Empire State of Mine

Not that anyone has asked, but I’ll say it anyway: I thank my lucky stars I grew up in New York.

I mean, when you think about it, when my parents left their country for the U.S.—just after World War II—they could have ended up anywhere. Today, I could be saying that I hail from Gainesville, Florida or, that I was born on a cattle ranch in Nacogdoches, Texas, assuming they have cattle in Nacogdoches. And, maybe if that had happened, I would be saying I like these places very much.

Ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center.

Or maybe, if their plane had been going at warp speed and shot right over the states, today I might be calling myself a Canadian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. They have a beautiful national anthem, after all.

So, given the odds, it’s a wonder my folks made it to New York at all.  By the city that never sleeps. The Big Apple. Where Mad Men dreams come true. Home to Woody Allen, Lady Liberty, an empire state of mind, and, as it turns out–me!

Which means, I grew up shopping at the Macy’s flagship store in Manhattan—the very same one that inspired Miracle on 34th Street. I went to school at P.S. 154 and, later, to P.S. 117. We didn’t bother giving schools names; after all, New Yorkers don’t have time for such trivialities.

When I was a mere infant, my mother and her friend, who also had a baby, would push our baby carriages to the supermarket and park us out in front, while they went inside and did their grocery shopping. All the while, we, babies, would be innocently lulled to sleep by the cacophony of traffic on Main Street. Who had time for finding babysitters? The streets were our sitters!

Growing up in New York, meant class field trips to the United Nations, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Hayden Planetarium. Does it get any better than that?

A view from atop of the Empire State Building.

Every time there was a new film playing at Radio City Music Hall, my family was there, listening to the organist play while we took our seats (boring!), and seeing a movie (the Doris Day films were the best!). And, when the film was over, it was exciting to see the fabulous, New York City Rockettes, tapping and kicking away, in all their glory.

Growing up in New York meant waking up at the crack of dawn to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, live and in person. We saw it in all kinds of inclement weather, with pummeling, freezing rain being the worst. Best of all, growing up in New York meant I got to see many Broadway musicals, like The Sound of Music with Mary Martin, and My Fair Lady, with Julie Andrews. I also got to see Here’s Love, a musical version of Miracle on 34th Street that flopped, despite my seven-year-old self, predicting to my school chum, that it would be a big hit.

I LOVE the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!

Growing up in New York meant that, as a teen, I got to see up-and-coming journalist, Geraldo Rivera, and his One-to-One benefit concert at Madison Square Garden. The line-up included John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack, and best of all, who can forget, Sha-Na-Na.

Growing up in New York means that I say “on line,” and not “in line” when I’m standing on a line and waiting my turn.

Being a kid in New York was so much fun that I’m hard pressed to find any drawbacks.

For, had I not grown up in NY, I would never have met Rod Serling in Central Park, back when he was still producing The Twilight Zone TV series.

Central Park in summer.

I wouldn’t have been able to read the local newspaper to keep up on that nefarious serial killer, David Berkowitz, aka, Son of Sam. And how would I have ever found a $20 bill at the Flushing subway station if I wasn’t in Queens at the time? Or mastered my cool, aloof, don’t-bother-me stare, while assertively striding through the streets of Manhattan?

Perhaps, too, I would never have eaten gads of steaks at Tad’s Steak House, only to learn they weren’t serving steaks at all. Horse meat was the meat du jour. Talk about indigestion.

And, I probably would never have experienced the hot, sweaty platforms at the subway station in summertime, or the crushing sensation that you feel when you wedge the subway doors open as they’re closing, because, if you don’t, who knows when the next train will come along?

Or the mobs of people everywhere, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in cramped restaurants, and dining so close you could almost kiss the stranger next to you on the cheek, but, why on earth would you?

I was raised in New York, which gives me carte blanche to call myself a New Yorker, or Nu YAWKER, depending on your accent.

New York and proud of it.

How about you? What makes your hometown special to you?

56 thoughts on “Empire State of Mine

  1. It is so funny to picture moms parking their babies outside the grocery store. You would NEVER see that today!

    As a dog I’m not allowed into certain establishments, so I can’t see Broadway musicals, but I know my parents have tickets to see Book of Mormon next month. They are pretty excited about it. It seems like there is never a dull moment in this city!

