I just returned from one of two visits to my hometown of Buffalo, New York this summer—the first to attend my brother-in-law’s funeral and the second, to celebrate a family reunion. I reworked this blog post from four years ago. I hope you enjoy it.
Buffalo, my home town. Name by French trappers, according to legend, after the river that flows through it. The Queen City of the Great Lakes, famous for snow storms, chicken wings and the Buffalo Bills and the Sabres Hockey team.
Buffalo is becoming an “It” city–with a newly revived waterfront that includes busy Canalside ( a terminus point for the Erie Canal), and the Inner Harbor. The lakefront is crowded all the time, as is Larkin Square, another historic area that is jammed with concert-goers, food truck aficionados and people enjoying the lovely summer evenings Buffalo offers. Travel through the Elmwood Village and admire the wonderful gardens that are lovingly tended, making Buffalo’s Garden Walk in July a highlight of the summer for garden enthusiasts from all over.
Buffalo is the place where I was born, attended grade school, learned about the world, came of age and earned two college degrees. The place where I made my first communion and was confirmed. The place where I fell in love, married and raised a child. The place I spent my happiest days and some of my saddest days. It is where my parents and one of my brothers are buried, and where two of my seven siblings live now.
It is also a city of uncommon beauty—wide boulevards lined with mature trees that are crimson and gold in fall, elegant public buildings—some designed by the most famous of American architects. Situated on Lake Erie—one of a chain of inland seas—cooled by breezes from Canada, it is circled by a necklace of Olmstead parks—green oases for the working class. Populated by the children of immigrants who came here to find the Promised Land and by the descendants of slaves who found refuge at the last stop on the Underground Railway.
I ran away from its harsh winters fifteen years ago looking for endless summer which I found here in Florida.
And now I wonder if I am called back to that place I never stopped loving.
I see a city rich with opportunity, full of the promise of intellectual and spiritual growth. A city where I can attend theater, concerts, and visit art galleries easily. (There is a saying in Buffalo that everything in the city is twenty minutes away…and it’s true.)
I can sit in bistros and watch the bustle of the world go by—and eat wonderful food and not have to mortgage the house to do so. I can drive through neighborhoods and admire Arts and Crafts style homes next to Frank Lloyd Wright houses.
I can be soothed by the rhythm of waves rolling into the marina, enjoy a sandy beach or drive to the undulating hills south of the city.
And I can be among those I share a history with—who have known me all of my life—who love me for who I was and am now. People whose memories I share, who loved the same people I loved. I can be among the next generation in our family, and revel in their beauty, intelligence and goodness. I can see our family’s heritage and the future in their eager faces.
Buffalo is aptly named. It’s is an earthy name—unpretentious, it isn’t a beautiful sounding word, rather one that jars a little. The same way we are jarred by the real thing—by reality. It is a genuine place filled with people who feel authentic.
The moment I arrive in this city—my city—I feel the joy of arriving home, like returning to the warmth of a mother’s embrace.
Image of Buffalo skyline at night courtesy of city-data.com
The most unwelcome of all visitors called on me recently.
This visitor is never welcomed and usually not greeted with any enthusiasm.
If fact, when you, your friends, and family find that it has called upon you, they, like you, are worried concerned and fearful.
The visitor was cancer. The “Big C.”
It intruded into my life sometime in late January with the “incidental” discovery of a (thankfully) small tumor in my right kidney. Unbeknownst to me, it had been there for two years—but recently had started to grow.
I felt overwhelmed at first with the myriad decisions I had to make. Where to seek treatment? Should I go back to where my family is (now that I am a widow) in Buffalo? Stay here in Florida and lean heavily on my circle of friends? Could I still go on my much anticipated trip to Hawai’i? Would I survive? What would be the financial and emotional cost to me, my daughter, family and friends?
I finally came up with a plan—and after much consultation, thought, and prayer, I decided to stay in Florida and seek treatment at the Moffitt Cancer Center in nearby Tampa.
Happily, my surgeon Okayed my Hawai’i trip and I blissfully spent some magical time there.
My friends have rallied around me, doing all of the things I need. My family supported me in my decisions—and best of all, the surgery was a great success—so far.
