Where We Come From, and Where We’re Going

For the past two years, I’ve spent part of the holiday season in Rochester, New York. It’s a city whose significance to me is twofold: it’s my boyfriend’s hometown, and it’s also where my maternal grandparents grew up before settling in Toledo. My first trip to Rochester was a whirlwind, leaving no time to map my roots there, but this visit promised to be more leisurely. And so, over Christmas Eve dinner, I casually asked my mother to dig up the addresses of her parents’ former homes, so I could drive by while I was there.

The request struck a nostalgic chord. As we drove to the airport the next morning, I learned more about my grandparents—my grandmother, especially—through her reminiscenses of them as people, not just as parents. How my grandmother, an occupational therapist for most of her twenties, made her way back to work as she raised three kids, beginning by driving across state lines one day a week to her part-time job in a hospital psychiatric ward. (My mother suggested that working with psychiatric patients may have actually been a respite from her lovable but, shall we say, boisterous children.) How she used her earnings from that job and subsequent ones to whisk the entire family away on a European vacation, all on her own dime. How she made moussaka for dinner parties before anyone else in Toledo knew what the heck it was. Hearing these long-buried anecdotes for the first time, I started thinking about all the things I’ve inherited from those who came before me.

When I touched down in Rochester, I took a field trip to see two of my grandparents’ former homes, imagining that by doing so, I could somehow glean a better sense of my place among the branches of my family tree. I saw my grandmother’s rambling house in the beautiful neighborhood of Cobbs Hill, its broad expanse of lawn being attended to by no fewer than three landscapers. I looked through the front window of my grandfather’s cheerful downtown duplex and tried to imagine my mother there as a little girl, being spoiled with chocolate cake for breakfast by her own grandmother.

Delving into one’s family history becomes a meditation on where we come from; a new year, of course, sweeps in thoughts of where we’re going. Predictably enough, “Where am I going?” is the big question I’m now grappling with in my own life—and likely will be for the forseeable future.

But before we left New York, Dan and I headed three hours east to spend a few blissfully unscheduled days in the Adirondacks. There were no thoughts of the future to distract us; only thoughts of the unseasonably un-snowy present. In tiny Northville, we tried valiantly to snowshoe on the gorgeous but melty trails at Lapland Lake, then warmed our chilly toes by the fireplace. We counted blue jays flying before the Sacandaga River’s backdrop; we glimpsed an otherworldly gray horse trotting alone in the open woods; we binged on the first season of Serial over wine and far too much pizza from one of the town’s two restaurants. As the threshold between 2014 and 2015, a dividing line between the past and the always-uncertain future, I’d call it as sure-footed a start into the unknown as any.

Camera: Canonet QL17 GIII
Film: Kodak Portra 400