    • You’re so right, Uptown. Manhattan is full of things to do. As for being parked outside the grocery store, it’s sad that it cannot be done today, that we can’t trust as we once did. I’m glad I knew New York then.

      Please let your persons know that I think they’re so lucky to see the Book of Mormon. I’ve heard so much about it and would love the chance to see it. Sigh. I miss my city.

    • It was amazing! Like living inside a candy store–all yours for the taking.

      I never saw John John–which is how I’ll always remember him from the White House years–except on TV. So tragic the way he died. So young, too. Caroline and I are about the same age. She and her brother were so popular when their father was president. I even had paper dolls of them. And there was a comedy album, a spoof of what their family life must have been like in the White House, that was a huge hit back then. My family would listen to it over and over, never getting tired of it. But when JFK was assassinated, everyone retired that album. It no longer seemed appropriate to laugh at it, so no one could listen to it anymore, and the guy who created it went bankrupt practically overnight.

  2. I love NY too. My twins were born in NYC and even their birth certificates are more gorgeous than any I have ever seen!

    • I have a New York birth certif (long form) and it looks like a mimeograph copy, black with white lettering, but this certificate is very old, almost harking back to when New York became a state. Okay, maybe not that far back. But you get the picture. Anyway, I’m so glad they’ve improved the look of them. Thank you for stopping by!

  3. What a beautiful tribute to NY city, mayor Bloomberg should frame this post and hang it in his office. You made me travel through time and distance with your writing. I felt as I was there with you. Thank you for that. My husband’s family end up in NY and we end up in Detroit leaving USSR. We came to visit them 5 years after our arrival and I fell in love with NYC instantly, even thou I was by then used to my “slow” life style in suburban Detroit. Eventually they moved out from Bronx and Queens to CT and NJ in search of more suburban life, but they all remain NYorkers to us.

    • Thanks, Ariana. Sometime during my childhood, we moved out to Long Island for the more suburban life, but the city remained just a train ride away. When, I was 13, my friend and I would take the train in and spend the entire day exploring the city. Imagine, two 13-year-olds doing the town, on our own. It was such great fun!

  4. I find all the cliches I have heard about NY to NOT be true. I’ve only been there twice, I loved it. There is so much more to discover. The Met. was my favorite place to visit and I still haven’t finished it. Loved traveling the subway and eating in little Italy. I managed to see ‘Annie Get your Gun’ the one time I did go and I have to say, Broadway is a whole other culture. I can’t wait to go back again. It is truly a city that never sleeps.

    I like to think I have had the best of many worlds. I lived and grew up the first 17 years of my life in Sri Lanka and the next half in Australia. I then met my husband and moved to San Francisco where it is so beautiful, that I can’t imagine going anywhere else. Although I have to say, given a choice, I might like to go back and live in Sydney with my children, for most of my growing up was done there- truly was the best life- and It will always hold a special place in my heart.

  5. You better be thanking your lucky stars because NY is amazing!! I’m so jealous…NYC and Santa Barbara are my favorite places in the US.

    The last time I went to NYC I went to Coney Island, which turned out to be interesting and I almost got stabbed, but it was fun, regardless.

    • Santa Barbara? Why that’s close to me! Sort of. Almost got stabbed? Was it by a little boy who was using a plastic knife to spread mustard on his Nathan’s hot dog? Those can be dangerous! 😉

  6. Monica, I want to call myself a New Yorker! I live for the day when I can finally visit New York, visit Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan, and the upper East Side! I want to be part of the throngs, take the subway, witness spectacular graffitti! I want to see street art, street performers, vendors selling knock offs! I want it all! Someday! 🙂

  7. Monica it is so nice to hear someone praising their childhood in NY. Mostly we hear how terrible it is for children and parents seem to be looking for nice neighborhoods outside of the city where their children can play ball in the backyard. Maybe they should read your piece about what you feel you gained by growing up there.

    I grew up in the same town my parents were from, and their parents were from, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in NC. A traffic jam was when the neighbor’s cows got out. But we were not farmers – more like suburbanites. We vacationed at the coast and took camping trips to the mountains. But I do think this quiet environment allowed my imagination to flourish and made the books I read so very precious. And the first place I wanted to see when I grew up was your very own NYC. I wasn’t disappointed. I still love it.

