|At a cousin's house, Cheektowaga, NY, en route|
|At my sister's house, shadows on the Susquehanna River, early morning.|
|Same river view, later morning|
|Evening, a little tree next door. (Reminds me of that short story by O'Henry, except O'Henry's story it was a single leaf on a brick wall.)|
|What you see when sitting on the front porch, looking west|
I noticed several neglected or abandoned houses on this side of town, including, sadly, my grandmother's old house, whose roof had collapsed into what once had been the kitchen and dining room. Brambles and vines encase what was the back porch, the back yard now a strip of overgrown grass and junk. I'm told someone has bought the property and plans to demolish it. I remember every room in that old brick house and the happy times spent there as a child. The next time I visit, it may be an empty lot, all trace of its former residents gone, except in memory. Like the parochial school I went to, which no longer exists (it's now a parking lot). Or the town public high school, of which only the elaborate door-frame remains, in a sea of broken stone and debris surrounded by jungle-sized weeds and bushes in a vacant, fenced-in lot.
The river is low. Heard grumblings while there about the fracking mess in the mountains, what it's doing to the river, livestock, roads, environment and people's health. There is only one grocery store left in town, which many find too expensive, and so they drive 28 miles down the road to buy groceries at Walmart or have it trucked in from Swann's (frozen food delivery). Some Amish farmers come once a week to sell fresh produce and baked goods. Two of my cousins have gardens and one gave me the largest zucchini I have ever seen. It could be lethal if you bonked someone over the head with it. Speaking of injuries, limited medical care is available in town (which doesn't include childbirth or surgery)--for emergencies you need to be taken by ambulance or helicoper to the nearest hospital some 30 miles away. Cell-phone service has only recently become available and reception is sporadic (or non-existent), depending on where you're standing. In its heyday, back in another century, this town boasted of not one, but two opera houses. Now there's not even a movie theater, that one having been torn down decades ago. A dying, once-booming railroad town, nestled in this paradise of nature, of fishing streams and wildlife and mountain trails (locals call it "God's Country"), it loses its young people year by year because there are no jobs.
Bicyling down a familiar street, walking the alleyway back up, listening to the crickets at night on a cousin's porch, looking up at a star-studded night sky such as you will never see in any city, it was as if time had stopped. I was so completely "back", the outside world did not exist anymore. It was both nostalgic and unnerving. Who might I be today had I remained there and not left at age 18 to go see what was beyond those mountains, had headed to the big city instead of being convinced by a cousin-priest to consider living in a college town instead ? How many times in my life had I had my heart set on one path, only to be diverted to another not anticipated or even wanted, which later proved beneficial, important or life changing?
I was ruminating on that early yesterday morning while stopping over in Toronto, a huge, bustling city of tall, seemingly identical glass buildings [they all seem to be made of glass!!], more and more going up every time I pass through there. I felt a bit lost, disoriented, wondering what it would be like to live in such a city, just as I wondered one day earlier, what it would be like to go back and live in my home town again. Neither scenario seemed imaginable. Made me think of transplanted beings in general, finding oneself in places you never thought you'd be, for whatever reason, having to make do, all the while yearning to be someplace else. (I have sad or frustrated friends now in that category.) A wise person once told me, "Be where you are", meaning however long you're in a place, one week or fifteen years, while you're there, be totally there, i.e., not closing yourself off, unable to function. Easier said than done sometimes, but in every place I've ever lived, I've found at least one like-minded soul, came to appreciate the place for what it was, found ways to adjust and still "be". Though being who you are wherever you are is not all that easy sometimes.
Anyway, it was good to be back, if only for a brief few days. The family reunion was a success, I saw cousins I hadn't seen in years, and heard anecdotes about my parents, cousins, aunts and uncles that I had not heard before, that helped to know them better. We bandied about the idea of one of us collecting and preserving these passed-on stories, maybe putting them into a little booklet to be shared by all (the way some communities do family cookbooks). No one has yet volunteered but at the reunion buffet one cousin was working on a gigantic (table-sized) "family tree", updating it since the last reunion, penciling in new grandchildren names. I'm not sure how that can be reproduced so that we'd all get a copy, though. It looked to be at least 15 feet long :)
Back to the photos:
En route coming back:
|View from the bus window, Mauricie region, Quebec. Not a hill in sight. Cornfields.|
Playful clouds changing shape. The more north you go, the closer the sky, or so it seems. Sometimes they feel close enough to touch.