Western New York: I Feel Home.

Western New York is a beautiful place to live; constantly I’m awed and surprised by the bounty of this land.   After being here for about three months, I’m beginning to feel settled.

I’ve been incredibly blessed to live in versatile and dynamic places – I mean, Florida and Hawaii – does it wackier than either of these tropical touristy havens?  A Floridian childhood is special in its own ways, yes.  But there was always the part of me that would jealously eye the neighborhoods in John Hugh’s movies, wishing I lived in a northern suburb somewhere – dreaming of White Christmases and houses without stucco.

Western New York is a rich, amazing place.  In the outdoor activity department, WNY’s cup runneth over for sure.  Season to season there is so much to enjoy outside.

Summertime brings swimming, boating and all kinds of water sports on the ample lakes and waterways – specifically Lake Erie – there’s fruit to pick, festivals to go to every weekend, cook outs, camping, hiking, horseback riding, and on and on.  The weather is sunny and warm most days, varying between balmy and mild, the latter giving way to gloriously cool evenings.  This far north the days are long, with dusk’s light fading out at almost 10:00pm sometimes.

As Indian summer fades into Fall, we’ll head into different picking seasons… the grapes first, then apples, pumpkins.  The length of daylight and the level of mercury will both sink.  Hunting season will open up, hiking and camping become more enjoyable with fewer bugs and the festive beauty of the autumnal color show.  Winter snow and the iced over lake will bring even more to do: snow mobiles, skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, sledding, skating – all things winter.  Thanks to the lake effect snow this region is known for, winter sports and activities are almost always a go ahead (last year was a particularly weak winter, so I’ve been told).  And then as the spring thaw happens, the whole cycle kicks over again, baby animals and wildflowers bloom as warmer days grace this land.  Gardens are planted, the trees extend soft green leaves out of their barren branches, and the desire to run outside and play is felt by all.

More than just a pretty face who’s good for a fun time, Western New York is deep – her rich and dynamic history, specific to my family, has me enthralled.

You see: I’ve always been a transplant.

Growing up in Florida was awesome, don’t get me wrong.  I could swim before I could walk, I’ve seen my fair share of crazy critters, gorgeous sandy sunrises, Mickey Mouse ears, shuttle launches, big cities and sleepy country towns.    Nice, but in ways I’ve never identified before – often hollow.   I’ve never felt like I “fit in.”  Rest assured, I know this is a broad and baseless complaint experienced far more often than people convinced that they’re popular.   But it’s true nonetheless.

Now being here, in the land of my family, where our roots go so very deep (well, American deep, haha) – it’s a very different experience.  An intangible comfort is omnipresent here; I have the confidence of my ancestors encouraging me every day, something in my DNA guides me and tells me, “YOU ARE HOME NOW.”

Being related to so many people in a proximal area is really rad.  Both immediate and extended family are here – and I can hardly go anywhere in town without there being a long-established family connection in place.  And not in a grease-the-palms kinda way, just in a friendly, “Oh! You’re Kathy’s daughter!” kinda way.  My Great Uncle is something of a living legend here too, so that always makes me proud to be known as a Gioia ’round here too.

In Florida, my last name never held currency.  No one cared, no one knew who we were (save for the small immediate circle of my Dad’s co-workers and perhaps the people who did community service with my Mom).  But familial love and long standing relationships bred into generations of families in a small town is something indescribably nice: there’s nothing like the easy acceptance and welcome I feel here.  (Okay, anonymity is nice in its own ways too – especially if you have some wild oats to sow and would like to be able to do just that without seven hundred years of shame brought on your house; my hat tips to Florida for that!).

We’ll go out to eat and there’s a story, many stories, of how one such family member was close with the original owner, and on and on.  I love that the history of this area relates to ME.   My Aunt Patty is always telling me these connections, the old stories, and I’m 100% fascinated.

More than ministrations and tales, it goes deeper, down to something instinctual and primal – something that eludes a direct understanding – that pulls me to this land.  I just can say I “feel” it.   My sense of direction here is flawless –  I grew up in a sleepy beach town with a grid system for roads and huge bodies of water to serve as glaring directionals – Yet, on twisty country roads that weave through hills, I feel like I know my way around.   Sometimes I have this (morbid and) strange vision of late relatives guiding me, walking alongside me, smiling with familiarity as I travel paths they’ve undoubtedly walked along countless times before me.

