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Like the old days

(ran East, South editions)

They called it a ROOF, a Reunion of Old Friends.

"If you didn't have any food to eat, you got food. If you didn't have clothes, they gave you clothes. We kept our keys in the mailbox or on the floor. Some of us didn't have keys, and everybody knew that, too.

"The same friends I had as a baby _ they're still my friends."

That's Elicia Eva-Bonner talking. She lives in Pinellas Park now, a few miles and a world away from her old neighborhood, roughly between Fifth and Ninth avenues and 19th and 22nd streets S.

She moved to Atlanta once in the late 1980s. A little while after she came back in 1991, "everybody surprised me. They gave me a welcome home, and it was like a reunion."

Thus ROOF took shape. Another get-together took place two years ago. On Saturday, about 500 people gathered at the Lake Maggiore recreational area to celebrate the community. Some hadn't seen one another in more than 20 years.

Eva-Bonner, Theresa Wheeler, Viola Lovette, Kwarnis Thomas and Gale Ramsey were the logistical team for the event. There was food and song and prayer led by 97-year-old Abraham Johnson. The breeze blew out candles but not people's memories of the deceased.

"It's like the community raised us," Eva-Bonner said. "Our parents raised us up to love and have compassion for each other and for the older people. We all, from generation to generation, we're there for each other.

"If a person went off to school and came back, everybody would run out of their house to see if they looked different. If they went to New York, we wanted to see if New York had jumped on them. We wanted to see how the outside world was; we didn't know nothing about that world and what was out there."

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Lorenzo Cummings and Emmanuel Boone embrace at a neighborhood reunion Saturday at the Lake Maggiore recreational area. They grew up across the street from each other in a section of St. Petersburg known as The Deuces.