My mother did everything she could to talk me into going with her when she visited New York a few years ago. I couldn’t and this is why: I was afraid I’d never come back.
I felt like I knew the place – the markets, the people, the taxis, the crowded sidewalks, the flower market, the neighborhoods. I spent my formative years reading books set in New York, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to Sidney Sheldon and Jackie Collins books in the 80s. Later I tended to gravitate toward books set in either small towns in the south or in Manhattan. One place I've lived in and the other I'd only daydreamed about yet both settings seemed very familiar.
A few years later my mother returned and that time I went with her. The trip was more wonderful than anything I'd imagined. I was a true tourist – green as could be, wide eyed at everything. The first morning we were there, we left our hotel, walked half a block and were in Times Square. I wanted to hop up and down I was so thrilled to be there. One night after leaving a Broadway show, we walked past the New York Times headquarters and came upon a door in the sidewalk. That’s what it looked like; young men in kitchen whites were unloading crates of vegetables from a truck, shuttling them down a tunnel to the restaurant’s basement kitchen.
We found an honest to goodness Greek diner in Hell’s Kitchen where we ate breakfast on a Sunday morning. The place was packed with people of all ages and types. Customers eating at the counter called back and forth to the cook. The restaurant owner walked around the crowded tables, greeting customers by name. It sounds like a cliché although it was real.
I ate it up. I imagined what it would be like to try to live there. The Child was two at the time and I thought, briefly, about daycare and nursery schools, wondered about negotiating subway stairs with a stroller. I fell hard.
For a couple of weeks after I got home, as welcome as home was, I felt a bit homesick. When I'd catch a glimpse of NYC on Law and Order or a Friends rerun I'd stop stock still. "Oh my gosh! I've been there!" which I'm sure wasn't annoying at all. Something about New York City resonated with me and I felt a connection I didn't understand and still don't, not really.
I love that I visited the Big City, that I’d daydreamed about countless times and felt sure I’d live and work in some fascinating career, going to galleries, picking up flowers from a cart on the to my loft, walking around Central Park on Saturday afternoons in the fall just like on When Harry Met Sally. I love that the visit lived up to – and then some – every expectation.
But I know there is one home for me and that’s in a small town. They’re shrinking and disappearing and I feel lucky every day that I get to live in one, that I was brought up in one, and that I’m raising The Child in another.
This kicks off an experiment; I’m going to write about what makes small town life worth it, when there's one grocery store in town and no pizza deliery and it doesn't matter. It will be a series of observations along the lines of those about the Vaiden Truck Stop and the Varsity. It should be fun, from right here in my own small town.
I'm trying to think of a label for these posts:
-- Reasons I love a small town (going for the simple yet obvious)
-- Quality of Life Report (a book title)
-- Small Town Yessiree (gah - it's small town but it's not Mayberry)
-- If it was any better I couldn't stand it (I think I've used that before.)