The Boys of 10th and Ritner

Posted on 04 February 2010

My friends and I grew up in a culturally diverse neighborhood in South Philadelphia, near the intersection of 10th and Ritner Streets.  Our childhood occurred during the Great Depression, a time of immense want for so many people.  Somehow, though, I remember it with fondness, as do my friends.  In the ’30’s (that would be the 1930’s for anyone who hasn’t studied American history as you should), the streets of the city were not clogged with automobiles or choked with smog; public transportation was the mode of travel.  To us kids, life was pleasant as our parents struggled to eke out an existence, keep the roofs over our heads, and food on our plates.

To get to our neighborhood schools, we wore out a lot of shoe leather; there were no buses to transport us.  We carried our books, pencils, and papers, as well as our tasty homemade lunches (no prepackaged chemical and preservative-laden stuff from a factory). After school, we would walk home and play in the street before suppertime.  The boys would play stickball or tag; the girls would write in the streets with chalk, play hopscotch, and tend to their baby dolls.  Occasionally, one of the girls would cross the line and we’d let her, provided she could hit, run, and throw … the ball, not us!  Gender equality had not yet fully blossomed, so we may have been just a bit ahead of our time for enduring the tomboys.

After our playtime, which cost little or no money, we did not waste electricity and did not fry our brain cells a la cellular technology.  Instead, we knuckled down to do our homework, sans Internet search engines and computers.  If we really needed to research a topic, we had the public library at our fingertips.  Rooms and rooms of wall-to-wall books, and nary a coffee urn or a gourmet pastry to be found!  And no chatting, either; it was “Silence is Golden” at the library, so that everyone could study in peace and quiet.  Before snuggling into bed for the night, we listened with rapt attention to radio programs designed to scare the pants off us kids (e.g., “The Shadow”).  Ah, the thrill of a delicious mystery conducted sight unseen over the airwaves!

Later on, a cataclysmic event occurred that would forever would change our lives. When the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor, America was dragged into World War II.  Some say that Roosevelt had advance warning of the attack, but allowed it to happen anyway, in order to better market the war to the American public.  We knew of no such rumor at the time; in fact, such a rumor would have been unthinkable.  All we knew is that our beautiful Hawaii had been bombed, with no prior attack on our part.  Everyone in my neighborhood was left reeling; in fact, most of us were unaware of exactly where Pearl Harbor was located, until the radio broadcast the stunning news.  Congress dove into action by initiating the Draft to conscript young men into the Armed Forces.  Factories and shipyards began to retool, run primarily by women as the men went overseas, to produce the materials and equipment we needed to wage war.  Japan had woken a sleeping giant.

When the bombs destroyed Pearl Harbor and so many lives, a lot of us kids were not quite military age, so it would be a few years before we were called.  But as the war progressed with no end in sight, we knew it was inevitable: as soon as we’d reached the age of 18, we would receive a notice from our local Draft Board. This was the summons to appear for medical and mental competency tests, to see if we were going to be accepted into the Armed Forces.   According to our ages, one by one, the neighborhood boys were swept off the streets by Uncle Sam, thus forcing us to become men practically overnight.  Since many of us passed the tests, we entered the Armed Services and remained there until the end of World War II.

During this global conflict, members of our neighborhood group fought in both the North African/European and the Pacific Theaters.  Some fought in Tunisia, Normandy, and the Battle of the Bulge; some were shipped off to the Pacific and China, as well as India, Burma, and following Japan’s surrender, the Occupation of Japan, as peacekeeping forces.

To mention a few of our friends, Nicky (“Blue”) Prestipino fought with Merrill’s Marauders in Burma, Andy Scrocca helped save the USS Intrepid after a kamikaze attack upon that noble ship, Jimmy Tedesco was wounded at the battle of the Bulge, Anthony Didio was awarded the Soldiers Medal in India, and Joe Ermilio was killed in action at Anzio.  Thank God, he was only casualty of the war, and he was very much missed and mourned.

With the end of the War, the neighborhood boys returned and began to congregate once again on the corner of 10th and Ritner.  Trying to recapture the best years of our lives lost due to the war, we decided to form a social club named Club Gramercy.  As time went by, we all got married and drifted away to pursue new lives with our spouses and ultimately, our children.

