Hashtag throwback Thursday. It has been fifty-seven days since the presidential election of 2016, and there are pinpricks of light in the darkness. I see it in the way people are trying to notice one another. I see it in the daily actions on social media and hear it in the quiet talks at bars and coffee shops. It is in the slowing down to enjoy the ordinary moments with the people we love. It is the beginning of the new year. With it comes the hope of the future, the idea that we can be better, more loving, more accepting, calmer, more patient. Here is a photograph of my father. There is the onyx pinky ring that I put on as a child. He is wearing the Christmas sweater I bought him and wool pants against the Buffalo winter. He is holding the cup that has been in our family’s cupboard since I was a boy. My mother made me tea in it when I was sick. We colored eggs at Easter in it. He is eating a sweet pastry he should not be eating, but once in a while is okay he would say. The pastry is my grandfather. The ring is my father. The cup is my mother. The wool is the winter of the east side of Buffalo, New York. Here is the revolution. The revolution is remembering the past for its hardship and struggle and seeing the successes and failures of time. My father carries within him the history of my mother and his father and his mother. I remember I need to ask him if my grandfather wore a pinky ring. I remember I need to ask him how he and my mother moved through the difficult times. It is sometimes in the darkest times that the brightest lights can be seen if you know how to look. Here is my father against the cold of the long Buffalo winter with a hot drink and a sunshine of pastry. He will wash the cup out with a blended whiskey, like his father once did. He will savor the pastry, the sweetness of the sugar on the tongue that for a brief moment pushes everything that is dark away.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. It has been thirty-six days since the election and every day the news brings despair. The cold fronts are sweeping down from the arctic and pushing us inside to the warmth of our homes where we flip the light switches on against winter’s darkness. I have become late period painter Mark Rothko, abandoning the yellows, bright reds, and oranges of my youth on the east side of Buffalo, New York, in favor of blacks, burgundies, grays, and deep greens. This is what happens in old age, but this is also what happens at any age when despair is heavy and sits on your chest and makes it difficult to breathe. It is important to remember this. It is important to be aware of the burgundies and grays and it is vital to remember the yellows and oranges. This is what I want to share with you, here in the middle of the night, squinting through the darkness to write this, I want to share with you that I have not forgotten the yellows and oranges though they have become fuzzy. On the east side of the Buffalo, New York, in my youth, a patch of land was scraped and leveled. I cannot remember what stood in its place before the scraping and leveling, but I remember what they put in its place. Though I didn’t know it then, the scraping and leveling was the beginning of a long decline of my neighborhood. In place of the thing that I cannot remember that occupied that corner, they built a Burger King. The corporation had come into the neighborhood with its cheap shiny construction. In the opening week they gave away New York Yankees cards with cheeseburgers and I built a collection of Bucky Dents and Thurman Munson’s. My grandmother loved the french fries and we would walk the block from her house past the Baptist church that always seemed closed, to order fries and if I was lucky, a drink and sit on the curved orange plywood benches. She ate them one by one and the cars outside passed and we watched them pass. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just say in silence. She watched me eat french fries and I watched her eat french fries and then we walked back to her house, maybe stopping to say hello to someone on a porch, me kicking at weeds, or looking at a stack of newspapers tied with twine and set out on the curb, a dog barking in the distance. This is what I remember, in the darkness, there is light and we carry it within ourselves and it moves us forward. It is the middle of the night, and it is cold, and winter dark, but my Nonnie is eating a french fry and the light is streaming in, bathing her in something true and golden. We are walking down the street again, before the corporation, before the weight and despair, when the light was in the hand you held and in the eyes of all the people you loved and loved you back.