Destination: Harrison, New York, October 12 – 17, 2011, Part 1

We’ve just taken off from Westchester County Airport on a beautiful, crisp, autumnal day.   As I look out below, I am reminded once again at the beauty of the area – lots of watersheds surrounded by majestic trees resplendent with their fall colors as far as the eye can see.   In the distance loom the skyscrapers of Manhattan.  Westchester County has become a very dense and very expensive area to live, but the various suburban enclaves are mainly covered by the forest canopy.  And so I leave with a lovely snapshot in my mind.

I haven’t been to New York since 1998 when my parents sold the house and packed up for their Floridian retirement.   I’ve never kept in touch with folks since I left for California in 1989; and I didn’t see too many people when I came in 1998.    So what prompted my short visit back?    30th Year Harrison High School Reunion.

I never would have called myself a reunion person.  My past was the past and I was far, far away in California and now even further away in New Zealand.  But a funny thing happened.   Early this year I awoke from a dream about one of my high school classmates.  For years I’d wondered how he’d been, often trying to find him through Google without success.   This time, something prompted me to check Facebook.  Lo’ and behold, there he was, and that moment of reaching out set me off on a trajectory of amazing connections over the last six months.

Through connecting with him, I found out about the upcoming October reunion.   I knew back in March that we were going to be in Kauai for the September wedding, but I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to make the effort to come to New York.

Facebook is truly an amazing gift to the world.  Through Facebook I connected with so many high school classmates and as the momentum for the reunion started, I began feeling a bit nostalgic to head back full steam into my past.  I pulled out my yearbook and went through all the photos.   Who are these people now I wondered?   What a fascinating longitudinal study this would make to see us all 30 years later.   (A documentary called the Up Series has done just this – followed a small group of children from varying London socio-economic classes starting at age seven and were re-filmed every seven years since.  They are now at 54-up.)

By the time July rolled around, I needed to make a decision and I decided to come back as part of my personal healing journey.  I needed to see if I still had things in common with people; if I would like them; if I could reconnect.  I consider myself a pretty progressive open-minded fiscally responsible and spiritually guided fun loving liberal and I wasn’t so sure that Westchester bred too many of those types of folks.

About a month prior to leaving for our trip, random other people from my New York past found me on Facebook too –  a cousin whom I haven’t seen in 27 years;  a couple of guys from my teenage work days at Finast Supermarkets whom I haven’t seen in maybe 20 years; and another dear friend who was part of my deaf family circle whom I  hadn’t seen in 30 years.   Oh my god, I needed to see these people.

Flash forward and here I am in New York for five days, two of which are dedicated to the reunion.   So much has happened in five days and it’s all been exceptional.

I have immense gratitude for my host, Maria.   When I put the word out on Facebook for hotel recommendations, Maria reached out and offered up a downstairs studio unit in her home.   I haven’t seen Maria since the day we left high school. I thought it over for about a day and then graciously accepted her offer.    As if that wasn’t special enough, she also let me use one of her cars and she and another friend Cathy dealt with my transportation to/from the airport.      Thank you.

I truly believe fate brought us together for Maria is on quite a journey of discovery with  new doors opening to her all the time; doors that I’ve walked through myself.   We had so much to talk about, so many similar ideas about life, and it was nothing short of a true pleasure to be so relaxed and comfortable in her home.   Her three daughters are gorgeous and her youngest such a ball of fire and her little white dog Baci took to me like my little Nina and I enjoyed her feisty company.

I saw my second Cousin Tre (my grandfather Santora’s sister’s daughter) whom I had not seen in 27 years – the last time was at her parents 50th wedding anniversary celebration with the extended family.  I hadn’t spoken to any of them since.   Tre was an important mentor to me when I was a young girl.   Six years my senior,  we used to spend time together over the years from my early childhood through my early teens.  At that age, six years older meant a lot, and I would follow her and her teenage girlfriends around, watching, noting, questioning.   She was always nice to me and we used to laugh a lot.  And she hasn’t changed a bit – she’s still spunky and has a wicked sense of humor despite facing difficult times in her life.   We laughed quite a bit over our two hour meal together, talking about the past when we were kids and then about our adult lives.  I found out things about ‘the family’ I’d not heard about which gave me a different understanding about a few things that occurred way back when.

