Helen Adonizio went to Heaven on June 20. In many ways she took Butler Street with her.
She took my Butler Street for sure. And the former Jeannie Wachs’. Even though we both still live here.
She certainly took the Butler Street of those who passed before her. She took my mom’s Butler Street and Mazie Waitkevich’s, and Margaret Massara’s, and her husband Jimmy’s.
She took the Keatings’ and the Linskeys’ and the Vitales’, Nick’s and Johanna’s, Butler Street.
She took the Saittas’ Butler Street. And the McQueens’. And the Walls’.
Even the Butler Street of the late beloved school teacher Kitty Smith, who lived down the block near St. Casimir’s Church, went with Helen. And that of old bachelor Frank Flanagan, a recluse from two doors away who never, ever ventured outside of his house.
Helen Adonizio took her front porch with her too. She was the last of a breed of Americans who’d sit not on a backyard deck with her privacy but out front where she could bid a lilting hello to each and every passerby.
And she took her fence, along with all the small talk the ladies of the neighborhood engaged in over it on a daily basis in the ’50s and ’60s.
I hugged and cried with four of Helen’s six children, Gloria, Charlie, Jane and Patrick, over that fence on the day she died — Judy had not yet arrived from out of town and Mary Christine passed away some 15 years ago — and recalled a vivid memory of their mom sitting on a chair and painting it more than 50 years ago when she was pregnant with Patrick.
My mom always admired Helen Adonizio but especially for tackling that overwhelming project. She admired her spunk and her determination.
She kept commenting, “Doesn’t Mrs. Adonizio look beautiful?”
I heard Mom say that dozens and dozens of times through the years.
My mom was a front porch gal too. She was sitting there in her familiar spot as I sat on the steps
lacing up a pair of running shoes on the day I moved in following my divorce now more than 21 years ago. My former wife and two kids had moved off to New Jersey to begin a new life and, at the urging of my brothers and sisters, I had bought the family homestead so that mom would be able to remain there the rest of her days.
“Mom, I’m not sure what the future is going to bring,” I said. “The only thing I know is that right now I’m going for a run.”
I don’t know if Helen Adonizio was on her front porch at the time but she may well have been. Regardless, as the days went by and turned into months and years, every time I saw her I knew I was OK. Everything was OK.
The Butler Street I returned to in 1995 was not at all the Butler Street of my youth. But the reassuring presence of my mom, who lived another eight years after I came back, and Mrs. Adonizio, whom I called Helen hardly ever, offered a sense of comfort deeply rooted in our shared history of the neighborhood.
The Adonizios weren’t necessarily a greeting party when we Ackermans moved in across the street in late spring of 1959, but they were keen observers. Gloria often told me how she and her siblings were counting how many kids were in our family and delighting at the results. There were four of us, another to arrive a year or two later.
I had just finished fourth grade at the little Barry School in Pittston Twp. and wondered if we had struck it rich and moved to the big city. Pittston High School, right across the street from our new home, was the largest building I had ever seen.
The high school band assembled in the school yard our first Memorial Day in the neighborhood and my two older sisters and I followed them as they marched down William Street to Main Street and all the way to Pittston Cemetery. Our mom had no idea where we were.
The neighborhood was filled with kids of all ages and peppered with a handful of mom and pop grocery stores. If we had a nickel or a dime you might find us eating a Popsicle on the porch of Massara’s or sipping a Coke on the bench outside of Augie Bianco’s. Augie’s, located next door to the Adonizio home, was a place where the big kids bought cigarettes at three for a nickel. We were more interested in the 8-oz. soda and two pretzels that 10 cents got us. Our pennies were spent on candy at Lena’s on the corner.
The schoolyard was our playground and Fleming Park at the top of Butler our baseball field. Halfway down Butler near the intersection with Church Street was Grablick’s Dairy ice cream bar and all the way down and across Main Street was the American movie theater. We played wiffle ball in the empty lot near Massara’s and street football in front of my house. And occasionally snitched cherries from the tree in Sauter’s front yard. On summer days, we frolicked under a hose propped up with a brick, and in the evenings, caught lightning bugs in our front yards, our dads joining our moms on those front porches, sipping iced tea or lemonade and, as my dad would say, “shooting the breeze.” In winter, the snowball fights were epic.
That was our Butler Street. The Butler Street Mrs. Adonizio took to Heaven. To us, it was Heaven on Earth.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.