Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, the transition to Staten Island, New York was much more difficult than people could imagine. From an outsider’s perspective – I wasn’t moving that far away, it’s still within New York City, and I was moving to a grassy knoll out of the concrete jungle. But the culture was so incredibly different.
In Brooklyn, it was absolutely commonplace to hang-out on the “stoop,” as we called it. Everyone in the neighborhood would just sit outside or walk over to another neighbor and just talk, drinking coffee, to the wee hours of the night. There was no shortage of kids to play with; we were always outside, getting dirty, making up games, ringing each other’s doorbells. Brooklyn kids have a seemingly innate and astute ability to talk to all the right neighbors while maintaining a discerning distrust of strangers.
The first thing I noticed when I moved to Staten Island at 11 was the pristine lawns. We all had a front yard, with grass! But no one was ever outside. When people did go outside, it was only to water their lawns; no one spoke to one another. People didn’t even spend time in their backyards. I remember thinking, even at 11, how so much space pushed people further apart. From that transition, I developed a distaste and anger for Staten Island. I’m generally an introvert, but I sincerely missed people. I missed casual small talk and a neighborhood who watched over all the kids. I made it my point to go away to college.
When the beginning of student loans took over, and the insidious precipice that I would need to now support myself came to fruition, I had to move back in with my parents in Staten Island. I went kicking and screaming, but surviving on Ramen noodles was not the life I imagined. Suddenly, my newfound worldliness from college drove me to a greater rage against this “foreign” island. To me, everything seemed so small and ignorant, everyone was so stuck in their ultra-conservative ideologies; I felt like I was being forced into some Twilight Zone episode that transported me to the Mississippi River with Huck and Jim.
This disgust burned in my veins even further when I found my first teaching job in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I found myself staying late and spending my working hours in the neighborhood, just not to return to my forsaken island. And then a teaching job opened up in my dream school, my alma mater, which was my one saving grace as a teenager; I loved, and still love, my high school. My whole life was back on Staten Island, but none of my friends were. I crept into a dark place of work-home, with the first escape being when I met my husband, Frank, who lived in Long Island. I quickly spent every weekend out there.
When we finally got engaged, we decided it would be best to live on Staten Island, for the financial reason that my job was located there, and Frank would be looking for a new job upon his imminent graduation from business school. We found a cute little townhouse apartment in a quiet cul-de-sac in Richmondtown. After settling in, I noticed something; there were kids playing outside, there were neighbors sitting on their stoops. We made idle chat, complained about the rules of the community pool. Something was changing.
Then Frank and I started Bath, Body, and Candle Moments and we found ourselves at numerous vendor shows across Staten Island, networking with other small businesses and talking to local customers. We created bonds with local charities and established relationships with local venues. We found like-minded people, interested in rescuing animals, interested in natural skincare, people who cared about preservation of community and the environment.
I started exploring different neighborhoods, and taking advantage of the incredible preservation of history afforded to Staten Island. I built a relationship with Patricia Salmon, Staten Island Historian, and started reading all of her books. I now spend my thinking time visiting the Alice Austen House, and because it’s within walking distance of my home, I’ll just walk through Historic Richmondtown. As I spend my time in these places, and making connections with different people, I feel a sense of pride for all Staten Island has to offer. After living here for over twenty years, I have finally found my home.
Photos of Historic Richmondtown in Staten Island, New York – Copyright (C) 2016 Candle Moments, All Rights Reserved