Where are you from?
It’s been two years now that I have started writing my weekly column in the Democrat and Chronicle. I love the disussions that my columns have started and the responses I get from people who greet me in the supermarket, out at the park, or at my kids’ games. Here is my first column. I’m always looking for column ideas so keep me in mind if you know any interesting event or issue in Brighton, Pittsford, Honoeye Falls, Mendon, Victor, or Canandaigua.
When traveling out of town, a common opener from people you may encounter is, “where are you from?”
I grapple with this question even though I have lived in Rochester with my husband and three children for nearly a decade. Rochester, with its cultural and community resources, affordable housing surrounding natural beauty, is New York’s best kept secret. My children are definitely “from” here. This is where they grew up, went to school and made friends. But still I wonder: Does a decade of having a Rochester address constitute calling oneself a Rochesterian?
I posed this question to some of the many friends I have made here. One, who works as a lifeguard at the Summit Residence in Brighton, told me that some residents who have lived in Rochester for almost 40 years still do not consider themselves Rochesterians. Why? One of them replied, you know you are from somewhere when you knew your friends when they were still called by their maiden names.
Maybe home is where you learned to speak. If that is so, my downstate inflections give me away every time. I am a native of New York City. Though it has toned down, all it takes is a weeklong trip back to see the family to repercolate my New Yawk-ese back to its full strength.
In my heart, New York City will always be home. Perhaps home is where you can walk where your parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents once walked. I can trace my family back in New York City five generations. Like many in Rochester who can point to a section in the city and say this is where their ancestors lived and worked, I can tell you the street on the Lower East Side where my grandmother was born in a walk-up tenement apartment. I can point to the building that houses the New York Daily News, where my grandfather and his father put the paper to bed as photoengravers. When we drive along the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn, I can point out to my children the terraces of the Luna Park apartments in Coney Island, where my relatives lived and where we watched fireworks on Tuesday nights in the summertime.
Slowly, my family is planting roots in Rochester and we are making our own memories. I love our neighborhood in the Twelve Corners section of Brighton with its old sidewalks, eclectic homes and gas lights. Most of all, it is the people who live around us that make it a community. After moving in on the onset of our first, dark, cold Rochester winter, my neighbor from across the street introduced herself by bestowing us with the brightest bouquet of sunflowers I had ever seen. Another neighbor invited us over to celebrate with them on New Year’s Eve. I will never forget the feeling of being welcomed.
After our first few months of living here, my husband and I quickly fell in love with Rochester’s accessibility. In one ten-minute car ride, we can park for under $10 for the evening, eat at a fantastic restaurant and take in a show or the symphony. And when the curtain comes down, I can be snug in my bed within 30 minutes. You try that in New York City.
Ten minutes in the other direction, I can stand in a field of sunflowers and buy a dozen ears of corn directly from a farmer by leaving money in a locked box.
Being at home may also be a state of mind. Writing this column allows me to return to my first sought-out profession of newspaper reporting. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than telling the stories of interesting people, places and things through writing.
Now, if I can put it bluntly, as we downstate New Yorkers tend to do: what’s your story? What people, places and happenings in your part of Rochester make it a healthier, friendlier, cleaner, greener place to live? What is it that you love about your hometown? What would you like to see change and how are you and others working to make this change? I look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.