    • I would love some day to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains. Sounds so beautiful there. I loved New York because it offered so much, there was always something to do, something new to experience, too. I love, love, love my city!

  8. What wonderful memories! I grew up moving so my “hometown” is just a town I was born in, more of my father’s hometown than my own. Your tribute to your hometown sheds a new light on New York. I always thought of it as a place to go to… not be from, but of course, it is home for you and others who grew up there.

    • Nancy, I never realized that someone might look at New York from that angle, but it totally makes sense and know, that for us New Yorkers, hailing from that town is a great source of pride. I wear my still-detectable New York accent with the honor and respect a great city deserves.

  9. Well now we have a new spin on ‘you can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl.’ But we who proudly wear the “I grew up in New York” badge always knew that saying was so meant for us. 😉 As someone who has not strayed far from the Big Apple, I still get to relish what you depict here so evocatively, both in words and photos; at the same time, I rue how much has changed. The Brooklyn I grew up in is not the same. To which a wise New Yorker might remark: So what else is new? Oh, yes, one more thing: maybe those of us scrambling to get ‘on line’ for hot new movies were ahead of our time.

    • The thing about leaving New York (despite returning every once in a while) is that you remember the city as it was, more so than how it is now. I can picture the Horn & Hardart, the RCA building, and even Gimbels when it was across the street from Macy’s in Herald Square. For me, they’re all still there. 😉

      I like your last line. Yes we were ahead of our time, indeed.

  10. As you know, I was recently in your home town. I agree there are many things to love about it. I could deal with the crowds and the traffic and the subways because of the libraries and theaters and the like. My husband actually started thinking about getting a small apartment there so he could spend more time there listening to jazz, eating at great restaurants, and, oh yes, doing work with some research colleagues. But what I have trouble getting past the absolute love affair that so many have with that city is even for the short time I was there I was going crazy without trees. I don’t mean one big park in the middle of the town. I’m talking about trees 3 or 4 stories tall lining every street. Parks in practically every neighborhood (both downtown and suburbs), greenways through the middle of it all for biking/walking. St. Louis may not be quite as active as NYC, but they treasure their green space and are always looking for ways to add more. I know I’ve arrived home as soon as everything turns green.

    • Yes, I remember reading your observations of the city and your recommendations, too. Did you get a chance to go to Bryant park? Did you walk around Soho, Chelsea, or down past Wall Street, near the water overlooking the Statue of Liberty? How about upper West side, by Columbia and Barnard? Maybe it’s not as lush as St. Louis, but there’s natural beauty to be found. Spend an hour in Bryant Park, sipping a latte, while swinging on one of the porch swings. It’s a small park, but so rich with trees, plants and art. I think it’s my favorite spot in the city.

    • My pleasure! For me, New York is where it begins and ends. You are so lucky to be living there now. I can rest easier knowing that the city is in good hands. 😉

      Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Some of my fellow southerners say New Yawk, like New Yorkers tease as say Gawja. I’ve lived here and there, so while I speak Southern and all, I’m kinda from everywhere. No place claims me, so I suppose, and my preacher granddaddy wouldn’t be proud for me to say this but I’m just a worldly girl. If I was blogging from London, I’d do like Madonna and speak with a British accent.

  12. Wow Monica…so many amazing cinematic vignettes of NYC. You’re writing is always a treat to read.

    You know how fortunate you were….I’m the same when I look back on growing up in London (the outskirts if I’m honest)

    I still to this day find the constant thrum of a busy city calming, the way most people feel when they go to the lake for the weekend.

    London was never so vividly painted than it was for me as a kid, back before I had to worry about parking, the homeless, or I suppose the crime. I do love London though, especially when I get to show someone around who’s never been – I think it’s partly seeing the childlike amazement a first time visitor conveys.

    Street savvy, if I have any, was learnt on the streets of London, and it’s given me a certain comfort level wherever I’ve lived since, for which I’m extremely grateful.

    • I spent three days in London once. That’s all. But I dream of going back, because, what little I saw of it, I loved. And, I agree. There’s nothing like the rush of a vibrant city. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” That’s what is written on the Statue of Liberty and to me, sums up what New York is all about!