Weird?

Yeah, I know.

I’m being super weird.

I’ve been mulling over this feeling for weeks now and this is merely my feeble attempt to put the idea into something digestible.  There’s just this massive looming of emotional connection to the actual dirt and trees, the wind and weather here, that I cannot put into words (although I’m trying damn hard as I reach nearly 900 of them in an attempt to suss out an understanding of the feelings this place evokes).

Sigh.

It’s just lovely is all.  I’m happy to be here.  I feel safe, welcomed, wanted, and normal.

Oh!  I can elaborate on the feeling of normalcy, actually.  Growing up in Florida you’re living with a mixed bag of snowbird transplant families.  When I was in college there was legit stat that 30% of Floridians were born in Ohio!  It feels like everyone merely lives there but actually considers New York or Boston or stinky Ohio (sorries! my Dad went to UM, so I gotta hate a little) to be “home.”   Of course I know that there are long-standing Florida families, and that the expansion of the mid-1900s is now making way to third and fourth generations who’ve called the Gunshine State their own.   The vast majority are though, relocated folks from the great white north.

For me, I always knew we were not of that land; I felt like a visitor.   And now – only after living here – do I understand some of the quirks I was raised with that always felt so odd to me.  They’re cultural norms up here!  Little things, like ordering a strawberry shortcake and having it served on a heavy drop biscuit, the exact way my mother always made it.  I’d never in my life had a strawberry shortcake made that way by anyone other than my Mom.  In FL the norm would be angel food cake, pound cake maybe.  Taking a bite of the slightly salty and dense biscuit covered in local strawberries and whipped heavy cream – it was like childhood relived.  “Oh!” I literally exclaimed at seeing the biscuits next to the strawberries last night at Tops (supermarket) – “this is why my Mom does it this way,”  realization of this region’s influence dawning.

The list of little silly habits goes on.

And while I know it seems minute and weird, after nearly three decades of assuming I was just a sore thumb raised by a pair of quirky, wacky (albeit very loving), nut jobs – there’s something so reassuring about being normal.     Yeah, I do think I almost fit in here.  Now… If only I could rid myself of the gentle lilt that betrays me every time I open my mouth.  That and ditch the tie dye, fanny packs, legwarmers, bandannas and other fashion statements akin to wearing a neon “I’m not really from here” tee shirt….

Hahaha.  I kid, I kid.

Yeah, I know I’ll never be run of the mill – a happy realization and one that I’m proud to own.   Don’t worry, I’m not seeking cultural assimilation by any means.

It’s just a nice realization to be able to piece things all together, is all.  And of course, it should go without saying, Florida will always be “home” in so many, many ways.  (I’m actually terribly Florida-sick lately, missing the sand and saltwater more than ever before.  Oh yeah, and all you people who live there too – I miss y’all as well.     But that’s another post for another day.)

For now, wrapping myself in the dichotomous distant familiarity of a land long inhabited by my own blood is just new, fascinating, calming, and … nice.   My induction to Western New York has been altogether charming.

Okay, that’s enough waxing poetic for now!  You get the point, yeah?  (haha, Hawaiian joke.  See, I’m still a regional grab bag).

HAPPY FRIDAY and HAPPY WEEKEND EVERYONE!

xoxo, hhr 

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15 responses

  1. I grew up in Upstate New York, and always felt like it was a great place to be FROM. Funny enough, no matter where I roamed, I never escaped being tagged as a New Yorker. In the end, I find I kinda like that..Thank you for this lovely re-view of that abundant, verdant, watery land.

    • When you say “New Yorker” – do you mean the fact that everyone assumes you’re from Trump Tower in Manhattan at the mention of the words “new’ and “york?” I find that people not from this land have a tough time understanding the giant chunk of state that has nothing to do with city life and everything to do with sweet, sprawling farm land.

      I appreciate your reading, thanks for the kind words! I’m glad someone legitimately from here likes my take on the place!

      • Yes! People think either Manhattan Island or Canadian Wilderness, never vineyards and cow pastures (I’m glad you found the grapes — have you had the pie? I’d return in the fall for grape pie alone). Very funny to explain that I’m from 450 miles away from Trump and his … whatever, but still, somehow, though I’d never even ventured to the Big Apple til I was almost 20, I’m pegged as a New Yorker. I don’t quite understand, except to know in my bones that I’m most certainly NOT from California.
        Thanks so much for your reply.