I still have weeks of recovery to look forward to, but I’m trying to do more and more every day.
Writing this blog post is a huge breakthrough for me. Up till now, I’ve kept the “news” of my cancer limited to family and friends. I did make a onetime status update on Facebook as a courtesy to those who correspond with me on that venue.
Sometimes I wonder why I was so reluctant to go public (as it were) with my cancer diagnosis.
I wonder if by not announcing it, I’ve made it less real to myself. Or if I was trying to fool myself.
No matter what, I’m looking forward to being a cancer “thriver”—which is what my many friends who have looked this unwanted intruder right in the eye, and stared it down–call it.
Christmas is upon us—again. I’m trying, God knows, to feel the Christmas spirit, but it is eluding me.
I want desperately to celebrate and enjoy the holiday season and all of its trappings: glittery ornaments, happy songs, gifts, Christmas trees, decorated houses. (Notice I left cookies off this list—I have no trouble enjoying them!)
I’ve heard all of the advice—you need new Christmas traditions, you need to focus on the positive, do for others, (which I’ve done), and you need to let go of the memories that hold you back.
Too bad it isn’t that easy.
The harsh reality is that Christmas will never be the same for me now that my husband is gone.
And dreaming up new traditions seems to be daunting right now.
Strangely, this feeling come upon me full force after what was supposed to be the start of a “new tradition.” (Isn’t that phrase an oxymoron?)
I attended a spectacular Christmas show at a local church the other night. A show that is famous in Orlando for the singing and the extravagance of the production.
It was all that—200 massed voices, all on key, singing favorite carols while perching in the branches of two gigantic Christmas trees. Meanwhile, an actor portrayed a harried director who doesn’t get the real meaning of Christmas—only to discover it before the end of the show. There was a recreation of the Biblical Creation story, complete with life sized elephant and giraffe puppets. Children danced, sang, and were incredibly sweet.
Yes, all the elements were there…
But I came home feeling even emptier.
Now I’m dragging myself through the season, trying to find something to cling to in order to make this a Christmas to celebrate.
So, I’m heading to snowy, cold Buffalo hoping to find the meaning of Christmas in the arms of my family.
Readers of this blog know by now that I am a native of Buffalo, New York.
Yes, the Buffalo that made headlines last week for a monster snowstorm that buried parts of the region in up to 7 feet of snow in a day. Not fluffy, oh-how-pretty snow, rather wet, heavy snow that is hard to walk through and exhausting to shovel. The snowstorm which is being called “Knife” by the Weather Service also included embedded thunderstorms—adding to the already anxiety producing event.
One of my sisters still lives in the house we grew up in. She sent a picture of the street right before she was liberated from her snow-bound house. It was impossible to discern a street or steps leading down from the porch. All that could be seen were piles of white, featureless snow.
Now try to imagine what it was like to be literally snowed into your house. You can’t open the door because there is a snowdrift that makes it impossible to push the door open. Even if you did open the door, your egress would be hindered by the heaping mounds of snow. There would be no reliable visual clue to help orient you to the front steps leading out of the house, or to the street.
If you tried to walk, the snow could easily reach your hips, making walking almost impossible.
Most of us could handle this for a day or maybe two—but imagine living like this for 6 days.
You are actually imprisoned by snow, knowing that someone from outside would have to come and shovel you out of the house—or you would have to wait until the snow compacts and you might be able to open your front door.
For my sister, this story has a happy ending. She was finally freed after 6 days by a combination of front loaders that came down the street and plowed it out, neighbors who worked together to shovel out the entrances to their houses and a moderation of the weather.
Thirteen people died during this storm and buildings collapsed.
Yes, Buffalo does get a lot of snow—but this storm was monumental and unforgettable. It was not the “Oh goody—I have no school today” kind of storm.
It was a weather event that changed lives.
I think everyone who moves away from home nostalgically remembers foods they loved and can’t get anymore.
New Yorkers wax poetically about bagels, pizza and well, just about everything else. Those of us from Buffalo have a soft place in our hearts for chicken wings (notice I did not say Buffalo wings), beef on weck, Ted’s hot dogs and the Friday Fish Fry , to say nothing about Anderson’s ice cream.