In the spring of 1986, two members of Club Gramercy met across a meat counter in a Greater Northeast Supermarket and talked about getting the old gang back together again.  Those two men were Joe (“Baby Joe”) Carabasi and Tony Griffini.  By networking with other members, Joe and Tony managed to contact 54 former members of Club Gramercy!  In October of 1986, at Viterelli’s Restaurant in the Greater Northeast section of Philadelphia, the first meeting of the Boys of 10th and Ritner occurred with all 54 members attending.  We had a joyous reunion!

Back in the old neighborhood, news of the Boys of 10th and Ritner spread, and more people clamored for membership, or at least, attendance at our gatherings.  We decided to have more meetings in the old neighborhood at the Holiday Inn, in South Philly, to accommodate larger groups.  This went on for a few years, after which it was decided to have our meetings more often and in a less formal fashion.  The site for these meetings was Sam Cobblestone’s Bar and Grill, where we met every second Tuesday of each month.

At Sam’s, we’d gather and for a few short hours, would share a dinner and relive our past exploits of glory. John Carosiello would chair the meetings and Romeo Celommi served as our recording secretary.  Our meal would start with an appetizer, usually mussels (in red and white sauce) with roasted peppers and anchovies; these were accompanied by fresh, hot Italian rolls, and were followed by the main course from the menu.

After dinner, the chairman would inform us about members who could not attend and any other news that concerned us.  After all the formalities were discussed, the meeting would be open to conversation by the members as we relived our youth.  This included jokes by the aptly named Happy Joe Jr. and stories by “Baby Joe” Carabasi, Nicky (“Blue”) Prestipino, Jimmy (“Pinerck”) Tedesco, and others among our band of brothers.

Although most of our members were of Italian descent, we did have one member of the Jewish faith.  Danny Rose, God bless him, could bake Italian pizzelles that would rival many Italian bakeries (pizzelles are a type of flat, crunchy cookie, pressed flat in a hot grill). Our meetings continued till Sam Cobblestone’s establishment closed.  Bidding Sam’s a bittersweet farewell, we then took up the torch at Tony Luke’s restaurant in South Philly on Saturday afternoons. As time went on, we started to gather at Serra Torres restaurant in Morton, Pennsylvania.

In 1996, The Boys of 10th and Ritner held our 10th Anniversary at the Coastline Restaurant in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The members who participated, along with their wives, stood as a testimony to friendship born of a group of neighborhood boys who refused, despite a long, bloody war and various life circumstances, to let the camaraderie die.

Since then, God has called some of our boys home; due to attrition, our meetings have reduced in frequency and members.  But the spirit of the old neighborhood, and the good times we wrested out of some the worst times this nation has ever seen, still live on in the hearts of the remaining members of The Boys of 10th and Ritner. 

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8 Responses to “The Boys of 10th and Ritner”

  1. Editor says:

    Fantastic look at how true friendship survives adversity and endures for a lifetime and beyond. Great article!!!

  2. Cherene says:

    What an awesome article!! I really enjoyed reading about how even in hard times how happy and simple things used to be. Its amazing the things we take for granted today and oh how times have changed….But if I can relate to one thing its the fact that when you make a lifelong friend its such a special gift and the fact that a group so large managed to stay in touch and get together often enough to keep up with each others lives and relive the old times through stories, jokes, and serious moments is just awesome! Thank you for sharing this wonderful story about a group of true friends that have been through a lot together! I really enjoyed this one.

  3. Kerry S. says:

    Thank you for this remarkable article. I have one single, dear friend from my childhood; actually, from our freshman year of high school. We have been through thick and thin together. Sometimes we just about fall over when we think that we have known each other for 41 years, but we both feel blessed. I don’t have the large group of friends that the author has, which, again is just so remarkable and beautiful. But I do cherish my oldest and dearest friend as well as my other friends with whom I don’t enjoy as long a history. I hope the Boys of 10th & Ritner keep going strong!

  4. LCD says:

    Hi there I like your post

  5. MCP says:

    I look forward to your upcoming updates. Much success!

  6. Petix says:

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  7. C.M. says:

    You made some good points there.

  8. Handal says:

    Good Post

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