If her neighbors’ grandchildren are visiting, Eileen Litterio expects to hear the doorbell chime at her Deborah Drive home in Reading. They will want to visit Willy, the 25-year-old rare Pipidae frog she and her husband, Fred, have cared for since their own children were young.
“Willy is the major attraction,” said Litterio, a retired school teacher. “I give each of the children a food stick and they are just so excited to feed him.”
A few doors away on the quiet cul-de-sac, Guy Beninati’s house is also a favorite stop. Beninati, who grew up in Boston’s North End, happily shares with the children his stories of the racing pigeons he kept when their parents were young, a sport from his childhood.
“The neighborhood kids would also come to my yard where I had the coop to see the fancy pigeons; they got a kick out of them,” said Beninati. “All of our kids were very close when they were small and they still come by to say hello, and now the grandchildren come, too.”
In an age where many might prefer anonymity and privacy, the neighbors on Deborah Drive for nearly 40 years have maintained a close-knit village of sorts, anchored by shared values, respect, and deep friendship. They revel in the achievements of one another’s children and delight in the wonderment of grandchildren. They continue to regularly come together to catch up and just be together.
“Just witnessing the camaraderie, the real deep enjoyment of each other’s company is wonderful,” said Bruce Macdonald, a Billerica lawyer who recently spent time with the neighbors at a Christmas celebration hosted by his friends, Mary and Joe DiGiovanni. “It’s difficult for me to put into words. I can feel the closeness better than I can describe it — it is just amazing.”
Many of the Deborah Drive residents are of Italian descent, moving from Revere, the North End, Quincy, East Boston, and South Medford to new split-level houses as the cul-de-sac was first developed in the 1970s. They raised their families together, the Litterios, the Beninatis, the Polcaris, the DiGiovannis, the Savios. They forged close friendships centered around their Catholic faith, families, and food, said Mary DiGiovanni, professor emeritus of human services and coordinator of the direct support certificate program at Northern Essex Community College.
They did not know one another before moving to Deborah Drive, but the neighbors, who have each led full professional lives, were drawn to one another when their children, now in their 30s and 40s, were in school, Scouts, and sports together, said Joe DiGiovanni, a retired lawyer and longtime division counsel for the Army Corps of Engineers.
“Many of us are Italian, true, but we come from all different backgrounds and it’s more that we all get along,’’ he said. “We have an open-door policy.”
Through the years, they celebrated religious milestones like First Communion and confirmation, said Eileen Litterio. They attended the weddings of one another’s children. They threw block parties centered around Catholic feast days. They organized outdoor Easter egg hunts, first for their children and now the grandchildren.
“We enjoy the parties when we all get to be together,” said Litterio. “From that comes a tremendous amount of support. In times when someone took sick, we made phone calls to check in and bring food.”
“That intentionality is utterly fascinating,” said Karen Hansen, professor of sociology and women’s and gender studies at Brandeis University and author of “Not- So-Nuclear-Families — Class, Gender, and Networks of Care.”
Hansen said that while such close-knit neighborhoods may be rare, some of the characteristics can be found in social networks.
“There’s a safety in sharing values,which leads to developing relationships,” said Hansen. “Being neighborly, having children, valuing spending time together with some sort of ritual to mark makes sense. I think it’s lovely that a shared religion is a factor that this group values.”
There are about a dozen houses on Deborah Drive, and most of the original families are still there, but the cul-de-sac and surrounding streets still draw young families, neighbors say.
Following the cue of his good friends on Deborah Drive, Macdonald said he plans to try to change attitudes in his own Billerica neighborhood, where he has lived for 20 years.
“I have a very nice, pleasant neighborhood, but I’m embarrassed that I don’t know my neighbors other than to say hello,” said Macdonald. “It makes me think that I should make those relationships so I can reap the benefits that Deborah Drive is reaping.”