When I go back to Buffalo, I look forward to these delicacies. This last trip was no exception, of course. On my way to the hotel after I arrived in Buffalo, I stopped at Danny’s, a landmark restaurant, and indulged in the “Taste of Buffalo Platter” which included a small beef on weck with horseradish, and four delectable chicken wings. Weck, by the way, is a crusty roll with rye seeds and kosher salt on top. Delicious!
The next night, I had dinner with some family members—and I ordered a traditional Buffalo fish fry. If you’re from the Midwest or many places in New York State, you know what a fish fry is: a huge piece of fried fish served with macaroni salad (notice it’s not pasta salad—that’s for you fancy types), potato salad and Cole slaw. It’s not Weight Watcher’s food—but it’s yummy.
These local delicacies are not found in chain restaurants or upscale restaurants. This is comfort food and is found in bars, which usually have a back room which serves as a restaurant.
Is there anything better than the taste of home?
Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m very sensitive to the way my hometown of Buffalo, New York is portrayed in plays, movies and TV shows.
I lived in Buffalo for more than fifty years. I found it to be a friendly place populated by people who were always willing to lend a hand.
It’s also a beautiful city—with great parks designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead ( the same landscaper who planned Central Park in New York and other famous green spaces) remarkable buildings designed by some of the greats of American architecture like Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan H.H. Richardson, Eliel and Eero Saarinen and Louise Blanchard Bethune, among others. The New York Times recently described Buffalo as “home to some of the greatest American architecture” and a “course in modern American buildings.”
Does Buffalo have run down neighborhoods? Of course—do Paris and London and New York City? Again—affirmative.
If you see Paris portrayed in a movie, at some point you will probably see a view of the Eiffel Tower or some other stunning sight.
If you see a play or movie set in Buffalo, chances are the setting will be a run-down area that is grim, dirty and ugly.
A case in point: I went to a local theater this past weekend to see “The Full Monty” (the play, not the real thing). The playwright who rewrote the movie score set it in Buffalo.
The set designer (for reasons known only to him or herself) portrayed Buffalo as an extremely unattractive place. The main set was fashioned from corrugated tin set on edge surrounded by red brick walls. I was annoyed to say the least. There are no performance venues in Buffalo that I am familiar with that look like an industrial warehouse in a rundown harbor. In fact, the theater district is housed in several historic buildings downtown or on college campuses. The club district is also (for the most part) housed in another historic district.
The only place where I’ve ever seen the widespread use of corrugated metal for buildings is Florida.
This makes me wonder why the set designer didn’t just search for images of Buffalo on his/her computer.
I see this pattern repeated again and again in movies and TV shows: in “Hide in Plain Sight” a move from several years ago, the action was set mostly in a derelict waterfront location which I think the movie producers designed.
So, why am I upset by this trend? Because it perpetrates an untruth about a beautiful, historically significant city. The image of Buffalo that is portrayed is negative—and just not true. I can’t imagine that Parisians would be complacent if their city was subjected to the same treatment—or New York City residents, either.
I think it’s time for Buffalo to receive better treatment and have a more correct image presented in movies, TV and plays.
I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed for an on-line radio show, the Authors Show by host, Don McCauley. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.
In the interview I answered questions about my novel, Loving Christy. If you’d like to listen in, the interview is accessible by clicking on the link below:
In the waning afternoon sun on a Christmas Eve many years ago, my daughter, husband and I anticipated a snowy drive to Buffalo from Angola, where we lived with my husband’s father. As the gloomy afternoon wore on, snow began to fall. Not the fairy tale, picturesque snow of maudlin Christmas movies, but big fat, serious snowflakes that rapidly coated the road in front of our house, and weighted down the tall spires of evergreens lining the road that led to the Lakeshore Road, a tricky drive even in good weather.
The phone rang shrilly, disturbing my anxious thoughts as I watched out the mullioned windows at the snow piling up in marshmallow mounds in our yard. My sister’s voice crackled through the phone wire.
“Are you going to try to make it?” Susan asked.
“How much snow do you have there?” I asked anxiously.
“It’s starting to pile up, but the radio said that the south towns were getting a blast of lake effect snow. You know, we want you to come, but…” her voice trailed off.
