I have a difficult relationship with my hometown. It’s a Rust-Belt city in western New York State that’s been on an economic decline for a very long time. This grey sky is typical of many, many days in Rochester, days that I remember as not only grey-sky days but for grey-moods, too. People there seemed to always be frowning, but maybe they were just trying to keep warm.
I left when I was 21 and except for one abortive attempt to move back, never lived there again. After my first divorce I could have easily moved back, but some unseen force held me back. I knew I needed to make it on my own and so I remained distant, at first just 1,300 miles away and then 3,000 miles.
For a long time, decades even, it wasn’t even a particularly pleasant place to visit. The people seemed imbued with negative energy that I had long moved past and simply couldn’t deal with.
Some of that still exists, and I stay away from it. The idea of making peace with my hometown never occurred to me.
But times and circumstances change and in recent years I’ve looked at Rochester, NY with new eyes.
I wandered around with my high school bestie and another day with my soul sister from New Jersey. Soul sister and I saw this metal utility box that had been prettied up in a Rochester way. Those are lilacs, and Rochester is known for its annual lilac festival.
I’m surprised at the wonderful bistros and restaurants that seem to be thriving, despite the city’s major employer, Eastman Kodak, losing most of its employees. And bistros don’t have to charge California prices to do it, either.
By the way Kodak has 2,300 local employees now, down from 60,000 in 1982. That’s right. 60,000. If the #1 employer in town has declined that much, well, just imagine.
When people would say “Rochester is soo pretty!” I had no idea what they were talking about. But on this trip, I saw it. The fall colors were still on display—I haven’t seen that kind of riotous red in decades.
Adorable little boutiques and gift shops offer lovely goods at surprisingly affordable prices. Mostly, anyway.
like these gorgeous apples….
The market has some interesting mural work:
While we were there, sister-in-love had a full house of people we love. Her older sister, my soul sister, drove in from NJ. Her son, my nephew, came from Syracuse. Our “nephew,” his friend, arrived from Buffalo. Henry the Irish Retriever happily went from bed to bed, like a tart sleeping with a different companion every night. Our hostess also gave a fun cocktail party full of relatives and people we’d met before, with laughter and debate and some of the best food ever—she is an exceptional cook.
An afternoon with my high school BFF provided a little culture, some good food and much laughter. She’s an artist and a retired art teacher and really the only person I’m in contact with who knew me wayyy back. The last time I visited my high school it was under construction and now that it’s complete it bears no resemblance to what it was when I went to school there. Nonetheless, high-school bestie talked me through the classrooms we could see as we passed by.
“Do you remember that party at P’s?” she asked as we drove around looking at fall colors in the rain. I laughed. I sooo remember it, and my high school boyfriend at the time. But if I told you about it I’d have to kill you.
This may seem like no big deal to you, this walk down memory lane. But my current life, my life in California, one that is so different from the one I started in Rochester, began when I was 33, so it’s a novelty to be reminded of my teenage self.
Did I mention family? I don’t mention it much and for good reason. But, I got to hang out with some of the best family members I have.
You may remember my musician cousin (also a super-successful business owner) whom I adore. I wrote about him last time I was in Rochester.
An evening listening to my cousin play sax and perform at a club –he’s excellent—was a blast. Mark Cassara can flat out play sax and he has virtually perfect pitch when he sings. LOVE to hear him.
“You sing good, cuz!” I told him on his break. But he hates his voice because… “I just can’t do with it what I can do with my sax.” Which is amazing–click HERE for a taste of it. If I lived closer, I’d be at as many gigs as I could, his soft jazz is exceptional.
Here’s what never happens to me in California but happens all the time in Rochester. Mark’s guitarist is Chet Catallo, who was with the jazz band Spyro Gyra for many years. During those years, the band earned six Grammy nominations. He came up to give me a hug and remind me that my father had been his pediatrician. Yes, that’s a hometown thing, that reminder of my roots, roots that don’t extend as far in California. (Chet plays amazing guitar, by the way.) (Oh, and Rochester seems to be home for many famous musicians, go figure)
On our last day, more family: I had breakfast with my favorite aunt and talked family history with my father’s last surviving brother and his sons.
These are experiences I don’t have access to in California and that I have grown to enjoy as I get older.
Bestie’s car took the route to the house I grew up in without my even asking. As we passed I looked at the small kitchen window and imagined my mother there, as she often was. Even as I write this I can bring up the image of the house and see life going on. Our spirits have imprinted themselves there. Maybe they are still there, I don’t know. We then took the route to her house and I remembered coming down that street so many times and even getting a flat tire there once. I called my father and he came out and made me change it myself. Yes, I remember.
Despite the grey skies, big snowstorms and chilly temperatures, these days I find much to like about my hometown, a place I’ve learned to accept for what it is and to love it all the same.