Growing Up in East Lovejoy
in the 1960s wasn’t like living in Mayberry - it was better..
If you've never been to Buffalo you are likely saddled with some misconceptions and exaggerations of our life here. Yes, we get snow and when it's Lake Effect it can sometimes be almost as big a deal as the Weather Channel trumpets.
But having been through four hurricanes in three states -- I much prefer weather that doesn’t come into your house unless you open the door.
I spent my first nine years in Buffalo's East Lovejoy neighborhood -- for me an idyllic community of watchful eyes, compact wood frame homes nestled tightly and open windows spilling life and the smells of sauces and soups into the street. I was six years old before I found out I wasn’t Italian like many of our neighbors -- and I was pissed.
Everything and everyone that mattered in my world emptied into the narrow strip of dead-end asphalt we shared. On any dry day it was tattooed with kickball/stickball bases and hopscotch squares drawn with thick sticks of railroad chalk tossed to us from workers on the nearby tracks.
A peach basket nailed to a telephone pole was our court and games paused not for clocks or fouls but the utterance of the word "car." When the vehicle passed the game resumed , usually short the player or players whose father just got home for dinner.
As a toddler, I'm told, I was regularly sent to Camillo's store on the corner with a few coins and a note balled in my fist. In that time and place the unaccompanied journey eight or nine houses up the block was unremarkable. It always resulted in my timely return with the needed item and correct change.
Actual relatives were within walking distance and the line between who was biologically an aunt or uncle and who was simply a good neighbor was irrelevant to the title.
I always looked in at the fire station to see if Uncle Sis was working -- and if I was heading for the Saturday matinee at Jake's across the street I could count on him to flip me a nickel for a Charm Pop sucker. There was Louie's Soda Bar with homemade chocolate delicacies and the Five and Dime for extra special gift shopping.
I was heartbroken when my parents moved to "the country" in response what they saw as changes in the city. Having my own room, a driveway with garage , basement, trees and a pond was an absurd trade for all of the above, as well as near daily walks to the library and living in the actual place where my father was born.
My grandmother said it happened in the corner of the kitchen where the boxy Kelvinator refrigerator hummed and groaned. My child's sense of permanence perplexed me as to how she could have pulled off such an event sharing the space with the cumbersome appliance. I never asked , only assumed that my grandmother could do anything she set her mind to do.
Every country night for the first several years, \ I said my church-school-nun-mandated prayers for the requisite relatives and daily events -- but always closed with the real plea -- to go back home.
Eventually I left the boonies for college and an exciting array of addresses in three states and five cities. When I finally got back home in 2006 living in the city was the only option. When we left in 2012 to be near our daughter's growing family in Texas, I had a good reason to leave, but the same nightly yearning of my childhood to go home.
This isn't the my Buffalo the 1960s or even our grand urban adventure earlier this century. She's done very well in recent years, I’m grateful to those who have been making things happen and happy to again join their ranks,
With so many of my customers and friends scattered throughout the U.S. and in fact, the world, it may seem parochial to focus so much of my time and energy in my birthplace.
But Buffalo is not where you are from, it’s who you are . She informs my work and my perspective daily. It feels so good to be home.