Almost like home

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 16, 2006

I usually get the same reaction when I tell someone I’m from New York. The person’s face twists with excitement as images of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and that perfect slice of pizza flash across their eyes.

But then as I explain that I’m from upstate New York around Lake Ontario their faces shrink back and then suddenly they slip into a state of confusion.

It’s a land not many know about, but it’s the New York I know.

I grew up seeing the apple and cherry trees turn white and pink with blooms in the spring. I spent time helping pick grapes and strawberries to turn into jam. The landscape was filled with trees and fields with perhaps a tractor chugging in the distance.

Agriculture is a huge part of New York State’s economy. Each year the agricultural economy rakes in billons of dollars from its several kinds of crops including apples, cherries and grapes.

I was always teased when I was younger for living out in the country. When my cousin, Drew, from the “big city” of Rochester, would visit he would sit in front of the television moaning because he was in Wayne County. It was seventh ring to him. It was the absolute worse place to be for a 14 year old when he could be shopping in a mall.

He’d sigh after asking my aunt for the tenth time if they could go home and then sputter something derogatory about people who lived in rural areas.

I was accustomed to that line between urbanites and country people. In upstate New York you’re either from Buffalo, Rochester or Syracuse, otherwise you’re from somewhere that simply didn’t exist.

To me there was always plenty to do. I could take a walk, go to the beach, hang out with friends or read a book out on the back deck. Sure, the nearest movie cinema was 20 minutes away and the mall an hour. And when my family wanted to we would make those trips.

Not to say there weren’t times when I wanted to get out of our small town. The time comes for most children to find their feet. And eventually I did leave.

The first time I left it was for college. Though soon after, I found myself making the hour trip back to my hometown for the weekends.

The second time I left I moved to Charlotte. Yes, a big city. In some ways I felt like a sellout, but opportunity in the form of an internship had brought me there. The four months in Charlotte hardened me a bit in some ways. The pace of life was much faster, the car horns much louder and people didn’t know anyone outside their own worlds.

After returning to Charlotte from a trip home for graduation, it took me 12 seconds in traffic to realize that I was and always would be a small town girl.

I was happy to be coming back to a small town when I learned I had got a job with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

I remember driving out for the interview, seeing the lonely houses sparsely scattered beside the road along with forests, cotton fields and rivers rolling by.

At first it was a little bit of a culture shock after living in Charlotte for the past year. I drove like a maniac compared to those that I passed, and I kept waiting for a group of tall buildings to rise in the distance. When I got here for a moment I felt like Drew.

But when I moved in, I realized it was like being back home. Yeah, the people talked different and New York doesn’t grow cotton, but it felt like home to me.

New York will always be home but I’m glad to have found a little piece of home here, in Eastern North Carolina.