New York City: On My Way
New York City is beckoning. I haven’t been since 2019 when I went to meet two cousins new to me: one a close DNA match, whose father is still one of the biggest mysteries in my life, the other not as close DNA-wise, but so close in spirit as to be a sister. Lucky for me that this was right before the pandemic hit as their stories are in my book. They and their children and other relatives have both changed and enriched my life. Kathy, the one with the mysterious father, is now 93, hence the importance of visiting soon. PJ and her son and his wife came to NC to visit last year, and PJ once before that. We talked and played, hiked and camped, and exchanged family notes. She and her son shared their music and poetry compositions with my husband and me. We listened and pondered and felt full of the beauty and joy.
I will stay with PJ and she, being so generous and younger and knowing the ways of the city, will shepherd me around. I will introduce her to Kathy and her daughter as they are her cousins, too. We will share stories, ask questions, visit, hug, and in our talking go to cotton fields in Alabama and salt beds in the Turks. There are other people to visit, as well. This is my hope, that it will all come safely come about.
The planning has gotten me thinking about my history with the city in ways I never thought of before. My first time there would have been when I had just started walking. I would have been carried on the train from Washington, DC, into Grand Central Station as we called it then. From there, carried onto another train to a suburb where we would live for four or so more years, close enough to the city for my father to commute into Manhattan for his job at the new Social Security office. My mother would take me into the city for shopping. There is more about this in the book. There were wonderful overnight train rides to south Florida which made me evermore love riding trains. I would take one there this time but for Covid.
After we moved to Birmingham, there was a gap in my being in New York until in my older teens when I took myself there a few times. So exciting- the big city, the Village, the museums, the familiar vast shiny floor, arches, and the high vaulted ceiling of Grand Central Station, and so much more. Once I went with my dear Papa and visited museums. I was in New York City when a young and tender love affair became secure enough to end it, something we both knew needed to happen. Some of you may understand what I mean.
My first husband and I took our three young children there several times as they were growing up. We wanted them to know the city, at least a bit. It must have imprinted on our oldest because now he can’t stay away. It was there at a playground in Central Park that I watched my preschool daughter suddenly realize that if she didn’t become firm, almost aggressive, she would never get a ride on the swing. Our older son, about eight at the time, remembers sand from Coney Island in his britches torturing him on the subway ride back to a friend’s apartment. Our younger son remembers a large ceremonial circle we somehow ended up in while we were in Central Park. At the end, out of all the people there, an American Indian in full regalia approached him as we watched in amazement, pressed a token in our son’s hand, and whispered something in his ear.
Over the decades, there have been many more trips by car, train, and plane. During one around 2016, I broke my wrist and spent the rest of the day in the emergency department in Bellevue. It lived up to its name with one of the patients shouting an obscenity every fifteen minutes or so with a patient police officer at his side reminding him that he did not need to shout, not that it helped. The orthopedic resident fixed me up well. I was told by her and several other amazed providers that I was the first person in the history of Bellevue to refuse morphine. I still wonder about my decision.
In the train, when it gets close and goes underground, I still feel a rush. What a complicated city with its complex history. There is none other like it in the world to me. And now, a lifetime later, I find I have cousins all over the city, many of whom I have not yet met. Who would have thought! Life can be so surprising.
PJ and me a couple of years ago in NC and autumn in Central Park during a visit about six years ago.