I used to have a co-worker and friend who would look at me sometimes and declare, “You’ve been here too long.” It was a private joke between us as we were both East Coasters, born and raised in New York. She had moved to Goshen from Connecticut for a few years because of her husband’s job. We bonded over our East Coast heritage and her accent and personality reminded me of one of my aunts.
I recently received confirmation that I’ve officially “been here too long” as I made The News’ “Back When” section of the paper. I was surprised to see my photo in that section a couple of weeks ago — the photo was taken when I was filling in for my youngest son at NorthWood’s Swap Day (and way before I began writing for the paper.) And when I saw the photo that was the first thought that came to my mind.
“Wow. I’ve been here too long if I’ve made the ‘Back When’ section!” I said.
And the truth is, I have been here a long time. Long enough that I have a history and roots here now. In a place where I once felt so out of place — an outsider, a stranger — I now feel at home.
I’ve started to become amused by the fact that I still consider myself a New Yorker when the reality is I’ve lived in the Midwest for the majority of my life. I moved away from New York when I was 18. But, I also know that is part of the DNA of native New Yorkers. The “once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker” mindset.
That’s nothing against the Midwest or any other region or state in the union. It’s just an inbred pride of being a New Yorker with all its diversity, cultures, challenges and uniqueness. The solidarity of friends who huddled together in lobbies of apartment buildings to keep warm in the winter that exists and maintains for a lifetime.
When I think of my NY friends — male and female — and the fact that we mostly became friends in our early teen years, it’s amazing that those bonds have remained so strong. We always said as we hung out together in the city parks that we were family. Romances between us came and went but the friendships remained. Years, decades and miles have separated us and I doubt we’ve all gotten together three times in the last 40 years but yet the connection and the love remains.
Facebook has helped reconnect us more regularly and a recent posting is a great example.
One of “the girls” who actually moved away when she was 14 to Florida and then as an adult to Arizona is (like me), single and became disabled from a back injury. In recent years she’s also had some heart problems.
A mutual friend posted that money was tight for Laura and she needed to have a medical test done … could we pull together and help? Within 48 hours apparently the money had been sent. One of our “gang” was in need and we answered.
But while my connection to those people and that place will always remain strong and in my heart, Elkhart County has become my second home.
When I first moved to the area one thing that bothered me was going out to stores and not having anyone recognize me and vice versa. Even though I lived in a large city in NY I was always running into someone I knew. So when it dawned on me that something seemed weird — that was one of the things I pinpointed. It may sound silly but it makes a difference as to whether a place feels like home or not.
I’ve been here long enough now and have worked with the public most of the time that whether I’m in Nappanee, Goshen or New Paris, I run into someone I know. And lately, several of those “someones” have commented on that archived photo of me that appeared recently.
“Hey, I saw a picture of you from way long ago,” they’ll say or, “Did you see your picture in that Back When section?”
One sweet woman in New Paris who knows me from my column and met me several years ago at the Nappanee Apple Festival was the most recent. She told me, “I cut it out because I know you.”
I was really touched by that. That she felt she knew me enough that she wanted to clip that photo out of the paper. (Because trust me, a glamour shot it was not!)
So, yes, I’ve been here too long. Long enough to have great friends, past co-workers, regular readers who recognize me from my columns, past and current customers and long enough to have established an awesome, dynamic and supportive church family.
I don’t know that I’ll ever stop saying, “I’m originally from New York,” but know that when I run into you on the street or at the drugstore seeing your smile makes me feel at home.
Denise Fedorow is a columnist and correspondent for The Goshen News. Her column appears every other week. She wishes everyone a blessed Thanksgiving!