“So tell me,” Tia asked Nana, “how did you get to Buffalo?”
“Oh, I’ve been here all my life,” she replied. “Buffalo wasn’t always the way everyone thinks about it.”
“How was it different then? What was it like before Buffalo was- well, went through some bad times?”
“If you were going to say ‘in decline,’ well, Buffalo’s been that way as long as I’ve lived here. Something you have to know about this city: People here keep talking about how it always used to be better. Depends on who you ask; when I was younger and they celebrated the Pan-Am Exhibition’s centennial, there was talk about how it never got any better after 1901. And then some folks, they say that when the highways came, it killed the train hub after the Second World War. And I had grandparents that could tell stories about the closing of the last steel plants and how that just sent things down from there.
“But you know, the thing about living in Buffalo is, it’s not that it used to be better, but that we make it work, and for all that you can say about the past, it’s still a good place to live. I guess it’s more what you feel about a place than anything, and people who live here, they feel it and they like it. I don’t know if I have a better way to put it or not, but that’s just me.
“I’ll give you an example: A few years ago, when a lot of people who lived on the west side were being forced out because you had all these people who had enough money to move here, who didn’t all leave the country before it got really bad and started buying out the older homes after they had to move inland when New York and all those other east coast cities couldn’t be kept dry from the seas and storm; they all wanted to remove the plaque from Fordham Drive.
“Which plaque?” Tia asked.
“The one from 1901. There’s a plaque on Fordham Drive, where they built the Pan-Am exhibition, where William McKinley was assassinated. He was the first US president killed by a terrorist, and the people who had pushed out the longtime residents, forcing them to sell and using other tricks, they wanted to remove that because they thought it was too depressing or morbid; hell, I don’t even remember all the BS excuses they gave for wanting to get rid of it, but something funny happened.
“You see, you had a lot of people who’d moved in to the west side only a few years ago, people who fled New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, a lot of places that stayed under water or could never rebuild fully because there wasn’t enough money to keep them open after every bad season, and a lot of these people had only lived in Buffalo a few years. You would think they’d have been sympathetic to removing the plaque, having the same interest in being able to afford their old lifestyles in a new place where it was cheaper and all, but what surprised everyone was that, they sided with us older residents who said, what are you, crazy? This is a big piece of history here; yeah, we had a president die during our moment in the sun, but we’re not so proud that we’d try and hide that.
“There were a lot of people who just said, leave it there, dammit. There were far more people who stood up for that plaque than the ones who got upset when the Sabers left for Saskatoon before then, or the ones who rioted when they wanted to dig up everything west of Dewitt Street and turn that into a minefield once the war ended. And you know why these people in Buffalo want to remember William McKinley?”
“Why?” Tia finally asked after Nana stared at her for an uncomfortably long time.
“Because we’re not afraid of the past. We can argue if it may or may not have been better, but the bad parts, we can talk about it. We make mistakes, all of us, and it does no good to hide that.
“But we’re still here, and we have stuff to do. You don’t let it hold you back, you make the best of it, and you keep going. Which is why Buffalo’s still here; the British couldn’t burn it to the ground, we lived with a president dying here, we kept working after we lost our jobs, and the Canadians can’t scare us away.”
There was a long silence after Nana said her piece; the air was stuffed with insightful wisps of wisdom that Jenny hoped would last all night…
All content Copyright © 2012 James Ryan