Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Visiting Tarrytown

On two separate occasions I had the chance to wander through the town where I was born on my recent trip to New York. I am always drawn back to this town—Tarrytown, and I’m not even completely sure why (my life remains a mystery to me in so many ways—why I do and feel the things I do and feel), since I have lived in two other places after I moved from Tarrytown in my early twenties before moving to Oslo Norway. I guess the main attraction is that I was born and grew up there, and from that perspective it is interesting to see the changes that the town has undergone in the years I have been away from it. My old neighborhood is no more; it has been replaced by a new generation of young people raising families. The old generation has passed on, and in truth the town is really a stranger to me now. I was discussing that recently with my friend Gisele who also grew up in Tarrytown; we agreed that as much as we think it is a lovely town, it could feel a bit strange to live there now because everyone we used to know is gone. But I remain fascinated by it just the same. If I am driving, I make the turn onto Tappan Landing Road where I used to live and just drive around and look at the apartment building where my mother lived (and where I grew up) and where I visited her on my annual trips to New York after I moved to Oslo. I drive around the corner to Henrik Lane to look at the houses that used to belong to friends and neighbors many years ago. Or I drive down Tappan Landing Road to its end, and stare out over the Hudson River, remembering what it was like to walk up from the Tarrytown railroad station when I was commuting to Manhattan to go to New York University for graduate school. When I went to Fordham College, I used to sometimes take the train to the Marble Hill station on the Hudson Line, and take the bus from there to Fordham. Being in Tarrytown is a trip down memory lane for me, and a real one at that, since I am witnessing the churches, schools, houses, libraries, parks and shops of my younger years. Some of these places still exist—like the Transfiguration Church and school, the Washington Irving (WI) junior high school, Sleepy Hollow high school, the Warner Library, the Music Hall and Patriot’s Park. But many of the shops of my youth have been replaced by newer shops, and Main Street is nearly unrecognizable. There are so many restaurants, antique stores, and small shops that line this street now; it used to be home to some bars, a pizza restaurant and some stores that I have forgotten about. I like the street now; in fact I prefer it now to the way it used to be. It has been spruced up, and the restaurants are trendy and quite good. There is a Seven Eleven on the corner of Broadway and Main Street. I don’t recall what used to be there before, but the fact that Seven Eleven is there now is fine with me. And why should I have an opinion, one might ask? I guess I still feel a bit territorial—I mean, it was my hometown once, and a part of me still wants to feel like a Tarrytowner, even though I am an Oslo-ite now.

While I was waiting one morning to be picked up by my friend Jean when I was in Tarrytown, I spent a couple of hours walking along Broadway from the Doubletree Hotel where I was staying all the way to Main Street, and then meandering my way back to the hotel through all the side streets dotted with pretty little houses with lovely gardens, some of them flying American flags. It felt good to see this—comforting, like coming home in a way. This is the town of my youth, when we had free from school during the summer, when we would hang out at the WI field on hot summer nights with friends, or sit in the bleachers at the same place watching the fireworks together with our parents and siblings on July 4th, or spend a lot of time sitting in the darkness of the Music Hall theater on Main Street watching feature films or going to Baskin Robbins on Broadway for ice cream (Pink Bubble Gum comes to mind, as does Mint Chocolate Chip and Rum Raisin). Some of the memories are not so pleasant—boys who weren’t as interested in me as I was in them, or friendships that didn't last. But by and large, the bad memories have faded and have been replaced by more of a nostalgia for the past. I would not want to return to this past, to go back to that time. I am perfectly happy in the present. But I understand that by understanding where I came from, by turning my past over in my mind and carefully examining it, I am figuring out who I am—even at the age I am now—figuring out the person I was, the person I am now and the person who is yet to come. I am trying to integrate them all into one person, if that is at all possible. It may not be, but the considerations give me a perspective about myself that I find comforting and even enjoyable. Perhaps it is a way of bringing back loved ones who have passed on, even if just for a short time. I don’t wallow in the past memories. I respect them as things of value. I want to preserve them. They are part of my history. Perhaps this matters to me, to the woman who moved a long way away, because she cannot just return on a whim and visit her birth town. It is kind of cool to wander down memory lane as I visit the ‘old’ places and haunts. And as I am wont to do these days in most situations, I take lots of photos. Photos of houses, gardens, schools, churches. libraries. The list is endless. I am capturing the life and history around me on film. I started doing that when I was thirteen, and I’m still doing it. I have become a historian of sorts, and I have to smile, because my mother and father used to be quite interested in the local history of Tarrytown, and here I am, so many years later, interested in the same. Perhaps they are smiling at that as well.

Transfiguration Church

The Warner Library

Washington Irving school

The Music Hall

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