Memories of my Grandmother
Landing at LaGuardia airport, I am reminded of how dense this New York population is, how old and narrow the air terminals still are here, as compared to the newer ones I'm used to in the southwest. The people are incredibly diverse, not the 85% Hispanic I am used to at home in El Paso. Many languages, many types of dress, everyone in a rush, crushing into lines for busses, trains, cabs, and UBERS. AND THE NOISE!
My husband and I follow the outdoor path towards the rideshare area and wait 15 minutes for a car that seemed like it wasn't even moving toward us. Uniformed security walked the lines between the many rideshares, calling out names, keeping riders out the traffic and somewhat safe. I imagine this is a nightmare in the rain/snow, which we missed by only a few days.
Nice driver, quick ride into mid-town and we arrive at the hotel my grandmother, Anna Young, worked at in the 40's and 50's. She was "head of the linen room" she told my sister. A seasoned chamber maid, proud, gentrified and honorable in her position, she would take the subway down from the Bronx each day to mid-town to work for the rich people. What would she say to see me here today, her youngest granddaughter, staying for three nights as a guest? Grandma, do you see me? Do you see how happy I am to be here, walking the same well-worn marble stairs you walked? Using the same elevator you used? I'm in your hotel! It's beautiful, renovated and different yes, but still with some of the old fixtures in the dining room, New Yorker Cover page cartoon drawings are on the walls at each floor, and with the resident cat, Hamlet, (Grandma loved cats). It also still has the famous round table the "vicious circle" of writers, critics and artists used. I wonder if she met them, or even cared about who they were.
This is where the New Yorker started, this is where Dorothy Parker held court in the 1920's. It's a fascinating history, the literary spirit still alive and well in the breakfast room, which was once the Oak room, or, in the lobby with historical artifacts preserved in a glass case. The front desk offers you novels from a current publisher, you are free to select two to read during your stay. Free copies of the latest New Yorker can be found in your room. The literary history is kept alive.
And the location? Right in the theater district. 59th and 6th. We were here to see Springsteen, my New Jersey passion, live on stage, and we could walk to the venue, just a few blocks away at the Walter Kerr theatre. Amazing. Never thought I'd be able to do this in my wildest imagination as a teenager. Back then, it was all I could do to afford the train in and purchase one meal (pizza) and one trendy item from the street vendors. New York is thrilling, exhausting, maddening, and sorrowful all at once. My family history here is a tale of hard work, sweat and grit. My father used to say he worked his whole life to get out of that city and he had no need to go back in to visit. But he did. My sister Pat moved back in after college and never left. I made many trips in to visit her, before her lost battle to breast cancer at age 54.
My sister Linda meets us and we share tales of Grandma as we remembered her, spunky and soft and lyrical in song. Sweet, yet tough she lived in New York City most of her life. We ask the doorman if we can see the laundry room. He asks the manager's permission and we are told we can see the roof, that's where it was, but now it all goes out for cleaning. We meet the current staff and they are surprised we want to see the room, and touched as well. I feel my Grandma's spirit there, her hard work and promise of a better life for me. I'm so proud to walk in her path and know how hard she worked to survive the harsh city, Hell's kitchen, and then the Bronx. I wonder if Pat ever came here, or brought my mother in to visit the hotel? As I walk in central park, or through midtown, I feel her spirit as well, remember our shopping and museum trips, recall the exotic foods she had me try.
The next morning, we cab it down to the world trade center memorial and I swear I can feel the ghosts surrounding us, try hard not to look into the eyes of those around me suffering their own losses, try to focus on the new skyscraper, the testament to the true New Yorker resolve to move forward. Move on past trials and tribulations to something better. The last time I was here, the ashes of the dead covered the ground, steam still escaped from below, photos, flowers, thank you notes and testimonials to the emergency workers, firefighters, policemen and women, were posted on all the windows of the McDonalds. Never forget.
Ironically, the cab ride we tried to take to the Met was aborted mid-town because of traffic. The traffic was because of a fireman's funeral at St Patrick's Cathedral. He perished in a fire on a movie set, purposely set for filming. Horrific. How do people live here every day? How do they process all this drama continually? It takes guts to be a New Yorker.