A number of years ago, Larry’s sister Carole had her annual Fourth of July party in her backyard in Saratoga Springs. What made this party special is that our niece and her significant other had made the trip up from Virginia, the first time he had ever been to Saratoga County.
Katie wanted to show Swamy around the city, and Larry offered to give the tour. We piled into the Prius, Larry behind the wheel with Swamy next to him for the best view. Katie and I took seats in the back, and we began our excursion.
Larry’s first stop was not the race track or the Hall of Springs or Congress Park. Nope. He immediately drove to Avery Street and parked outside a white two-story colonial. “This is our first house in Saratoga,” Larry explained. “I spent hours playing stoop ball right there on those front steps. My friend Tommy lived down the street, and Al lived around the corner.”
When Katie and I suggested that Larry show Swamy more of Saratoga Springs tourist spots, he assured us he was getting there. But the next stop was in front of another house down the street. “That is where my piano teacher lived,” he offered. “His wife was my fourth grade teacher.”
My niece and I began to giggle. We knew where this was going. Our next stop was in front of one of the gates at the race track, where Larry sold newspapers and, when he turned eighteen, beer to the patrons. This “site” was accompanied by a story as to how Larry was once accused of not having the exact amount of money at the end of the day, and how he had proven his honesty to the manager. We saw the field where Larry played baseball into the summer nights, his old high school, and the outer limits of his newspaper route.
Swamy did get to see a little of the true tourist places but only as we drove by on Larry’s sentimental tour of the “real” Saratoga Springs. By the end of the hour, Katie and I were laughing out loud. Swamy, who is a sweet gentle soul, smiled throughout and offered an occasional “Very nice!”
Recently, I shared this story with my friend Marcie. Rather than thinking it was funny, she told me that she totally got it. Completely. Marcie had grown up in Boston, and after her daughter graduated Northeastern, she insisted that the two of them take a tour of the “real” Boston. Marcie drove her daughter to her old synagogue Agudath Israel, the house where her father had lived in the once thriving Jewish neighborhood of Dorchester, and her old school, Girls Latin. “My daughter thought that she knew Boston because she had been to Fenway Park and walked the Freedom Trail,” said Marcie. “But she knew nothing unless I introduced her to the Boston that was my home.”
It then hit me that one’s home town, no matter how heralded or how small, was not about the tourist spots. It was about memories. Keeseville is just a dot on the map. When Larry first visited me there in 1973, I didn’t bring him to Ausable Chasm, our one claim to fame. He and I took a walk over the swinging bridge and the steep steps up to Pleasant Street. We circled around past my old high school. I pointed out the church right across the street. “When I was a child, all my Catholic friends crossed themselves when they walked past it,” I told him. “I did it for a while until my parents explained to me that Jews ‘didn’t do that.’” Then we walked home over the keystone bridge.
For over thirty-six years we did similar tours for our out-of-area Clifton Park guests. No visit would be complete without a drive past the little red school house where my children went to nursery school, a walk through the Vischer Ferry Wildlife Preserve, and a stop for apple cider donuts at Riverview Orchards in the fall or ice cream at the Country Drive-in in the summer. None of these places would be in Lonely Planet or even local “What To See” guides in the Capital Region. To us, however, they represented what best in our hometown. Not to say that we wouldn’t bring guests to the State Museum or the Saratoga Battlefield or even Cooperstown. However, when it comes to important, we know.
Our home in Florida is less than forty minutes from Disney; Legoland and Sea World are even closer. When guests come, I am sure that these world-famous attractions may be on top of their ‘must see’ list. But after only few months, we already had selected off the grid locations, starting with the view of Pacer Pond from our lanai. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Larry and I woke up to the sight of four birds, two lizards, and an alligator that Larry named Brutus, whose size rivals anything one can see in Gatorland. We found a great custard stand down the road, and the Disney Wilderness Preserve is only four miles away.
So, my dear Larry, now I ‘get it’ too. You showed Swamy the best that Saratoga Springs had to offer you, and I know you will do the same for our future Florida visitors. Just warn them about Brutus before they step out into our back yard.