I remember reading a poem with that title shortly after 9/11. As the 13th anniversary of 9/11 looms painfully on the horizon, I can’t help but feel the pain of my city as I remind myself that I too, am a New Yorker.
See, I am a New Yorker, although I don’t live in New York any longer. I didn’t abandon the city. Business opportunities have taken my family and me to different states and cities over the years. But that doesn’t change my feelings for New York; most assuredly I am a New Yorker.
I was born in New York City and was raised on the city streets. I went through grade school, high school and business school in New York. I shopped on the avenue in little family owned ethnic stores. We had a neighborhood candy store where we could get egg creams and Dixie Cups with celebrity pictures on the lids. Of course you could also purchase the newspaper by simply picking one up and tossing the coins on the counter of the outdoor stand. And back then we had a selection of many; The daily News, The Daily Mirror, Journal American and Herald Tribune, just to mention a few. I married in my local parish church to the boy I met in grade school. I worked in the city. I am a New Yorker.
I have ridden the buses and trains. I have played high and seek in Grand Central during my younger school years. I have roller skated in the streets, danced on the concrete in Central Park, the 36th street park and at Kips Bay Boys Club on Friday nights when Martin Block would bring celebrities in to entertain us. I’ve ridden the trolley and the 3rd Avenue El, I’ve swam in the waters of Coney Island, and Rockaway. I’ve eaten hot dogs from the street vendor and tossed pennies out the window to the organ grinder so his monkey would do a trick while he played a tune. I’ve plugged nickels into the coin slot at Horn and Hardart for a corn muffin after First Friday mass. I marched with my high school, Cathedral HS, in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. My graduation was held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. My graduating class was 1065 girls!
The smell of roasting chestnuts still makes me yearn for the days of a younger New York. And, oh, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and the magical windows on 5th Avenue around Christmas time and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Pageant. And the thrill of ice skating at Rockefeller Center with the tree standing majestically overhead.
And if you were raised on the east side of New York you surely know about the Pepsi Cola sign and the East River. I still prefer Pepsi to Coke. I am a New Yorker.
One doesn’t have to live in New York to still proclaim to be a New Yorker. I have been a New York Yankee fan since the day I went to my first Yankee game with my Dad when I was about 6 or 7. I am a New York Giants fan. I love Macy’s and although there is nothing like shopping in Macy’s 34th street, I support the Macy’s where I live. I wouldn’t miss a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and I never miss a chance to visit Macy’s when ever I am in New York visiting family. I hope they never replace the wooden escalators on the 7th avenue side.
And then for me there is nothing like stepping out of the airline terminal when traveling back to New York and listening to the sounds of the city to let me now that I am home.
So as 9/11 approaches I mourn for the city that was when I was growing up. The city where you could leave your sleeping child outside the storefront in the carriage while you shopped. Where people said Merry Christmas and God Bless You. Where we lived together, Christians, Jews, Italians, Germans, Irish, and Polish. It didn’t matter, we were all New Yorkers. We joked about Manhattan being the real New York City to those living in Brooklyn or the Bronx. Staten Island was a foreign country! But in the end we were all New Yorkers.
What savagery! Although the pain was deep I was so proud of my city in the days following 9/11. The strength, compassion, patience, promise and determination of the people just gave the assurance that New York was going to survive. But, of course, New York would survive. New York has gumption. New York has moxie!
And we had Rudy Giuliani and President Bush to give us the confidence to believe that we would indeed survive.
The memorial is built and it is a beautiful tribute to the men and women and children who died that day. The courage and perseverance of the policemen and firefighters cannot be applauded enough. It honors them too. It’s difficult to visit the memorial with shedding tears. The reverence of the Memorial is unmistakable.
No matter where I live or where I travel, I encounter New Yorkers. People who love this city and are also proud to say, “I am a New Yorker”. Yes, I am a New Yorker. I didn’t abandon my City. I may live elsewhere, but I love New York.
On this day I pray, God Bless America and God Bless our Troops and all those who serve so that we may be free! And may God Bless and shed Grace on New York.