friends’ homes until it was time for dinner.
With 20-20 hindsight, it seems idyllic but we grew up under a shadow of danger that frightened us and drew us closer together. Now, more than 50 years later, my oldest friendships were forged by the alliances we formed back then.
I started prepping in first grade. It was 1954, and if you are among the 76 million baby boomers, you remember how we lived in fear of the Russians dropping an atom bomb on New York City. At PS 193, Mrs. Bardy had us kneel under our scarred wooden desks.
Since we expected to be killed, my best friend from East 27th Street, Abby Ferrante, baptized me with our family’s green rubber garden hose so that she and I could be together in heaven. I wouldn’t have to go to Limbo with the other Jewish kids. We shared an uneasy laugh about it just the other day. Who thought we would be worrying about nuclear bombs more than 60 years later?
My friendship with a colleague started in the mid-1960s. She and five other students traveled an hour to Midwood High School from Bedford-Stuyvesant. We went on to college together and our combined years give us a century of interracial friendship that bonded us through divorce and raising daughters on our own. Our personal history weaves through decades of social change in the borough we love.
A wise man told me, “A friend helps you move. A real friend helps you move the body.” Through sunshine and storms, trauma and tears, the roots of Brooklyn friendships run deep and oh so real.
Brooklyn native Laurie Nadel is a psychotherapist and author who helps people recover from traumatic events. She ran a program for teenagers whose fathers were killed in the 9/11/01 World Trade Center attacks.
Her new book, “The Five Gifts: Discovering Hope, Healing and Strength When Disaster Strikes,” celebrates the gift of empathy and friendship in recovering from trauma.