Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Trip Home: Remembering Dad

One of the reasons I felt like I "needed" to go to NJ and NY was to help me remember my Dad. It was his job, his calling to ministry in the city and to planting churches, that moved us there. Dad was the one who introduced me to the hustle and bustle of the city and helped me to be able to say, "I "heart" NY."

On Saturday morning of my weekend up there, I got on the DeCamp #33 bus on Broad Street in Bloomfield and rode into Manhattan to meet Randel, my uncle and my dad's youngest brother. The emotions I felt as I rode the bus along Route 3 (up there we pronounce it, "root" not "rowt") and saw the Manhattan skyline and went through the Lincoln Tunnel were very mixed. I was excited, sad, a little nervous. I kept thinking of how my dad would ride the bus almost every weekday to get to and from his office on W. 72nd Street. While I was on the bus, I had the epiphany that one of the reasons I felt so compelled to go to NJ was that I was "looking for" my Dad. That was where I remembered him being young and active and unhindered by Parkinson's Disease. I also realized as I rode into the city that my Dad is not there. But memories of him are all over that place and that made me happy and comforted my heart and soul.

View of the Manhattan skyline from the bus, coming back out of the Lincoln Tunnel

My uncle moved to NY in 1982 to pursue a career in music and while he has had several career changes since then, he has become a New Yorker. When I turned 16, I was allowed to ride the bus into the Port Authority, where Randel was given instructions to meet me as soon as I got off the bus (or got into the main terminal). When Randel and I were talking on the phone prior to my trip, he suggested that we meet at the statue near the ticketing windows that was our old meeting place. And for the record, Randel was about a half hour late, just like he used to be when I was a teenager. It was just like old times!

The meeting place:  these statues have been there for as long as I can remember.

I had asked Randel to take me on the subway to go see where my Dad worked, at the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association. I told myself I'd be content to just walk by the building, but it was very special that we were able to go inside and get a quick tour to see the recent renovations to the six-story building. It was great to be able to reminisce about where my Dad's offices were (for the first few years, his office was a glass cubicle on the 2nd floor and then later he moved up to the 5th floor, to an office with walls and a door and a view of 72nd street).

Street view of the MNYBA building

In the renovated chapel at the MNYBA building, there are canvas prints on two walls with this verse written in the various languages represented at churches in the association.

After we visited the MNYBA building, Randel and I walked around that neighborhood and I quickly saw that things had changed a lot since I was a kid. The Royale Bakery, where my Dad would buy us special "bakery" cookies, is no longer there. The "green grocer" on the corner of 72nd and Broadway is now a several-story building with a Trader Joe's store on the street level. They have added a new subway station at that corner, although the old one is still standing and is in operation.

The "old" subway station at 72nd and Broadway

We walked up Columbus Avenue and onto another side street and found a restaurant with a side-walk cafe where we ate a nice brunch. Then we walked off our frittata and omelet (and potatoes) by going up to W. 80th Street to a specialty grocery store called "Zabar's" that is fun to walk through (very "New York"). We didn't really intend to keep walking all the way back down to the Port Authority at 42nd St. and 8th Ave., but that's what we did. And it was awesome to just walk in the city. It was fun for me to dodge the people on the sidewalk and to see things I remembered and new things that have been built over the years. It was great to just hang out with Randel in the city, like we used to do, and to talk about Dad and remember him together.

Randel bought me a pink New York baseball cap at a souvenir shop near the Port Authority and then took me back to my bus terminal and waited with me until the 4:00 bus got ready to board. As I rode the bus back to NJ and back to my friend's house, I realized that the day had been exactly what I had wanted it to be. And I was happy and content.

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