“Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” – Albert Einstein

Knock on wood, because a lot can happen between now and December, but our current plan is to spend the Christmas holidays in my hometown.

Kris’ current job basically demands that he take two weeks of forced vacation between the Fall and Spring semesters. I was banking my leave time in order to be able to spend that time with him and Harry anyway, and it seems to be a good time to allow Harry to get reacquainted with his cousins, now that he is of an adequate age to be a proper playtoy to my herd of nieces and nephews (have I mentioned that I am the oldest of six children?).

I joke that I only remember my hometown of Rochester, NY in shades of cloudy gray. It is only nominally a city of Upstate New York; the green rolling hills of the Catskills and the Adirondacks are not really a defining feature here. It is more a city of the Great Lakes, sharing its climate and its culture with the likes of Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit. We have more in common with our Canadian cousins to the north than the City-that-Never-Sleeps.

Rochester is a working class town, a town of flannel and jeans, pub games and barfood cuisine (can you say “garbage plate” anyone?). It is a city that was once owned, lock stock and barrel, by Kodak. Almost every member of the generation before me worked for them for at least one time in their lives, banked with them, had their leisure time sponsored by them, and their homes mortgaged with them. These were company people, bought and sold, until the endless cycle of layoffs and hire-backs took their toll.

But for all this, there is a tremendous amount of culture in Rochester. At one time, it was the smallest city in the country to boast it’s own Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Eastman Conservatory was the first professional school formed at the University of Rochester. The Strasenburgh Planetarium has been awing children since before I entered Kindergarten, and it has expanded into a Museum of Science . In a nod to our cultural inheritance, the George Eastman House and Museum of Photography maintains an amazing chronicle of the art and science of photography. The last time I was there, the exhibition of mourning portraits made me weep.

Of my six siblings I am the only one to escape Rochester, and the only to leave New York. My youngest brother got as far as Staten Island for a time, but even he is returning to the fold. He is moving back this month. This is typical of Rochesterians. As a child, four generations of my family lived within a five square mile boundary. It is insular and conservative. Even chain stores took years to penetrate the Rochester clannishness, our local Sibley’s and McCurdy’s falling only in my adult years to the large retail chains, and even now, the family-owned Wegman’s is still the dominant grocery store. We are creatures of habit and strong familial ties, preferring our large networks of Irish and Italian family connections over convenience and, above all, over trendiness. The American fascination with novelty does not penetrate here.

It was never a place I fit. Dreamy and prone to wander, caught between two worlds, my face was always turned outward in family photos. At the same time that I miss the warmth of the family fold, I chafe under the myriad of little invasions privacy demanded in the close-knit pressure cooker of extended relationships. I love and miss my family dearly, but I have always instinctively guarded the peace of my life from the messiness of the ties that bind. I am, by heart and nature, solitary, and this is difficult to be in Rochester.

And yet, it is equally difficult to leave. A city on a lake big enough to have tides can also pull on the heartstrings in its rhythmic pulses. It calls me home like a Siren to its shores, and I will walk along the lakeshore in the windy gusts of winter, the remnants of the autumn leaves clinging to the black and silver skeletons of the maple and birch trees and the icy, pine-scented prickles of New England winter in my nose. I will share the joys of warm cider and the novelty of snowmen with my Southern son. I will remember how much I miss Rochester, and in two weeks of snow and ice and damp lake air, I will remember why I wandered away.

Always to return.

June 23rd, 2008 at 2:09 pm
2 Responses to “Home”
  1. 1
    William McNaughton Says:

    You be careful up there among those Yankees, Southern Girl.

    Will

  2. 2
    gerbil Says:

    I gotcha on that, but we’re IBMers from Poughkeepsie, once nearly as IBM (Vassar? please.) as Rochester was Kodak. I still find myself looking wistfully northward.