1985 - A Small World Expands

1985 – A Small World Expands

The sounds of “Miami Vice Theme” filled the airwaves and the heads of scores of Americans. My family was living in our new home on East 19th Street between Avenues W and X in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. It was a unique one-way residential street. On one side of the street there was a large post office building (not open to the public), and private one-story houses with basements. At the end of the block was an alley which opened into a shared space where the backyards of various houses converged. On the other side of the street there was a vacant lot, then large apartment buildings, directly in front of our house was a car garage shop, followed by another large apartment building. The car shop was called DiCaro’s and run by two mechanics Louie and Bruno. While their business did regularly eat up the available parking spots on the block, they were decent enough to run over and let Dad know that a spot was opening when he needed one. Dad got along with them well enough, and he brought his car to them when it needed repair.

There were some snowy days this winter and Dad took advantage of the opportunity to take Donny and I sledding in Prospect Park. Even with a new brother entering the picture, I was not forgotten. After much anticipation coupled with a vague sense of wonder my brother William James Sheridan was born on February 21st. Dad and I visited Mom and my new baby brother in the hospital. When, after a few days, Dad pulled up to the house to bring the newborn home from the hospital, Louie the mechanic came running over to see the baby. I was overjoyed when William first arrived home, and I got to spend time with this new lifeform who apparently was closely related to me! I was a happy big brother. Perhaps I was a bit jealous of my new brother in that I was no longer receiving the undivided attention of family members which I dearly enjoyed not long before. Somehow, I adapted and soon I could not have imagined life without him.

Though we now lived a significant distance from Saint Thomas Aquinas school, my parents kept me there for the duration of my Pre-Kindergarten year. Teacher Ms. Janet’s smiling face was a warm presence. The world was made a little smaller that spring as the USA for Africa hit “We Are the World” rang out all over the country and presumably the world at large. There was a sense that ordinary human beings could indeed effect a change for the better. I quietly wondered at the song’s apparent meaning. Why do we need to change things for the better? My life is great! I was still very much in the safety bubble of a “secure” nuclear family with great love and support from extended family and friends. 

We rented and lived on the 1st floor apartment of the house on East 19th Street. In the basement there lived a mild-mannered elderly gentleman named Tony. Tony was a widower who spent his time as a hospital volunteer seven days a week. It was his way of continuing with purpose. I often spent time playing outside either in the front or in the shared backyard alley space. One day while practicing my baseball moves I either hit or threw a ball a substantial distance! “Wow, look at that!” … CRASH! “Oops…oh no!” I had managed to get the ball right through our neighbor Hy’s window. I was petrified and feared I had committed a crime most heinous. Yet I knew in my heart that it was an accident. My mother helped me to ring his bell and tell him what I had done, which was no fun. He was ok. My mother paid for the window, and it was done with. 

In one of the apartment buildings across the street from our home lived a friendly young woman, Carol. She would occasionally come across to say hello to us. When I brought my “Drawing Business” outside to sell my artworks on the street and she came over and bought one for a generous price. One time Mom allowed me to accompany her in her car to take a short drive around the corner and into the apartment building garage on the adjacent street Ocean Avenue. Mom later said she regretted allowing me to go with her afterwards realizing she was effectively a stranger. However, for me it was a fun little car trip with a nice person. I was safely returned home in short time. Mom’s concern was not unwarranted as in the mid-1980s it was not uncommon to hear about unseemly things in society such as kidnappings, murders, and various other sordid affairs. I didn’t understand why the world was that way. Isn’t it sad that trusting a kind neighbor is not normal, but rather mistrusting our neighbors is normal?

Our neighbors on one side were Chinese American. This was my first experience befriending people from a significantly different culture. When I went into their house there were unfamiliar shapes, colors, and smells. Two children lived there of a similar age to me: Sandy and Wayne. We were friends. Down the block were two kids who were not so friendly: James and John. They were brothers. Sometimes we played together, but I often felt they acted like bullies, and I generally preferred when they were not around. I really hated having to deal with bullies. Can’t we all just have fun together nicely?

We had an apple tree in our backyard which we were allowed to pick from. I also climbed the tree with my parents’ help. It was in the shared back-alley space that I learned to ride a bike. Both Mom and Dad taught me. One day while Dad was helping me to ride, I fell and scraped my knee badly. He encouraged me to keep on going and to not run home to tell Mommy. I suppose he was teaching me to be tough. In any case I learned how to ride a bike with confidence.

