SCRANTON - North Washington Avenue is quiet on this sunny late-summer day. Tommy Bell, Larry Orr and Jimmy Kennedy are here, remembering the days when they and another local kid, Joey Biden, would terrorize passersby with snowballs and water balloons and gobble bowls of his Aunt Gertie's spaghetti at her kitchen table.
"This was the gathering place for all the kids in Green Ridge," Kennedy said, stopping in front of 2446 N. Washington, a pin-neat, three-story clapboard with a small, awning-covered front porch.
This is where it all started for Biden, the newly minted Democratic vice presidential nominee, who plans to make his first campaign appearance here tomorrow. He spent the first 10 years of his life in this house, then summers and holidays visiting his grandfather after his family moved to Delaware.
In this neighborhood - older and settled now, like the Irish Catholic kids who grew up here - Biden learned values, respect for others, and the importance of keeping promises, he has said. Gone more than half a century, he still comes back every year or so, to campaign for a local candidate or speak at the annual black-tie, men-only Friendly Sons of St. Patrick dinner.
"Joe Biden is so loyal," said Orr, a retired electrician who stayed in Scranton to work and raise a family, along with Bell, who owns an insurance office, and Kennedy, a district magistrate.
Orr and Bell, both 65, and Kennedy, 68, see their famous friend from time to time, usually for a plate of pasta at a favorite Italian restaurant, where the talk is of those early, exuberant days.
You want stories? They got a million.
Take the time Charlie Roth, the hell-raiser of the group, now deceased, got into a scrape with an older kid twice his size.
" 'Wait till my buddy Joe Biden gets here. He's going to take care of you,' " Orr recalled Roth saying.
"Charlie was always getting Joe in trouble," Bell jumped in. "Joe comes, and, boom, the other guy goes down."
"Joe wouldn't back down from a fight. He was fearless," Orr said.
Or the time Orr and Biden pitched snowballs at a coal truck and beaned the driver, who was so mad he chased them up the steps of Biden's house. Aunt Gertie, who lived with the family, had to beat him back with a broom.
They have file drawers full of memories, playing baseball with their New Car Little League team, building forts in the woods that are now part of the Marywood University campus, camping out in Biden's backyard and awakening to his mother's bacon and eggs.
"It was an innocent time. It really was," Orr said. "There were no drugs or anything like that. We played baseball, went to the movies."
The city of his youth plays a big role in Biden's book, Promises to Keep, published last year by Random House. The prologue and first chapter give a utopian view of his upbringing in Green Ridge.
"The first principle of politics, the foundational principle, I learned in the 1950s in my grandpop's kitchen when I was about 12 or 13 years old," he wrote in the book's opening line.
Not forgotten were his best friends, who get a big mention.
"Once we spent our limit on penny candy from Simmey's, Charlie Roth, Larry Orr, Tommy Bell and I would head down to the Roosie (Roosevelt) Theater for the 12-cent double feature - usually a pair of westerns or Tarzan," he wrote.
Simmey's is now Hanks, and while the penny candy is gone, the store sells a terrific Italian hoagie, which the senator orders when he's in town.
Then there is St. Paul's, the epicenter for Green Ridge Roman Catholics. Biden's parents graduated from the then-combined elementary and high school, and his grandparents were buried in the church cemetery.
His mother's family, the Finnigans, lived across the street, next to the Muldoons. As the story goes, one of the Muldoon boys never got over Jean Finnigan's turning him down for a date to a dance.
"This was our first-grade classroom. We sat right here, Biden and Bell," Bell said in what is now the school's office, his first time back since 1961.
Outside the school was an SUV with a "Biden for president" bumper sticker. It belongs to Kennedy's daughter, who teaches at the school. And pushing a stroller down the street was Cathy McHale Lavelle, whose family bought the house next to Biden's, which is a block away from the former home of the late Gov. Robert P. Casey.
Which explains how Lavelle's sister and Casey's daughter, who were best friends, ended up marrying the Philbin brothers.
Lavelle has never met Biden, but "we're all related here," she said, laughing. His candidacy is "exciting beyond anything."
Perhaps no one is more excited than Ann Kearns, who 46 years ago was living in nearby Park Gardens with her husband and three children and hoping to move to a bigger house.
The big backyard at 2446 N. Washington sold her on the house.
Last year, a car pulled in front of her driveway, and out stepped Biden, his first time back to visit since she moved in.
"He said, 'Do you know me?' " Kearns recalled. "I said, 'Of course. I've been waiting for you to come for years.' "
A picture of the meeting sits prominently on a table as you walk in the door.
It was the first time back for Orr, Bell and Kennedy, too. The house looked a bit different. Gone were the French doors dividing the small living room and dining room, the kitchen pantry, and the backyard garage.
Kennedy, who lived behind Biden, remembered that when they first met, Biden, who couldn't have been more than 4, challenged him to a race.
" 'I bet you can't catch me.' He was right," Kennedy said.
Though it might seem as if everyone in town is behind this native son, many still support Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose grandfather lived in the area and whom she visited when she was a child.
"She never lived here," said Kearns, a widow and mother of six who was limping because of a bum knee. "Joe Biden lived here for 10 years. And in this house."
Something about the neighborhood instilled the qualities needed for success, she said, whether it was her own orthopedic-surgeon daughter or someone just one election away from the vice presidency.
"Everybody that leaves here, they stick to their roots. They have wonderful values. Religion is a big part of it. And the kids all learned how to get along with each other because there were so many of them," she said.
Before her husband died, he told her never to sell the house.
" 'Joe Biden's going to be someone someday,' " she remembered him saying. "He was right."