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. It has been thirty days since the election and I am as angry, full of despair and despondent as ever. And it is the beginning of winter and it is coming on Christmas which has its own challenges with the melancholy of remembrance. I am throwing it back to the winters of my youth to help myself put the despair into perspective, to narrow the focus to the moment we are in while carrying with us the moments that have made us who we are. In the very early morning, it comes back to me, the white of winter, the biting wind, the raw smell of cold when entering a heated house. The house itself, a furnace kicking on, the coveted spot before the metal register, a telephone cord, a basket of yarn. I am sitting on the radiator at my grandmother’s house again, the white of winter obscuring the houses across the street. I am in the blowing snow again, where the wind stops your breath until you have to turn and walk backwards for a moment to catch your breath from the battering, then turning again head bent into it and following the bootpack on the sidewalks. I don’t remember anyone in my family ever complaining about the cold, about winter. It was homemade soups and pots of red sauce. It was gnocchi and polenta and a bottle of red wine against the winter. It was the way my mother would tie a scarf around my neck when I was little. It was that Christmas when all I wanted was a pair of moon boots and got them. I was an astronaut every time they made a new track in fresh snow. it was this and more, it was the way winter made time slow and the way it made the sounds of rushing life quiet or muffled for a moment and left you with yourself again. On the east side of Buffalo, New York, the winter storms came in over the lake, picked up the moisture and dumped it on the city. The neighborhood was a fresh sheet of paper. It was endless and open and expansive. For a moment everything from before was erased. It’s important to remember this. The feeling of first snow when everything is new and can be redrawn. When more is lost than found, it is important to remember that in the middle of winter there is quiet and hope and through the darkness you find yourself walking toward the light of spring.
Hashtag throwback Thursday. It has been twenty-three days and I’m still trying to make sense of the election. I’m not sure I will. I wake up in the middle of the night and think the thoughts that come and come and come. I’m thinking about reading and comprehension. I’m thinking about news and propaganda. I’m thinking about the libraries of my youth on the east side of Buffalo, New York and how each book I read opened a door to an entirely different world and allowed me to see through and read between the lines of the moments and people in my life. I’m thinking about the city bus that I took to high school. It was the #19 and I waited for it at the end of my street. It took me through and out of the neighborhood, past the University, to my school. Every morning I waited with an elderly black woman who I let get on first. She sat in the first seat at the front. I liked to sit in the very back so that I could get a good view of everyone, and then make up little stories about them in my mind. Here is the thing about the #19 I want to share with you. Lying awake at night and remembering the #19 as an old man it occurred to me how democratic that bus was and how much it shaped how I came to approach people. A year or two into school, a teacher of mine who was also my running coach got onto the #19, which was unusual considering he almost always ran home, I’d see him sometimes from the window. It was a blustery winter day, he got on, saw me and sat down next to me. He pulled out a folded New Yorker story he had ripped out of the magazine and gave it to me. Thought I might like it. He told me about where he grew up in the neighborhood, his family and then his stop came and he got off. I watched him walk through the snow in the center of the street as we pulled away. We passed Anacone’s Inn, a bar I would underage drink in, and then back into my neighborhood which sagged with the weight of the economy. Thinking about it again in the middle of the night, it struck me that my teacher took the same bus I took and it was no big deal. I took the bus with the elderly black woman who sat in the front. We said hello to each other, I let her on first, or she demurred and let me go ahead, and we sat. I made up stories about the greasy mechanic and the woman with the bags who arranged them and rearranged them. I made up stories about the University students, and the office workers, and the elementary school kids with powdered donuts around their mouths. I looked, and with the light from the window streaming in, they all became me. The stunned, tired old grandmother with her granddaughter on her lap was me, and I was the granddaughter too. I was the elderly black woman in the front, and I was the bus driver too. I was the teacher and the mechanic and the University student before I was a University student. I saw in them the struggle of life, of too little money, problems, and old clothes, but I saw their smiles too and the courtesy they extended by moving a bag or wiping melted snow off of a seat so someone could sit. That is what I remember most, the way an old handkerchief was unfolded and used to wipe away the wet to make room for someone who had been standing for too long and just needed a seat with a view of their world in a big plate glass bus window.