Saturday, February 21, 2009

Times Change

Yesterday, I went to a planning meeting for the reunion of the grade school/church parish that I used to attend as a child. The church is now closed - a victim of the Buffalo Diocesan consolidations, while the school has been closed since the late 1980s. Despite its closure, the parish at one time used to be thriving. The history of not only this religious/academic community, but also the neighborhood in which it is located, is dear to the heart of those in my family. My siblings, aunt, uncle and I attended the school. We each made many Sacraments at the church. My grandfather and great uncle did much of the artwork within the church. Also, knowing that the church was destined to close, David and I chose to have Madeline baptized in the church (only 2 months before it closed its doors forever) even though it was no longer our home parish.

Much of why this church/school declined was a result of the deterioration of the neighborhood in which the parish community was located. The 70's and 80's saw many families moving to the suburbs of Buffalo. Things began to change in many ways. With the changes, many families got scared and moved out too....which brought about more changes. Before long the neighborhood that we were raised in became a crime ridden area of Buffalo's inner city.

Yesterday, I was back in the neighborhood for reunion planning (In case you are wondering the reunion won't be held in that neighborhood. Many people are too scared to venture back). The reunion will also be a fundraiser for the non-for-profit agency that is housed in two of the campus' buildings. (They offer transitional housing for homeless single parents) Anyway, each time I head back to the neighborhood my heart aches to see the changes that have occurred. The businesses that were once thriving establishments are gone - either boarded up or replaced with some cheezy storefront operation. The houses that were once meticulously cared for are now mostly deteriorated or boarded up and vacant. (Luckily the house that I grew up in is still somewhat well cared for) On the way to the meeting I drove past a house that I always used to admire. It was on the corner of Gerald and Roebling (I think the Eberle family used to live there). How sad, this pretty home was boarded up. On the way back from the meeting, I drove down Newburgh and past the house my paternal grandparents used to live in. Two doors down was the house my aunt & uncle owned. On either side of my aunt's house were the houses of grade school friends of mine (who I still keep in touch with). I snapped this photo (above) of the current view of my grandma's old house. Now it just looks like a run down inner-city dump but in my childhood, when my grandma lived there, it was pristine and cared for with great pride. I think my grandma would be rolling in her grave.

Also, part of the plan for today's meeting was to navigate through the school's old lyceum building to hunt for memorabilia to display at the reunion. In October 2007, while my family was in town for Madeline's baptism, a small scale reunion was held at the school. Although much of the building was empty even at that time, it was so much fun to go back into the building and reminisce. I was so looking forward to today's visit. How sad - the little bit that was left in the building at the time of the reunion was pretty much gone. Also, with the heat and power off, that sort of altered my mood for the scavenger hunt (it was so cold you could see your breath in there and my hands were pretty much numb when I left). We were, however, able to scrounge up some items but much had changed even in the year + since I had been there last. This picture of me was taken at the reunion in October '07. This statue was on the stairwell leading to the classrooms. Although the school building smelled exactly the same way it did "back in the day", as you can see below, even the statue is now gone.

Time goes by, things change, but in many ways our memories freeze and preserve the past. The memories take us back to simpler times and happy childhood days. It is quite jolting when things aren't as pleasant as your mind has preserved them to be. How sad is the realization that your past is simply just that - the past, which except for those memories, is lost forever. That realization is of course always known, but seeing the passage of time represented in the deteriorating neighborhood gives me a dull ache in my heart. I guess that is the hazard of being a nostalgic person. But, luckily, those memories do not change and it is those pictures, in my head, that I return to in order to feel close to my childhood, my family, my roots. Thanks, Mom & Dad for providing me with such a pleasant landscape for which to have painted my childhood memories!


Marysia said...

Wow! I'm glad we had the opportunity to get into the school when we did. Grandma's house, although RED, looks better than the last time I saw it. Weren't we together when we went by there several years ago and it was vacant. There is a solid front door now, too. The dusting of snow helps the lawn look better.
What a beautiful church and such a shame that it is now closed. Mike and I were married there.

Amy said...

Yes, it does look better than when it was vacant and chipped paint was FUSHIA!

All I kept thinking when I was at St. Gerards the other day was thank God the whole family was able to attend the last reunion at the school.

Marty said...

Great post, Amy. The old neighborhood really is a sh*hole now, but whenever I've gone back there I've felt the sad tug of the nostalgia you mention. My kids have only ever known the dilapidated place we've taken them to see now and then since they were little. But 50 years ago it was a real neighborhood. I think it started going to hell when you were born...

And I mean that is coincidental It's kind of amazing to me that you remember so much good about it. By time you were old enough to know anything, it was already well along the path to being a ghetto...

Amy said...

Ohhhh.....I grew up "in the 'hood". So I have some street smarts....better watch your step big brotha :-P

Seriously, I have a pretty good memory from my early childhood - ages 4, 5, 6 etc. It was still a pretty nice neighborhood until I was about 10 or 11 - kept getting a little crappier every year after that. Finally, Mom & Dad decided to get us out of there right after I graduated from high school. In fact my high school graduation party was the last big shin-dig at the house on Proctor.

I think most every one that used to live in that neighborhood feels the same way we do. I am getting such a HUGE response for the Gerard's reunion. It seems everyone wants to reconnect with not only former schoolmates but get a piece of the old neighborhood back by reconnecting with old neighbors. It has been fun hearing stories from others when they call me for reunion information.