  13. I love my trails the most. My person grew up in Seattle and loved having mountains on both sides and water all around. She’s lived in Northern Arizona for over 30 years now and she likes the trails too – and the great weather.

    • Do you know, I live in California now, but if I had to move, I wouldn’t go back to live in New York. I’d go back to Seattle! I love the Northwest, the Emerald City. So lush, so pristine. Yep, if I couldn’t live here, I’d be there. So, Bongo, please tell your person she was lucky, indeed, to grow up in Seattle. 😉

      • My person says Seattle was a great place to grow up and it’s a beautiful city with lots of things to see and do. She says she likes the weather better in Northern Arizona where we are now though.

      • Bongo, your person has a point. I live in San Diego and I much prefer the weather here. But if I could afford a second home, a retreat of sorts, I’d have one in Seattle. And if I had any money left over, I’d get myself a little flat in NYC, too. 😉

  14. I love NY, to visit, but as I am a beach loving soul who cringes when the temperature dips below 55, I couldn’t see myself living there. I did survived 6 years in London. I grew up under the Hollywood sign. I am not pro LA, it’s a city of multiple personalities– a bit like Sybil–all speaking at the same time, still it is the home of glitz and glamour, movies and starlets, and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, now called something else. My parents made a point to take us to openings, and plays, fancy restaurants. We would dress up and pretend we were all that glitz, too. We weren’t of course, but during those nights, we were Cinderella at the ball. My dad was into music and movies and living so close to the ‘action’ we were able to see and enjoy so much. I supposed it’s why I am such a romantic. These sort of posts always take me time traveling. Thanks, M, for sharing your moment and memories with us.

    • I’m a bit of a romantic, too. For me, it was being close to all that theatre and getting to see movies at Radio City Music Hall, when they were still showing movies there. I know I’ve romanticized it all, but it was a wonderful time to be a kid. I love your memories, too, Brenda. Sounds like we had similar experiences, only on opposite sides of the country. 😉

  15. I’ve never been to NY, and reading about how amazing it must have been to grow up there, makes me want to go even more!!! Love the nostalgia, Monica– and the shout out to sha-na-na!!!

    • Are you familiar with Sha-Na-Na? Are they still around? That was some concert, one I’ll never forget. I think Sha-Na-Na were the opening act. You must visit New York one of these days!

  16. I’m a proud Canuck: red, white and poite 🙂
    Though I have had the great fortune of living in NYC for a little while during and after university! My vagabond blues will bring me back there soon, I hope, even if only to visit!

    • When I was a kid, we spent many a vacation visiting Niagara Falls. Montreal, too. During the years I lived in Seattle, I loved visiting Vancouver, BC. What a beautiful, majestic place. Stanley Park is one of my favorite parks, hands down!

  17. Monica, you should submit this one to the New York tourism bureau (or whatever it’s called!). I’ve only been to The City a couple of times, but I so loved its excitement and busy-ness! Still, I was born and raised in the Midwest, where we have FOUR seasons, hard-working decent people (except for our politicians, ha!), good roads, plenty of corn and soybeans, and a short distance between big cities for when we need to go there. I’ve lived in several states (all of which have things I truly miss). I think we’re all a sum of our experiences, don’t you?

    • You’d think the tourism bureau would like it? Really? Because I said a couple of things about it that, well, doesn’t paint a pretty picture. I’ve lived in a few states, too, and overall, I’d say yes. We are all a sum of our experiences. So true! 🙂

  18. I am proud to call myself a Coloradan. We moved to Denver when I was 7 after my father got transferred there by the Air Force and when he retired, we called Colorado home until I got married and moved away to nearby Idaho. Colorado is a breathtakingly beautiful state, and I wish I could say I appreciated that growing up, but I didn’t. Our annual fall trek to the mountains to view the aspens change into those glorious shades of gold only brought complaints from us three kids about why oh why did we have to drive hours to the mountains just to see a bunch of trees. Now that I am a Californian, my husband and I make the 6 hour trek to Bishop California almost monthly to be surrounded by the mountains and aspen trees that I now miss so dearly.

