It took me a long time to bleed orange.
A loooong time.
A long time to speak of my hometown, Syracuse, NY, with more affection than annoyance, more shout-out than shame.
Oh, I wanted to be a big-city girl. I wanted the melody of hustle and bustle, the endless glow of grand marquees and 24-hour fun. And it seemed like, back then, we all did. My high school classmates and I shared one ambition for life after graduation: to leave home and go far, far away. As far as opportunity and audacity and imagination could take us.
I complained that Syracuse was “boring” and so “corny” (this was an ’80s whine, after all) compared to the gloss and glitz of, say, Brooklyn, Atlanta or Accra. I wanted high fashion, celebrity sightings and top trends. (What flygurl wannabe wants to be in a place lauded for being great “to raise families?” Code phrase: boooring.)
But that was before I knew any better.
Before Life re-purposed my priorities.
Before I saw that all that glitters ain’t gold…and sometimes it ain’t even real metal.
Before I realized the snide “only boring people get bored” rebuttal was actually quite true.
Before I knew that attitude, flexibility, creativity and good company comprise 95% of fun.
I didn’t begin to appreciate my hometown until good fortune forced me. A full-ride to Syracuse University in 1992 dashed my Spelman dreams. (“Girl, you gonna turn down a full scholarship?!!!,” my parents asked…rhetorically.) And then four years of hearing “you don’t act like a townie” fertilized seeds of defense-driven appreciation. (“‘Ummm, ‘scuse me! If you don’t like Syracuse, then why are you here?!”)
But my big bang came last week during our holiday trip to Syracuse – 15 months after we moved to Belize. Going home brought my gratitude into full bloom.
Proof: Yesterday a neighbor asked if we saw “the ball drop” during our time in “States.”
Usually I would let the “you’re from New York so it must New York City” slip-up slide. But this time, I set it straight: “Oh, we’re not from New York City,” I said. “You follow NCAA basketball? You know about the Orangemen being the number one team in the country? Well, that’s where I’m from: Syracuse.”
Part of my brain was like, “What?!…Girl, go’on and let them imagine you among skyscrapers and Times Square.”
But my soul settled in truth: No need to perpetrate. Erie Boulevard, Westcott and 690-East have a special sophistication, CNY-style.
What produced such pride? Maturity, experience and exposure, I think. And, of course, love.
So many of the people I adore, call the ‘Cuse home. And I love them. I crave them. I bask in their company, their humor, their generosity and comfort. And I revel in an adoration dipped in Motown rhythm; “I don’t like you, but I love you. Seems that I’m always thinking of you…(Syracuse) You really got a hold on me.”
Thing is, Syracuse has not undergone an overhaul. I have.
No, it ain’t a Chocolate City (sweetie, it aint even Caramel). Yes, some spots still sob for integration.
No, downtown still doesn’t seduce with cosmopolitan sass. Yes, Shoppingtown still feels deserted.
No, it ain’t getting more sun. Yes, it’s still gray.
This love isn’t about the place, but the people. My people. And it’s not about random moments of excitement (Really, how often would I ice skate at Rockefeller Center if I lived in Manhattan?) but the collective experience.
Syracuse is where me and my four siblings shared a 10-speed with streamers flying from the handlebars at 506 Tallman Street.
It’s where my parents started our family enterprise – Grace Children’s Academy at Kennedy Square and 2223 E. Genessee Street.
Syracuse is where I married my husband: The Sheraton at Syracuse University, my alma mater.
It is where my second and third daughters were born (I love you Lynn Hickox, Midwife Extraordinaire!) at the Jim and Dede Walsh Family Birth Center at Community General Hospital.
It is also where my husband and I bought, and sold, our first home.
Syracuse is where I first fell in love, had my first kiss (Levy Middle School, second floor, near Ms. Davoli’s room; Orlando Mulero, a nut-brown Dominican with a curly ‘fro and silver Jesus piece…Lawdhamercee!) and survived my first heartbreak.
In Syracuse we cousins baked cookies at Aunt Diane’s, sipped Uncle Omanii’s world-famous lemonade, and spent every holiday eating collard greens with Sis.
I earned my first paycheck in Syracuse and bought my first car there, too, a “Mystic Magenta” Geo Storm I named “Sarafina.”
Beneath a slate gray tombstone, in the Muslim section of Oakwood Cemetery, is where my father, Jamal Grace is buried. My grandmothers, Sis and GrandUmmi, and my Aunt Sabriyah, rest nearby. My beloved, zany, dimpled, karate master, Uncle Vinnie, too.
This city is where I once held a whole one-and-a-half-hour conversation with my mother while sitting on her bed as we spoke to each other’s reflection in the mirror. Crazy, right?
But kinda cool, too.
In Syracuse, I am “one of the Graces.” I am “Ted and Jackie’s daughter.” And in Syracuse, that means something. It means I got people. Good people.
Isn’t having community, being part of a crew, belonging somewhere to somebody, what we all strive for? Sure, this ambition – more spirit-led than career-guided, for me – looks different in different places but if you squint and bend down real low and quiet your mind, this sentiment sings true: No matter how many miles I travel, no matter how alluring the city or awesome the nightlife, by sunset, I want to be with the folks who matter to me.
So, even from miles away, I’m stepping out of shame and insecurity and poppin’ my ‘Cuse collar. (I might even put an SU Alumni sticker on the mini-van. Who knows? Pride inspires possibilities, y’all!)
I do wonder, with all our Tewog trekking, what home-love we will imprint on our children. What place will feel familiar and precious to them? Part of me prays we ultimately “settle down” (a phrase that inspires angst for Zu) in a place awesome enough for them to stay, near us, always. (My own mama dreams of a multi-family ranch for all her children, and her children’s children. These days, ‘specially after several weeks chatting, face-to-face, in her living room, it sounds kinda lovely.) But I want my girls to fly, too. And to have the kind of boldness and courage that grows from confidence and security and, of course, love.
I pray that our family love draws them back to the nest, confident they can count on a pick-me-up before they launch into their next dream. I pray that we always feel like home to them.
Of course, all these are mama-made wishes. I trust their destinies will develop from their own divine compass. I trust Spirit to guide, and bless, their every step. Who knows? Maybe they’ll bleed orange, too.
So I suppose it’s true: Syracuse really is a good place to raise a family.
Lord knows, I been raised up and lifted, lifted!, by the love of mine.