Arverne, Rockaway. Images courtesy of the author. 

Summertime Girls

my first introduction to this world were the hands of my mom’s best friend, the hands of a girl.

By Daryl Caffarone


My family has always been from Rockaway—the southernmost part of Queens, living within a small pocket of immigrants. Maybe they thought the closer they were to the Atlantic, the closer they’d be to home. My whole family has a deep affinity to the ocean, and perhaps this is why.

Anyways, our family history is not remarkable. The Italian immigrants, coming through Ellis Island, settling somewhere in New York. My grandma tells this story as if we were the first to do it, as I think most Italian immigrants do. However, the one part of our story I learned somewhat recently was that my grandma’s grandma settled in Rockaway, with her husband and their collection of children, because her best friend had gotten there first.

I’ll give this a more narrative portrayal: at some point in the late 1800s, my grandma’s grandma watched her best friend board a ship and head to America. She promised her, my great-great grandma, that she’d find somewhere “good” for them. Somewhere they could raise their families, side by side, with a plethora of cousins and aunts and uncles. With a level of bravery only women who are watching their best friend leave their side would understand, my great-great grandma watched her go.

Of course they found each other in Rockaway and lived next to one another in dilapidated beach shacks. This is unsurprising—women, throughout all generations, have a remarkable ability to find one another. Maybe this is why I have all my girl friends on Find My Friends.

In 1926, my great-grandma, Nanny, was born. She was the only girl in her family. My Nanny not only became best friends with her mom’s best friend’s daughters (Rosie and her sister, Anne), but built a small society of girl friends throughout the 30s and 40s. When I was going through old pictures, what I found the most endearing were the photos of them on the docks, on the beach, at the playground, all posing for one of their boyfriends who was relegated to the duty of “taking pictures of the girls.” There was Anna, Nancy, and Rosie.

My grandma was born in 1949. If anyone knows my grandma, it won’t come as a surprise to learn that she was never want for friends growing up. She lived in a house that was attached to Anne’s and played in a shared backyard with two young girls who were the granddaughters of that original link: that original “best friend.” So, as the apple didn’t seem to fall far from the tree, Nanny lived next door to one of her best friends, and my grandma grew up alongside her daughters like they were sisters.

As my grandma grew older, she found more friends who I now know exclusively under the moniker of “aunt.” There were women she met while in high school who she still speaks to regularly, women she met when they all first became young mothers, women with no kids of their own who were seamlessly folded into our lives. There was one friend, Aunt Belle, who would sleep over on Christmas Eve and sneak my mom downstairs to open gifts first, before her brothers woke up. My mom has one of her rings—she wears it any time we have to look nice for something.

Anne, Rosie, and Nancy—and later, Anne’s daughters—moved out of Rockaway. At some point, they all watched each other go; a chord pulled taut but not severed. In some cases that farewell was literal (one friend moved to the wild unknown called “upstate New York”), but in most cases, it was a different type of leaving. It was watching them become mothers, wives, employees, employers; girls—young, sunburnt, sand-ridden summertime girls—into women.  

My mom was born in 1975, and in 1988, she met her best friend, Denise, when they were freshmen in high school. They had detention together, and from what I gathered, although they each tell the story slightly differently, this was the moment they became friends. They had all the same classes, but I think this moment in detention solidified some sort of unspoken bond between the two of them: they were the same (they were actually born a day apart).

Stella Maris High School in Rockaway

When my mom found out she was pregnant in 1998, suffice to say my father wasn’t in the picture. We’ll leave it at that. Denise, the only person in the delivery room with my mom, was the first person to hold me. I was the daughter of a woman with a best friend, who was also the daughter of a woman with a best friend, and on and on and on. How fitting, then, that my first introduction to this world were the hands of my mom’s best friend, the hands of a girl. From that autumn evening on, she became exclusively known as my Aunt Neasy.

In 1998, I was born, and in 2012, I met my best friend, Maria, when we were freshmen in high school. We didn’t meet in detention, but gym class, which was its own form of punishment for the two of us.

Now, at 25, I have watched my best friends move, graduate, find their soulmates, have their hearts broken, become independent, become dependent, quit their jobs, change careers, find their calling, and on and on and on. I’d like to think, at our cores, we’re all still girls. Maybe this is wishful thinking; maybe I’m just not ready to say that farewell yet. 

My Aunt Neasy lives a few blocks away from me now; my mom is the godmother of her oldest. My grandma and those two girls she was raised with, Anne’s daughters, are on a spa trip as of the writing of this essay. I’m currently texting one of their daughters, my “cousin” Bernadette, for help piecing together parts of this story. Anne’s other granddaughter recently got married. My mom wore Aunt Belle’s ring to the wedding. (Taut but not severed, right?)

My Nanny passed away in 2006. Of those four girls who took photos on the Rockaway docks, Aunt Nancy is the only one still alive. My grandma talks to her (like she talked to all the women, up until their passings) at least monthly. The last time they spoke on the phone, Aunt Nancy forlornly admitted, “I’m the last one left.”

This is a long, winding story about my personal history that I guess has to get to the point. There’s so much to say about love and friendship and womanhood—girlhood—but I’ll narrow it down to this: people (men, particularly) love to huff and puff and make jokes about the “irritating” and “confusing” desire women have to take photos of themselves and their friends. Well, my reply is that women have been doing this for over 100 years, so leave us to it.

My grandma sent one of the photos I found of all the girls to Aunt Nancy. Because of that picture, she got to see their faces again—Anna, Rosie, and Tessie. Because saying goodbye to your best friend is never easy, whether that be watching her board a ship to a different continent, watching her get in the passenger seat of a car heading miles away to chase a boy, watching her move out of the apartment that was just blocks away from your own, watching her become a mother, or watching her life grow and unfurl, like springtime, and then succumb to winter.

In my family history, the best friends have always come back; she finds you a continent away, she fills the void the boy left, she makes herself at home in your home, she leaves traces of herself in her daughter, golden and amber, like leaves of fall. She leaves you photos.

From left to right: my Nanny (Tessie), Rosie, Nancy, and Anna.