My Hometown

The iconic Stony Brook Post Office.

Happy New Year!

There’s a funny segment on the new Netflix special “Springsteen on Broadway” when Bruce talks about his love hate relationship with his hometown, Freehold N.J.

The legendary singer-songwriter talks about wanting to get out of Freehold—after all he was “born to run.”

On the one hand, the town was boring, stifling, depressing, and full of pain and sorrow. But it also was full of life, family, friends, adventures, memories and dreams of a better future.

After busting out of New Jersey to find fame and fortune, Bruce could have lived in any exotic locale in the world, but he ended up living….wait for it…. ten minutes from his hometown. It’s a laugh line in the show—and illustrates the ties that bind. (As an aside, we visited Freehold this summer and we thought the town was lovely.)

I felt some of the same emotions about my hometown of Stony Brook, N.Y.

It was a wonderful place to grow up but by the time I was in college I wanted to see and experience other places. And after four years of snow and biting cold in Oswego, N.Y. I wanted to live in sunshine bathed in palm trees with dolphins nearby. I found that place in Delray Beach.

Still, I miss my hometown. I think about it every day, and sometimes I’ll dream I’m still there.

I visited this summer for the first time in 14 years and it was emotional for me to be there. It’s amazing how much has changed and how much still looks the same. It’s also interesting to note that  you never forget your way around the backstreets.

I was greeted on every corner by a memory—most positive but some a little painful.  On Caterham Lane I saw the house that my mother loved—and she’s gone now— 20 plus years. This was the baseball field my grandfather –who was a hero of mine— stood and watched me pitch and he’s been gone over 30 years.

Truth be told, like Bruce, I could see myself living 10 minutes from where I grew up—but I doubt it’s in the cards. I found a new home here in Delray Beach and despite the complex emotions I have about this place—it seems like we all do— it’s become home.

We have a history here, we’ve raised kids here, we made friends, got involved, and then got very involved and over 31 years made a life for ourselves.

But watching “Springsteen on Broadway” which covers topics as diverse as fathers and sons, hometowns, the pull of the church, love, marriage, brotherhood and music I couldn’t help but wonder what kids growing up here think about their community.

Do they want to bust out of Boca and Delray and head to parts unexplored? Do they want to go off to college and then return and build lives here? What do they think of this place?

Last week, some of our kids were around for the holidays—one’s still at home, one is living in Tallahassee, one up the road in West Palm Beach and one recently moved to Cary, North Carolina.

It’s always fun to see their reactions when the now out of towners come back to Delray—where do they want to go, what places do they like, what do they miss?

I think they enjoyed growing up here. At least that’s what they tell me.

For selfish reasons, I wish those who left would have stuck around. But I also know that it’s important for people to find their own way in life and sometimes their own places.

But I also believe that it’s important to build places that make people want to stay. Or at the very least miss the place a little bit…..

Passings….

On a sad note, I wanted to mark the passing of a friend, Patsy Westall in December.

Patsy was an active Delray Beach resident serving on the board of the Beach Property Owners Association, working as a guardian ad litem among other civic endeavors.

I met Patsy when I served on the Delray city commission. She became deeply involved in our race relations initiative helping to lead one of our most active and effective study circles. Study circles are a diverse group of people who meet to discuss issues of importance and sensitivity. In Patsy’s case, her study circle embarked on community projects in an effort to unify the community.

When I left office after being termed out in 2007, Patsy came to my last meeting and read a poem into the record. It touched on race relations. I will share it below, but first I am happy to say we stayed in touch all these years, met for lunch and breakfast here and there and continued our discourse on issues great and small via email. I tell elected officials that the joy of service is the relationships you develop with a cross section of people if you care enough to make those connections. Some officials glide through their terms without those connections. I feel sorry for them, because they are missing out what’s most important and they are depriving themselves of what helps you become a better representative and a better person.

Patsy and I didn’t always agree on the issues of the day—although there was significant common ground and mutual respect. But we cared for each other and never allowed the disagreements to mar the bigger picture which was the betterment of our community and our friendship.

Patsy was also a connector and she introduced me to several other people who have become friends and touchstones over the years.

I will miss her. Delray will too.

Here’s the poem she wrote. In it, she gives me a hand. I’d like to return the favor.

“Race relations as a topic these days?

That can’t be an issue – not in Delray

We get along fine, all colors and creeds

For work in that area – is there really a need?

But Jeff saw a need, he’s really astute

Knew that our future was at the root

We must come together, share our deep thoughts

And ask whether we’re actually acting the “oughts”

Study circles emerged, a forum for “yak”

Where those who are “not me” can give me feedback

We talked of our pasts and where they have brought us

Our sharing was civil – there was seldom a fuss

But it became clear there was still work to do

Old patterns die hard in both me and you

There was fun in the talk – maybe Alan’s dredlocks

Or why the white men never wore socks

Susan, our scribe, not hip in black lingo

Studied her notes, on a test now she could “bingo”

There was always food and mostly good cheer

We did tire of subways and wished we’d had beer

But faithful we were to the challenge for new

Through both fun and pain, all of us grew

At the end of 8 weeks when the circle did end

We found ourselves asking, “What’s round the bend?”