  19. Once a New Yawker, always a New Yawker – you can’t shake your roots, Monica. I laughed when reading your comment about Rod Serling. I grew up in Upstate New York in the Finger Lakes region. Rod Serling had a home on Cayuga Lake, I believe. He caused quite a stir when he walked into the local A & P one day. Residents say that he used to sit in the back of a local bar (more like a dive in my memory) – in the middle of nowhere – order a pitcher of beer, and write. I can’t substantiate the story, but when you think of the stories he created, it wouldn’t surprise me!

    • I had no idea Rod Serling had a home upstate. I can imagine how he would cause a stir. He probably had an apartment in NYC. When we ran into him that day in Central Park, I must have been around 7 or 8, and he said to me, “Aren’t you a bit young to be watching my show?” That question mortified me because I knew it was true, but back then with only one TV, we all watched the same thing. Anyways, the show scared me at times, but I loved it and still do. One of the best written shows on TV ever.

  20. Thank you for giving us a tour of your home, Monica. All the places you described, I hope to visit, while doing my “someday” summer RV tour of the United States.

    But, I was born, raised and have lived my entire life in Maine. And I’m proud to call myself a Main-ah or Main-iac….whichever you prefer. I can’t imagine living in the city again. I’m used to two lane highways that don’t see a lick a traffic after 9pm. Where the streets roll up at 5pm and it’s lights out by 10pm. Having lived in CT for a mere 6months (which really isn’t that much of a city compared to some) I was relieved when we moved back to Maine.

    In the city I felt confined, claustrophic and out of my element. I got lost so many times I worried I’d never make it home. I enjoy visiting the city and seeing all the sights, but living there on a day to day basis, isn’t my reality. I need wide open spaces and lots of trees and to hear the birds wake me in the morning and the peepers put me to sleep at night.

  21. This “no Negroes, no shirt, no shoes, no dogs, and no Indians.” Should have said, No shirts, no shoes no service, no hippies, no Negros, no dogs, no Indians.

  22. They day my parents drove into Phoenix, Arizona in 1959 my mother was pregnant with my older brother and the KKK was setting fire to the black communities, and the fire and police departments were ignoring the situation. Growing up Christian and white I had access to absolutely everything. I entered doors that said no Negroes, no shirt, no shoes, no dogs, and no Indians. I was little at the time and didn’t know what a Negro or Indian was and couldn’t figure out why someone would bring their dog to a store or restaurant. I remember when an African American family with two boys the same age as me and my brother, Leroy and Ronnie, moved in across the street from us. They would put on their cowboy boots, vests, and hats, as would my brother and I, and we would run up and down the sidewalks shooting at each other, with them on their side of the street, and my brother and I on our side. We would shoot at each other, fall dead get back up and go at it again and again. I was five my brother six. I remember I kept asking my mother why we couldn’t go over and play with them or have them come and play with us. I never got an answer, but one day after I had been asking her again and again she finally said, “Go, go play with them and they can come over here.” I can remember how excited Chris and I were we couldn’t wait to run over to their house and knock on the door. Which is exactly what we did as soon as the words were out of my mothers mouth. I never asked her why we suddenly could. The question never entered my mind. Until the summer before my 8th birthday me, my brother, my best friend Karen, and Leroy and Ronnie went on a lot of cowboy adventures. In this state you take your victories where you can and you don’t question them.

    • It’s amazing how different our childhood experiences can be growing up in different regions of the country. I’m so glad your mother let you play with the kids across the street. I’m sure it doubled the fun for you and your brother. 🙂

  23. I wonder how I would have turned out if I grew up in New York. We left Staten Island when I was 5 and have been here in Miami next 57 years. Being quite adventurous I probably would have been involved in “adventurous” things. And they probably would not have been with positive associations. Probably bad things which are so easy in which to be involved with Italian heritage if you know what I mean. Tamer Miami was probably the best for me. It is no longer tame anymore, however from corruption to dope to street violence. The contrast between glamour and filth is quite dramatic.

  24. As a native Californian, a rare species, I get what you’re saying. There’s no place like home, even when folks are bashing it. I love NY and will be going there this fall. For now, I shall love my home and it’s 80 degree weather in January!

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