I graduated from Pre-Kindergarten at Saint Thomas Aquinas on June 7th. The graduation ceremonies involved prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and “My Country Tis of Thee”. We sang songs including “It’s a Small World”, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, “New York, New York”, and “We Are the World”. My identity was being formed as a Catholic, an American, a New Yorker, and a global citizen. As I was graduating Pre-K, in theaters across the USA, a fascinating kid’s adventure film The Goonies was released followed soon after by the fun, mind-twisting blockbuster Back to the Future

My family, including Donny, took a trip up to the Catskills, NY during summer vacation. We stayed at one of those ubiquitous lodges that seemed to fill the Catskills replete with small rooms, soda machines, and a swimming pool surrounded by colorful plastic chairs. I was never one to take to the water naturally, so I stayed in the shallow end. Donny however was going down the slide head and arms first as Dad waited for him in the deep end. During that trip Dad sported a mustache only and was physically heavy. Perhaps his own health was taking a back seat priority amidst the daily grind of his life. We visited the Catskill Game Farm[1] where I happily fed small goats from milk bottles. That summer we also went to the New York Renaissance Faire at Sterling Forest in Tuxedo, NY[2]. There Dad taught us how to shoot a bow and arrow. Both Donny and I came home with special handcrafted swords and shields. We would dress up as knights and play sword fighting together. While some older kids (Donny was 2 years older than me) were not fun to play with because they pushed their weight around, Donny always treated me gently and never acted like a bully. He was naturally stronger than me and sometimes his nature may have overwhelmed me in some ways, but he was a gentle and reassuring presence. I always looked forward to him coming over and sometimes sleeping over as well. I was happy when we spent time together and felt safer around bullies if Donny was around. 

Many days would involve visiting Nana and Bampa’s house. When the weather was nice, we would spend time in their backyard. The relatively small space of their yard was a vast playground for me with many different areas of exploration. Favorite activities in that backyard included digging in the dirt, creating tunnels with twigs, playing catch, riding my tricycle, building with wooden blocks, playing in the kiddie pool, and other various games that were spurred on by my freedom to imagine and explore in this safe outdoor space.

One autumn day, there was a hurricane. Mom and I went for a walk around the corner to the video rental store where I was likely going to re-rent for the umpteenth time a cartoon video from my favorite video series The Winsome Witch. The wind was so strong I was genuinely afraid I was going to fly away with the umbrella like Mary Poppins! Nana was not happy when she found out that we left the house that day in such weather.

One of Dad’s favorite books of all time was The Lord of the Rings, so when he found out that The Return of the King cartoon was airing on evening television, he couldn’t wait to watch it with me which we did one evening. When it came time for my nightly 9pm phone chat with Nana, Dad was annoyed by the interruption of our father and son movie time. My association with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit stem back to my earliest memories. There were ceramic figurines of characters from the epic tale on shelves in our living room. And for some strange reason I even had a poster hanging on my bedroom wall of the powerful demon Balrog, which scared me. 

On September 30th Dad turned 35 and we welcomed yet another new addition to our home, our first family dog Aragorn. Aragorn was an Akita, a beautiful dog who seemed to have an air of wisdom about him. He was named after King Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. My father had a tradition of giving presents to others on his birthday, something that he learned of from the hobbits. My mother had grown up with dogs and was longing to have a dog of her own. Aragorn was a gift from Dad to Mom given on his birthday. From then on, Aragorn would often sit calmly and enjoyably, chained to the front steps of our home watching the world.

I had switched schools that September from Saint Thomas Aquinas to the much closer Saint Mark Catholic Academy[3] just two blocks south on East 19th Street between Avenue Z and Jerome Avenue. I was not fond of going to school and cried before entering the building several times at the beginning of the school year. Eventually I adapted and one thing that I found comforting was that Donny was also attending this school and sometimes we would see each other crossing the hallways. There was a stage play put on at Saint Mark’s in which a tall giant character appeared. This scared me very much and one of my classmates was so petrified, he cried the whole duration of the play. My Kindergarten teacher was Miss Casanova. Our class was relatively small (there are 12 students in our class picture). We wore uniforms of mixed grays and white and had some mild mixing of ethnicities.

For Halloween Donny and I dressed as a Viking and a knight respectively. We brandished our wooden shields which we had recently obtained at the Renaissance Faire during the summer. We wielded plastic swords, helmets, and breastplates under which we wore comfy sweatpants and long-sleeved shirts. 8-month-old Billy wore a cute baby clown costume that Mom made. There was a rare adult Halloween party hosted by my parents at the East 19th Street house. Among the colorful guests Eileen Galligan was Peter Pan, Mick Galligan was an army commando, Uncle Rob was a sheik, and Dad was a genie. I had a chance to sport Dad’s genie costume and pose legs folded for a photo by his legendary bookshelf (built by Bampa the master carpenter). 

Thanksgiving came and went with a large family gathering at Grandma Loretta’s house. For my 5th birthday, Mom and Dad threw me a big party at home complete with clown entertainment. It was an all-star event in that nearly all my childhood friends and family were present. Along with clown balloons, there were He-man, Skeletor, and Lion-o action figures hanging around amongst a large group of kids by a table of various bowls of inexpensive typical party snacks: potato chips, cookies, pretzels, candies, and the like. Despite the fact that my birthday was three days before Christmas Day and the growth of our family (baby and puppy), I did not feel overlooked.


[1] Learn more about the Catskill Game Farm: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catskill_Game_Farm.

[2] Learn more about the New York Renaissance Faire: https://renfair.com/ny/

[3] Learn more about Saint Mark Catholic Academy: https://www.smcaonthebay.org.

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