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Hanging with the boys; Now in their 80s, five men who grew up on Myrtle Avenue hold fast to memories, closeness of their childhood ties

Friendships forged in childhood might not survive, but a gang of neighborhood guys from Myrtle Avenue on Buffalo's East Side has endured for 80 years.

Depression Era children born in the 1920s and 1930, some went to war, others went to work before finishing high school. They numbered 18 at one time, all living on the short block between Cedar and Spring streets.

Today, five friends from the old neighborhood get together several times a year: Dave Anacone, 85, and Joe Cammarano, 86, both of West Seneca; Frank Ross, 87, of Springville; Al Pepe, 88, of Cheektowaga; and Iggy Caruso, 81, of Buffalo.

They have moved from the neighborhood but have not moved on from each other. They met this week for beef on weck on the back patio of Anacone's West Seneca home.

"We're what's left of a really close-knitted group of guys who grew up together," Ross said. "There was a lot of us that left and went to the service and never made it back."

Ross served in the Navy, and Pepe was a Marine. Others tried to join the service but were rejected for medical reasons.

They grew up poor but with great memories.

"Everybody helped one another. It was like a family. In fact, it was a family. Couldn't afford much, but everybody seemed to be happy," Caruso said.

"We were all kids together, regardless of religions, race, whatever, but our parents got along together," Ross recalled. "If you came to my house, my parents were the boss, and you listened to them. I went to their house, their parents were the boss, and I listened to them."

When they got older, they would take off on a Friday, load up cars with Iroquois beer and hot dogs, and go to Brant Beach, or camp for the weekend along Eighteen Mile Creek.

They were close and never fought. They had arguments and differences of opinion, but never ones that lasted for long.

"It comes down to respecting one another," Caruso said.

Two members of the group were African-American, and that never was an issue -- unless they went to another neighborhood.

"Hey, Frank, do you remember when we wanted to take you to bowl at Cazenovia, and you used to say 'No, I don't want to go?,' " Anacone said.

"They were nasty. The Irish were real bad over there," Caruso said.

Most of the time Ross did not go, particularly if they had to walk.

Today they walk a bit more slowly, but they enjoy their time with gentle back and forth bantering.

Cammarano retired from Flexlume Signs, and Ross worked 48 years at F.N. Burt Co. Pepe was with American Airlines for 30 years, starting in baggage and ending in operations. Caruso was a master machinist for Worthington Service Center, and Anacone ran Anacone's Inn on Bailey Avenue for 40 years. He also was a drummer with big bands and orchestras.

"I was a famous drummer at one time," he said to laughs from his friends.

"I don't know how famous he was," Ross shot back.

Anacone listed his credits, which include playing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, the Clyde McCoy Orchestra and other big bands.

"You guys don't even know who I played with," he said, recalling how once he caught a young Tony Bennett banging on his drums.

Altogether, the five have 17 children, 50 grandchildren and 43 great-grandchildren. Not as active as they used to be, some still mow their lawns and snowblow the snow. None has a computer, but they have noticed how fast the world seems today.

"Everybody is in a hurry now," Cammarano said.

"To go nowhere," Caruso added.

"Before, we never were. We took our time with everything and enjoyed it," Cammarano said.

The five friends never thought they would live past 65, but they have survived strokes, heart attacks, joint replacements and other health problems.

"I look every day at the obituaries, but I never see my name," Anacone quipped. "You know what I tell everyone? I'm going to live until I die."

email: bobrien@buffnews.com