When I was growing up, my family was in Long Beach regularly visiting my aunt Carol and uncle Rocco, friends of my parents who lived blocks from the ocean. My memory insists that it was always summer when we were there: barbecues, somebody’s birthday. And the Fourth of July parties, all-day affairs the adults would spend on the stoop eating burgers and macaroni salad while us kids—myself, my older brother, Carol and Rocco’s son, Matt, some neighborhood kids—played basketball in the street.
We were staying on the Upper West Side, 15th floor, view of the Hudson. Two hawks nested on the fire escape outside our bedroom window, their baby hawk’s head popping out of its shell. The male was wary. Very. One day, X ray vision on, he stormed the window from afar, a bolt from the blue looming larger, nearer, yeeks! Shot skywards just shy of crashing into the window.
East, west, and south, hardwood forests upholster hills named for their compass points, while to the north shines Cayuga, one of the Finger Lakes’ eleven glacial furrows. This is Ithaca, where, as it was when I grew up here forty years ago, the nearest Interstate is still thirty miles away. The aesthetic of those miles is rolling, agricultural, and often hardscrabble, with pro-fracking and “for sale” signs equally likely to appear on roadside barns. To drive to Ithaca is a commitment to the scenic route, metaphorically and visually, because there is neither a fast lane nor an unattractive one.
Seneca Falls has a much bigger place in history than it does in geography. It is usually mentioned only as the location of the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention, famously organized by women’s rights crusader, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. So rarely is it mentioned in any other context that one might think it did not exist before or after that event. It’s a small town, much like many other old mill towns in New England and upstate New York, and seems an unlikely setting for, as Stanton called her farmhouse home, “The Center of the Rebellion.” (Stanton was proud of having kept her birth name–Cady–after she married, but for purposes of brevity I call her Stanton here.)
The lav itself was tiny; its air felt warm and full. The walls of pale green tiles seemed to bend under a heavy film of water exhaled from my hot bath. Wet hair stuck to my face, which dripped with sweat. My cheeks burned. My eyelashes spilled water droplets so large I couldn’t see. I was sunk up to my neck in hot, sudsy bath water, soaking in my elixir of independence. I was taking my first bath on the first evening of my first day in my new home – the Y. My first day on my own. Ever.