I also saw my third Cousin Sharon (my grandmother Masticiollo-Santora’s sister’s daughter’s daughter!) whom I last saw in the 1990’s.   She’s only three years my junior and we spent many Thanksgivings and Christmases together as well as many holidays in Florida at Grandma and Grandpa Santora’s and Aunt Bea’s houses.    She’s still the same and again, over a two hour meal, we got caught up on the past two decades.  So much to say, so little time.   She has also worked very hard in her life, facing many obstacles, and now has a wonderful 12 year old daughter.

My friend Mona I knew from around the time I was nine or ten through 17.   I am a child of deaf parents and so is she.   In my youth, my family and other deaf families spent a lot of time together on summer camping trips, often heading somewhere for a week over July 4th and two weeks over Labor Day.   Our most formative years of teenage exploration with alcohol, love, and romance took place on those KOA campgrounds.   We only saw each other occasionally during the rest of the year, which is really hard to believe since she lived just right over the Tappan Zee Bridge.  What my memory recalls as being SO FAR AWAY is really just a 20 minute drive in adult world.   Go figure.

She and I gabbed for five hours as if we’d last seen each other yesterday.    We had so much in common:  thoughts on healing and holistic health, similar interests in literary fiction, similar explorations with energy and body work, a desire to eat organically and mindfully.  It was fascinating.   She’s also been on a long healing journey, facing many health challenges, but she seems well on her path to good health and a deeper understanding of herself.

I spent a bit of time with my childhood friend since grammar school, Cathy.  She picked me up from the airport, she met me at Sals for pizza, we went and got our nails done together, we went over to the high school, and she showed me around the ol’ hood.   It was so fun to see her – still the same girl deep down, now a mother of two grown children and happily married for 20+ years.  She still lives in Silver Lake and so she was a wealth of information as we went down memory lane.   Thank you Cathy!

And most surprising of all was my re-connection with my high school pal Lisa.   She was not on Facebook, the reunion people didn’t have her contact details, and the details I had from the early 1990’s were no longer valid.   I wasn’t sure if I’d find her but someone told me they saw her working at the local vet.  So I called and though she only worked there once a week, the receptionist heard the plea in my voice when I begged her to get in touch with Lisa and pass along my number.   Lisa called me my first day back and I got to see her on three different occasions.    We had so much fun, laughing as usual.  Now divorced with two teenagers, she’s happy and as gorgeous as ever.   We vowed not to let the distance get in the way of staying up-to-date with each other.   This is me with Lisa’s dog Sonny:

For our junior and senior year in high school and some time thereafter,  Lisa and I worked at the local supermarket which was a few towns over.   Those were some of the best times and years of my life where we did some crazy stuff together with our band of checkout counter girls and shelf-stocking boys.   One of whom was Ricky who I happened to go to the Westlake prom with.    Lisa and I met up with Ricky for an evening and again, it was a night of laughs interspersed with the stories of our not so always happy adult lives.   Ricky, also divorced, has two teen/t’ween children.

I spent an hour or so driving around my neighborhood enclave of Silver Lake.  I went and saw my old house (102 Woodside Avenue) that I lived in from aged 2 through 24;

I drove by my elementary school and church:

I went down to the park where I spent many, many summers at day camp and playing on the softball team.

I had a Cinema Paradiso moment as I stood gazing upon the main street and the park.  Just as the protagonist glances around him hometown, gazing at 30 years of changes,  I too stood in awe as I recalled the changes from my youth, from the empty fields and rinky dink park to now what has transformed into a much more dense suburban community with nary an empty lot to be found and our rinky dink park matured with a state-of-the-art astro-turfed field and an additional swimming pool recreation area complete with slides which has been built in what was a wooded area.  All in the name of progress.

And I just gotta love being back in the land of the Italians!   I gorged on pizza, pasta, and Italian baked goods.  I went to Carvel for a big fat ice cream cone.  The neighbors across the street whipped out their wine barrel press one Saturday and started pressing the grapes to make wine.

These are my roots, my home town.  It was good to be back.

And for the reunion?  Well, that deserves it’s very own post.  Stay tuned.