There’s work to be done – are we not the ones?

To continue the struggle – to keep up the run?

So history we picked as a subject to tackle

On the surface it seemed not one to hackle

But as we dug deeper in the history of Delray

It was clear there was stuff we needed to say

Exclusion, omissions and plain faulty data

Who cares” you might say – but to us it did matta

Lori, our guru, who knew all the websites

Railed us with info so we could get it right

Susan, the scribe, she did rewrite

A task I assure you that was not labeled light

 

We continued our circles – the e-mails they flew

We gathered in homes – a good thing to do

And out of all this a changed history grew

Honoring some whose status is new

This may be a small step in the life of Delray

Who knows its impact – only history will say

But our study circle – Zion we’re named

Stepped up to the plate and stayed in the game

Ancestors long gone – we did this for you

And hope that our history reflects what is true

Then our sister Sharon, a pastor who cares

Was recently “dissed”, caught in crosshairs

Our circle we rallied and went to her church

Support we provide for those in a lurch

Can we fix the world – probably not

But impact Delray – we’ll give what we’ve got

So we come before you tonite as a group

To present what we think should go in the loop

Hat’s off to you Jeff, for taking a stand

As you leave here tonight we give you a hand.

More Passings…

Over the holidays we lost a few other very special people.

Fred Sergio, a legendary long time Delray Parks employee, passed just before his 102nd birthday.

Fred was a pillar at Miller Field, a wonderful gentleman and a touchstone for generations of Delray children. He’s a legend, pure and simple.

We also lost Bill McDonough, another long time resident and wonderful man. If you knew “Mac” you loved him. It’s just that simple. His wife Mable too….just nice people.

We got to know each other at various city events over the years. He used to attend the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfasts and could always be counted on for a positive word and a big smile. He will be deeply missed.

 

 

 

 

Homeward Bound

Beautiful Port Jefferson, N.Y.

This is a hyperlocal blog focused primarily on Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
But we also focus on cities, leadership, entrepreneurship and the general notion of community; what it means and how to build it.

So in the spirit of exploration I wanted to share with you some thoughts after a recent and all too brief trip “home” to the Port Jefferson/Setauket/Stony Brook area.
It’s where I grew up on eastern Long Island after being born and spending a few years in Queens.

It’s a beautiful area, magical in so many ways.

The older areas are truly historic with buildings dating to the late 1690s and early 1700s.
The area played a key role in the Revolutionary War with George Washington’s Setauket spies doing important work to defeat the British. Those days were recently depicted in a TV series and information about the spy ring is written on plaques and available on apps that give an oral history of the area.

We never lived in the historic parts of these towns, although we appreciated the older homes, wooded environments and colonial architecture.

My family and most of my friends lived in Levitt Homes, tract housing developed by the builder who invented suburbia after World War II.

Today, those homes are 50 years old plus and when I drove to see  a few of our old house (we moved around a lot) I could see the age on what was once so new. I enjoyed seeing the mature trees and for the most part the Levitt “sections” –as they were called— have held up well.

They are lovely in their own way and each street is filled with memories of community back when neighbors knew each other and when kids played outside until dark.

It was a magical time and we lived in a magical place. And as I shared with a best friend who grew up there with me, I’m grateful for the time spent here and saddened by the time that has passed.
I’m not sure when I will come back to Stony Brook. But I’m pretty sure that I will.

I feel very connected to the place.

It is and will always be home. The place where I went to school, where I lived with my parents and sister, where my grandparents (long gone but never forgotten) visited and where I met the best friends I’ve ever had and we experienced life’s adventures for the first time.

School days and favorite teachers and first crushes.
Parties and bar mitzvahs.
Little League, pick up basketball, stickball and football.
First cars, first loves, first everything.
Then, one day it ends.

And you go off—as you should– to explore new places, new experiences and new people.
But you never completely leave home and the experiences and the people that shaped you.

These are the people who support you, challenge you, push you and pick you up when you stumble and fall—as we all do.
I felt compelled to come home when I turned 40 and wanted to show a new love where it was that I came from. I thought if she saw the places that accompanied the stories and the personal history that we would grow closer and I think we did. I was also anxious to visit her hometown, Clairton, PA., a hardscrabble kind of place that explains a lot about who she became.

Fourteen years later, almost to the day, I felt compelled to return to my hometown.
I’m not sure why. Maybe its just important to touch —albeit briefly—your roots.
Your roots are what center and ground you.

I guess I needed a dose of home.