      • I already have so many grape pie recipes pinned – I can’t wait! I’ve actually never had it though, but after researching options I’m so excited. I just hope the grapes are okay this year… first the late frost, now this drought. Ugh. Everything is looking mighty dead and dry around here =(

    • The saying I keep hearing is: “WNY is a great place to raise kids, it’s just a terrible place to live!”

      Meaning that childhood memories are wonderful, it’s a great place for fun and good times. But the actual drudgery of living here during bad winters – the whole, shoveling and scraping to get your car out thing, gets tiring easily.

      • Yeah, I think I’m done with most of the snow shoveling in my life, but never say never. It’s the grey skies that can be treacherous, so Know that they come to avoid an unpleasant surprise, and take whatever precautions you feel necessary. That means find your fun. There’s much to be had. Enjoy!

      • Sound advice! I’ve had others say this to me too, just get into the spirit of the season and find fun things you like to do and winter actually becomes enjoyable. So, we’ll see!

        I’m super lucky that I work from home – so shoveling out a car everyday will not be an issue for me, for now.

    • Thanks Leigh! Trust me, sometimes I day dream about having a Lemon Bar Freeze out in the hot sun, staring at the gray Atlantic… and I swoon. I miss that home too. But here is lovely and it’s good to me, so far.

  2. I’m glad that Western New York has come to feel like your home….it’s a truly magical experience to connect with your roots so effortlessly after having spent all this time apart. It’s reassuring…almost feels like you’ve done right in the end, because the land has accepted you!

    Some of these claims though, that I’m reading here, I don’t agree with. New York State isn’t JUST Manhattan, but it’s not JUST sweet countryside either. The fact that such a small island has so much influence internationally means you cannot disregard it and pass it by with a wave of your hand. I’ve lived in NYC for three years now, though I’m from Queens and now Long Island, and there’s something just as magical here. It depends on where you belong. The great outdoors for me are picturesque, but merely that (For me). I don’t share that deep love with them that you do. The city’s towering spires call to my soul, and for me, this lifestyle here will be the best that I’ve ever had.

    But yeah the point I’m tryna make after this long essay of a comment is that while it’s great that you’ve found WNY to be your heartfelt home, but sprawling farmland will never equate to New York for me.

    • Haha, no – I certainly know what you mean! My hubs is from Long Island/NYC, so is my Dad and his whole side of the family. It’s literally my most favorite city in the world – London is a close close second.

      Though I wasn’t raised in NYC either, every time I go I find my way around the city with great ease, never feeling out of place or like a bumpkin. So there’s those roots to consider too, for sure.

      Every place has pros and cons, of course. And for now, I’m really relishing in the pros we’ve found here in WNY.

      But just because I love it here, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the city. My comments are mostly about how when you tell someone “I live in New York,” they tend to assume NYC, and often discredit the idea that for many people New York means rural, farm lands, woodlands, and so on. And of course there’s in between – I’m sure folks from the ‘burbs don’t want people to consider them as farmers either just because they don’t reside within a borough! And well, Long Island! The Hamptons, all the beaches – so very different than both city and country spaces in this state.

      So… my rambling wacky point is that the STATE is a very diverse place. In my brief experience though, non-NY residents often don’t realize the full variety of the Empire State, or that there’s a whole state – they just hear “New York” and automatically assume the city.

      • Yeah because to them, that’s where everything’s happening. And to some extent, it’s true. IT’s just that….the rest of the state where something isn’t happening 24/7 can be just as nice sometimes.

  3. I’m so happy for you!
    I know how it felt to come back to Texas, even if it was central; rather than western. I remember almost crying on an airplane when I first looked down on desert after being away for 20 years or so. I know how it felt to get back to Tucson for a few days.
    I was pretty nervous about bringing Sharon and the kids out here, uprooting them as I had been uprooted from Texas. I remember how happy I was the day Sharon talked about how Texas had come to feel like home, and how much she loved it here.
    Welcome home, Rose.

    • Thanks BIG TIME, Miles! It’s nice that you totally know this cozy feeling I speak of, and well – I’m very happy to hear how well Sharon adapted to what felt like home for you – and now that’s what it is for both of you!

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