HE WAS MY CHILDHOOD FRIEND! … RAFFEY PAPPARELLA
Today I thought of something, and someone that I have not thought of for 75 years. Why now? Well, I was thinking why people go out and kill. Just a rambling thought and then it dawned on me that I knew a killer, but when I knew him he was a 7 year old boy like me. We did everything together as boys will do. Get into trouble in little ways, or, sometimes just because we were trying something new that looked interesting and fun. He was just like me in that we trusted all that was around us, and sometimes with the fear of knowing we were doing something naughty, and the he, she or they, around us would let us know we were big trouble. some a kick in the butt, or worse they’ll tell our mothers. So, always there were controls, but controls we knew were out of love and not about spitefulness. My family moved away when I was 10, Raifey and I never saw each other again. His full name was Ralph Papperrella and his family was not large like mine, but he had a baby brother and a mother who was loving like all mothers. The rest of his family I never knew. One time we were playing pitch with a ball we made out of an old baseball that no cover. I had wound string that my Grandfather gave me around it to give it weight and bounce. Well, we always played in the street, as it was the only place that we had. Sometimes I pitched the ball to him or he to me. I remember so clearly one day as we were playing pitch, we noticed a big beautiful car parked just a little way down the street next to our famous “empty lot”. We knew this car didn’t belong there, cause who had such a big beautiful car like that. So we played our usual game hitting the ball down the street along side of where the car was parked. One time I was up and hitting the ball just beautifully…Here come the ball I swing… Bam! then another Bam! It went straight at the Cadillac windshield. It shatters and the ball bounced high into the air. You never saw two kids run like the wind, me into my building, and straight up 5 flights of stairs and Raifey to his house which was near to where the car was parked. I naturally was curious to find out what was now happening in the street below. I wasn’t big enough to to look out the window unless I stood on a chair. At the time, I was a little peanut and stayed that way till I was 17, then poof! 6.2′. No way was my mother allowing me to look out by opening the window, cause she had them all locked so none of us kids could drop down five floors. I was dying to know if the owner showed up and who he could be. Had to be some rich guy, but what was he doing on our street? maybe he was one the guys with a bent nose. We didn’t need cars, we had trucks that were very smelly from the meat my Uncles delivered. Time for bed without a clue of the results of my great shot. No way could I tell my Mom! She was already mad at me for having a man with a camera take my picture then come up the five flights and told my other she owed him for the picture. I still got it, somewhere… ? Think my Ex has it with all the stuff I left behind. So, off to bed with my two sisters and brother, all in one bed. Boy, I couldn’t wait! When allowed out after breakfast of oatmeal, down I ran (jumped) to the fourth floor in one jump, then the third floor, second floor and at last the first, but being careful not to step on a drunk sleeping on the steps, and then out into the street. Hey the car was still there like nobody saw it, and there it stayed for days till a police tow truck came and towed it away… Turned out, it was a stolen car left on our street after the joy ride, or some “other” activity. Raffey and me continued to play ball each day after that. Seven years later, I, now living in the Bronx on 205th St and Grand Concourse, accidentally met Raffey’s mother, only with her other younger son, not Raffey. She said they still lived down on Mulberry Street and Prince St., and only came up to my neighborhood due to the famous local Bronx boy who said he sees the Virgin every day in a little cluster of trees near Villa Ave and Mosholu Park. This event had caused considerable fame, and people were coming from all over to experience it. Raffey’s mom was one of them, and meeting me was just a coincidence, as our street was just across from the supposed sighting in the park.
She was so happy to see me and I her, and then I asked…”Where’s Raffey?”. That is when she sadly told me that Raffey was in prison for killing someone. How could this happen? He was just like me! She was a great Mom, just like my own. What happened to Raifey Papperella? Who knows! Could this have been my fate as well, if we had remained on Mulberry Street? No way, cause a father makes all the difference in a boy’s life, and Raffey didn’t have one living at home. Maybe if I still lived there I could have prevented it, me being so close to Raffie. Hey Raffie what happened???
Since finishing this story, I accidentally went online to find out if Villa Ave still existed. To my surprise, the story of the boy who saw the Virgin came up. Go online to: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/22/nyregion/the-boy-who-saw-the-virgin.html
At the time we who lived in the neighborhood believed the boy was a hoax, as his reputation from friends around him said he always lied and was sleazy. He went to the same Catholic school I was going to and that was the general opinion of him. Just by chance, the story explains the time it happened. It was 1945, and WWII just ended with all the excitement it brought, and the returning soldiers. Even with all this happening, the little boy who claimed a vision with the virgin was big news. So much so, a star like Frank Sinatra went to visit the boy and brought him a statue of the Virgin. If you want to learn more about this event, google “Villa Ave”. I never found out anything else about Raifey after that, but it did have an effect on me, even at that age, to make me realize that life can take you on a course of self-destruction, simply because of where you live.