Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Monday, August 02, 2010

Miss Westchester County

I hadn’t looked at my Facebook page in ages. Originally, I set it up with an alias name, a nom de guerre, figuring giving out one’s real name was rather dangerous. I also hadn’t looked at the e-mail account that served that Facebook page in as much time. I was surprised to discover a line-up of people I knew waiting for me to “friend” them on the alias account.

So much for secrets. So I changed it to my true name and now I have friends! One of the features of Facebook is that you can list your interests and activities for all the world to see. “Belle Likes Tea Parties!”

A couple of my new friends posted that they liked the Puerto Rican flag. I had to laugh. The same way I would at people who display the Irish or Italian flag. When I think of those people, I think of my mother (who’s still with us at this writing).

Mom was born in Manhattan, then lived with her grandmother on the Bronx/Westchester County border, in Lake Edenwald, which was a Scandinavian neighborhood in those days, in the Great Depression, days when every housewife swept not only her sidewalk but her section of the street until they all met in the middle.

Mom took a job with an architectural trade paper. Although she began as a clerk, she demonstrated enough intelligence and initiative that they soon gave her a job as a reporter. A field reporter, which in those days, was a job for men. Visiting construction site wasn’t considered fitting for a lady.

But Mom did it; in high-heeled shoes, no less. Westchester County was her beat. She loved Westchester County. She had lived on its border, she worked there, she was married there, two of her three children were born there.

But in those days, Westchester County was the way New Jersey is now; heavily taxed. After trying out California, my parents returned east to live in New Jersey. The houses were cheap, jobs were plentiful, the schools – well they weren’t so hot – but the taxes were low. New Jersey was an ideal state for a young, middle class family.

Once here, though, the locals practically greeted her with “Hee-haw! Welcome to our town!” My parents were aghast and my mother was heart-broken, pining for the Westchester County of her youth.

I think if they had a flag of Westchester County, she would have gladly bought one and hung it outside our New Jersey home, the way other people hang Irish, Italian, or Puerto Rican flags.

She took us to visit her friends back in Westchester County as often as she could until we were as familiar with their highways as with our own. As we grew up, she told us wonderful tales of Westchester County, as though it were a long-lost Camelot.

We children, meanwhile, were New Jersey, through and through, with a little California thrown in for good measure. My older brother might recall something of Westchester County, but my first memories were the palm trees of Los Angeles, and finally, our house in New Jersey. My younger brother was born here in the Garden State, and that’s all he know, though he travels just as often as he can, all around the world.

My ex-sister-in-law felt something akin to my mother, I guess. She wrongly assumed my brother had inherited that same passion for a cultured life, not the backwoods dullness of the northern New Jersey woodlands (I don’t know – I though it was pretty exciting, discovering The Iron Door).

She was so disenchanted with the New Jersey suburbs, she left my brother and moved to the other side of the world for a change of scenery – and cheap household labor. We offered to bury my mother in Westchester when the time comes, but she says that my father is buried here and we’re here, so there’d be no use in going back to Westchester now.

Everybody has their flag, I suppose. Mom’s is Westchester County. My ex sister-in-law’s flag is India. My Facebook friends, Puerto Rico. I don’t know that I’d particularly want to hang out the New Jersey flag. One of my friends is now a California gal and so are her daughters, although they were born here in the Garden State.

But I am rather fond of the American flag. The American flag sort of says it all. Wherever you go, whatever locale you have a passion for, you’re at least still an American, whether you want to live in the mountains of Vermont, the deserts of Arizona, the Kansas prairie, the North Slope of Alaska, or some sun-drenched Hawaiian island.

That’s the beauty of being an American. You’re free to live wherever you want, which is not always the case in other countries. Yes, we have minor skirmishes over whether California is better than Texas, whether it’s nicer to have four seasons, as in Connecticut, or one, long season of sunshine in Florida (with a few hurricanes thrown in).

There’s something for everyone in America, all sorts of climates and environments. But most importantly, there’s freedom.


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