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Faith in Vermont: Brooklyn, Take Me In

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Posted on April 24, 2018 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



 “I’m still thinking about that man who lied to us,” my daughter said as I tucked her into bed the night we returned from a family weekend in New York City. 

My husband and I lived in Manhattan for seven years, throughout our dating and early marriage but before we had children. Only one of our daughters had ever set foot in the Big Apple, and since she was six months old at the time, “set foot” isn’t quite accurate. So, this was our first time in New York City as a family of six. 

We stayed for two days and two nights with dear friends who live in Brooklyn with their three children. The best way to describe our family’s relationship with these Brooklyn friends is to say, “We have the same books on our shelves.” This means that, although we see these friends rarely, and although we live “city mice/country mice” existences, when we get together it feels like home. 

In emotional terms: We love spending time with this family. In practical terms: Because everyone gets along so well, this is the family to be with if you’re trying to shepherd seven children around New York City.

***

“That man who lied to us” may or may not have lied to us; the situation was confusing. 

Our most ambitious outing of the weekend involved a subway ride from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, where we took the ferry past the Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island. It was the sort of tourist-y thing that I avoided back when we lived in New York, but which seemed like a wonderful educational opportunity when my daughter suggested it in the quiet of our Vermont living room. 

As our troupe of four parents and seven children approached the Liberty/Ellis Island ticketing area near Fort Clinton, a man wearing a tour company t-shirt accosted us and asked where we were heading. Because he looked somewhat official, we told him, at which point he launched into a gloom-and-doom monologue, the upshot of which was: There was no way we’d get ferry tickets that day. We should’ve made reservations weeks – if not months – in advance. 

Undaunted, our savvy Brooklyn guides decided to check in at the ticketing counter anyway. As it turned out, we had no problem purchasing ferry tickets (we just had to wait in line for an hour to board the ferry.)

The children in our group were confused after this exchange. Why had the man told us that we couldn’t go on the ferry, when we could go on the ferry? 

The adults could only suppose, but our best guess was that this man was trying to convince us to take his tour, which didn’t include the Ellis Island Ferry. 

For some reason, my daughters couldn’t shrug off this experience. They talked about “that man who lied to us” for days afterwards. When I asked why they were so troubled by what seemed to be a fairly innocuous episode in the scope of possible New York City experiences, one of my daughters replied, “I’m just not used to adults lying. I expect to trust adults.”

As tragic as the loss of innocence is, I felt that our entire New York trip was worth it for this realization alone.

***

I’m not one to nap on long drives, because I like to watch the scenery change. The six-hour drive from Vermont to Brooklyn was a study in contrasts. We traversed fairly familiar rural territory from Middlebury to Albany. It was the Catskill region -- where the New York Thruway parallels the Hudson River between Albany and New Jersey -- that fascinated me. 

The Catskill stretch of the Thruway is beautiful, a rural landscape of forests and hills, broken up by creeks and waterfalls. And through the trees on both sides are miles and miles of rock walls. 

Any New Englander who’s gardened at all will appreciate how difficult it is to build a rock wall, which result from the backbreaking business of clearing land for planting or livestock. First, you have to dig up and move the stones. Then, you need to fit all those heavy stones together well so that they’ll hold up through time and weather.

And these walls had held up. There they stood, as the forest grew up around them and the highway was built through them. They’d outlasted the farmers, the crops, and the livestock. Who saw them now, except as a blur through a car window at 80 miles an hour? Who cared about all the hard work that had gone into their creation? 

A day after I’d marveled at the forgotten rock walls, our Brooklyn friends told us that their neighborhood had been farmland just 100 years ago. Again, I marveled: Their neighborhood, like many residential New York City neighborhoods, was a collection of brick row houses, apartment buildings, and pavement, with a few trees lining the streets and some pocket-sized, walled-in front and back gardens. How does a farm become a city in a century? 

If you’re expecting a reflection on the virtues of country over city life, this is not that column. A year ago, it might have been; now, I’m willing to just sit with the fact that sometimes rock walls are swallowed by highway-side forests. Sometimes farms disappear under pavement. Cities expand and people need places to live. Farming becomes unsustainable and families cash in. Our value judgments have no effect on progress.

***

Our daughters’ favorite city experience was the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where we watched all seven children romp delightedly on grassy lawns among trees and flowers, and exclaim with delight when they spotted turtles, fish, and ducks in a pond. 

Then we returned home to our own grassy lawns, flowers, trees, and ducks. 

The city stayed with us, though. One morning, I watched my husband stop partway down our driveway while walking the dog. They stood there for several minutes, completely still. When they returned I asked my husband why he’d stopped, assuming he’d spotted some wildlife. 

He’d been trying to figure out how many city blocks would fit on our field. 

It probably won’t happen, but who knows what a century will bring? Still, I take comfort in knowing that, city or country, you can still have the same books on your shelves. 

 

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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