Making peace with my hometown

February 11, 2015

grey sky rochesterI 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.

Roch old bldgI’ve always loved the beautiful old buildings, many of them restored in areas that have become gentrified. Who wouldn’t want an apartment in this gem?

2014-11-08 20.20.54These old homes–this one’s huge! –have a style distinctive to the northeastern U.S.

red stars treeAnd some fun ways to decorate the outdoors, keeping the coming snowstorms in mind.

roch colored metalI 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.

red leave trees niceWhen 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.

orange leavesOr this orange mass of autumn leaves that were so vivid they almost hurt my eyes.

I don't have a horse but was crazy for this.

I don’t have a horse but was crazy for this.

Adorable little boutiques and gift shops offer lovely goods at surprisingly affordable prices. Mostly, anyway.

mkt peppersThe huge farmers’ market, a weekly stop for my father when he was alive, offers beautiful produce…

mkt apples

like these gorgeous apples….

mkt basket brd2oh, the breads and cheeses,

mkt choc barkchocolates and olive oils,

mkt best coffeeand independent coffee shops to warm the bones on chilly days.

The market has some interesting mural work:

mkt bear

The bear is my dad’s totem; I loved it.

mkt art

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.


We went to the Memorial Art Gallery of the Univ. of Rochester for some “cultcha.”

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.

29 comments on “Making peace with my hometown
  1. ryder ziebarth says:

    I felt like I was on the trip! Fun read.

  2. Hi Carol! I have never been to Rochester but your post made it sound great (and the photos did too). Plus with so many memories wrapped up there it will always be a part of you. It sounded to me that you’ve made peace with it and that is always a good thing. ~Kathy

  3. Roz Warren says:

    It’s easy to appreciate Rochester… once you’ve relocated to sunny California. I enjoyed reading this post, and I ALWAYS love your photos, but I’m not even tempted to visit your old home town.

  4. Adela says:

    I grew up in a bedroom community of Flint, MI (remember Roger and Me?) A good friend from high school pointed out that everything there was based on the assembly line: schools, subdivision, shopping centers, even the food. It wasn’t until I moved to the Chicago area that I fully realized what she meant.

    I needed to make peace with my hometown, too. Like you, I realize there are some things that is uniquely comforting about the town I grew up in. Like a community band that features Mom, daughter, and grand-daughter. Maybe not as talented as a Chicago blues band, but much more touching.

  5. Carolann says:

    I’ve been to Rochester once a very long time ago. Very cute and quaint town. Love your pics! I a huge fan of anything NY. I used to live in Carmel NY which I adored. Just too darn expensive…taxes were a nightmare!

  6. I avoided my home town for a very long time. I went back in the fall and spent over a week there….and I was surprised to learn that there were some things I actually missed about it!

  7. donna says:

    This was an amazing trip I took with you…hometowns are special for so many reasons

  8. Diane says:

    Love hearing about your past and your hometown, Carol! It’s funny, isn’t it, that the town we couldn’t get out of fast enough is such a part of who we are.

  9. Tammy says:

    It’s always good to make friends with our past and the life we lived there. We are all in it together, throughout all the years, past, present and future. Sounds to me that you’ve come to a great place. And that place was home. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I think one of the great things about hometowns is you don’t live there anymore. So, you can remember and enjoy the best things about it. And most everyone’s hometown (except mine, probably!) look great to everyone else!

  11. Things from the past always seem better from afar, it seems, when we’re not in the midst of that time and space. Glad you’ve made friends with your hometown again… and shared the loveliness of it all. That orange bush? Wow! Just wow! Thanks for the tour of Rochester through your new fondness for the place.

  12. My husband and I went to college in Binghamton, so I hear you! It’s amazing what a little distance and perspective can do!

  13. Loved your post. It reminded me of the relationship I had with my hometown for many years.

  14. Ruth Curran says:

    I am glad that you are feeling more at ease about your hometown. I have made peace with your hometown (my husband’s hometown) — mostly because it is where home to Abbott’s — but not my own. Maybe someday but I am not going back anytime soon. Funny how places can hold so much emotional weight isn’t it?

  15. I haven’t been to Rochester in years so I’m glad to see the turnaround. It’s like Pittsburgh – when I was in school (I went in Boston but I heard..) it was so run down, but now it’s supposed to be a great city!

  16. So funny you should post this today as I have been thinking so much about my childhood home, school and neighborhood. I told my husband I wanted to take him to my old neighborhood and the other day out of the blue my third grade teacher contacted me on Facebook. I was stunned. I need to make peace with my hometown too:)
    The fall colors and all of your photos look so warm. I hope your friends and family are doing okay with all of the snow.

  17. I’ve spent time there on several occasions and enjkyed every single time.

  18. Lisa Froman says:

    What a lovely thought. I realized after reading, I need to make peace with my hometown, too. It’s a small one horse town (as I used to describe it) on the bayou. But my mom still lives there so it’s definitely worth visiting.

  19. Mary Burris says:

    I have a hard time making peace with my hometown as well. I left shortly after high school, the closest I have come to returning was about 15 miles away. But even then, I rarely made it back to the home town. My family has all but moved away from there. Great story, though. I enjoyed reading about your trip.

    Thank you for tossing your hat into the ring at the Party Under The Big Top! I hope to see you again next week!

  20. Lysa says:

    I am glad that you made peace with your hometown. What a beautiful place it is and I would have loved to have an apartment in that building back when living in an apartment was feasible, before four kids that is! Thank you for joining us and linking up to Party Under the Big Top! Hope to see you again next time!

    Wishing you a fabulous week!

    Much love,
    Lysa xx
    Welcome to My Circus

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