We’d never missed a Christmas Eve at the Joyces’. It was part party, part dance, part feast, and just plain fun. Everything and anything happened at our Christmas eves- square dancing in the front hall as my sister played the piano, singing Christmas carols, a frenzy of gifts, hugging, crying, saying ‘I love you”, and of course feasting on great food. We topped the evening off by trudging through the snow to St. John’s church on Seneca street to Midnight Mass. Sisters and brothers traveled from miles to gather in our parent’s home- even keeping this tradition long after both of our parents had died, and I wanted this Christmas Eve to be no different.
I muttered a little prayer under my breath as I went outside to assess the situation. It soon became clear that we were staying put that evening. I looked up into the nighttime sky, a swirl of snow, as hot tears of disappointment stung my eyes. I couldn’t even see across the two-lane road. A phone call from Dan’s brother, a NY State Trooper, confirmed the diagnosis. He warned us to stay home; they were pulling the state troopers off the roads for a while until things improved- probably sometime after midnight.
So here, we were, stuck in Angola, for what should have been the most festive night of the holiday season. Worse yet, I really needed a break from taking care of my father- in -law, whose brain was ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease, changing one of the most creative, vital people I have ever know into a child in a man’s body.
To make matters worse, when I went to the pantry to try to invent a make- shift meal, all we had, other than the holiday turkey, was some frozen pizzas.
I put together a hurry -up meal of frozen pizza, salad, and our Christmas cookies.
We all sat down to dinner, surrounded by the soft glow of our charming Christmas tree, and munched on the pizza and salad. We then topped it off with the festive cookies Brenda, our daughter, and I had decorated so lovingly.
The snow continued to fall, blanketing the house with silent winter coziness. We put holiday music on the record player, and exchanged gifts.
Grandpa Joe, as we called my father-in-law, delighted in the winter hat and gloves we gave him, putting them on and insisting on wearing them all evening. He took great pleasure in sharing his box of Danish cookies with Shadow, his ancient black Labrador.
We found ourselves laughing and exchanging funny stories. Could it be? Was Joe a little more aware that evening? I’m not sure, but I do know this, that that snow storm that night was part of God’s great plan for my family and me.
Fast-forward another year. A different Christmas Eve, crisp and clear; with roads that were easily traveled over as we hurried into Buffalo to my sister’s home. This would be the first Christmas that my father –in- law was no longer with us. The impromptu Christmas Eve from the year before was his last on earth, it was indeed, Joe Glascott’s last Noel.
We just returned from a rather rushed long weekend to Buffalo. We were anxious to see my husband’s uncle who is very ill and is in his late 80’s. We were warned that it might be now or never.
It was a great opportunity not only to see Uncle Tom, but also to meet my sister’s granddaughter (and my grand niece) for the first time. Pictures of the baby have been posted and emailed, and I read updates on Face Book extolling her extreme adorableness. Needless to say, all of the stories are true. She is beautiful, sweet, cute, and smart. Adalyn is a delightful baby girl who may be the most loved child in the universe.
We gathered at my sister’s home on Sunday afternoon for a wonderful family dinner. The dinner is a weekly event, and the door is open to anyone who is available. It was a great opportunity to see two of my brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, their significant others, a cousin and of course, the baby.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner and visited. But the highlight was holding the baby. Actually, not just holding her. There is a whole other component. Everyone admires her great beauty, and comments on how much she has learned, and how smart she is. Everyone talks to the baby, telling her how wonderful she is, how much she is loved and how special she is. Adalyn seemed quite content with all the attention she received.
While I was there, the men in the family were the primary caretakers, including my brother –in –law ( her grandfather) who fed Adalyn, my brothers ( her uncles) who held her and cooed at her and finally, her father ( my nephew) who changed her diaper and took care of her.
It occurred to me at some point how wonderful this whole scene was—and how happy I am for the men in my family to be so comfortable nurturing Adalyn. They reminded me of my father who was a nurturer, too.
What a blessing it is for the men—and for Adalyn and the whole family—to be empowered to take care of and enjoy a baby so freely!
I couldn’t help thinking that a child who is showered with love by everyone around her has a great start on life. And how fortunate we all are to be surrounded by men who are comfortable in the role of nurturer.