The following excerpt of my upcoming book Damned Good Sense chronicles the time I was shipped to Texas from New York City as a teen:
The Wakefield neighborhood borders the Westchester County town of Mount Vernon. By 1983, the neighborhood was in transition. West Indians and Hispanics were moving in and whites were moving out. Hattie’s house was on Murdock Avenue just north of E. 241st Street. A ranch number put up in maybe the ’50s, it had two beds, one bath, living room, eat-in kitchen and an enclosed porch. This would serve as my room for the length of my stay. There was a day bed and my paternal grandmother was kind enough to set up a 13″ TV for my entertainment. Not exactly the Waldorf, but I wasn’t picky.
I was vaguely aware that the adults were having discussions as to whether I should spend some time with my father, who had relocated to Arlington, Texas, a growing town sandwiched between the bigger cities of Dallas and Ft. Worth. I was not comfortable with this. I loved my father dearly and thought the world of his second wife and my younger sister, but Texas? I could not conceive of why they would ever want to move there.
As was my habit whenever I found myself in a neighborhood I didn’t know, I spent much of my days wandering, getting to know the place. My explorations revealed a solid, working class neighborhood, mostly small, single-family homes with driveways and carports rather than garages. I didn’t see many people on the streets but I appreciated the quiet. The place reminded of Teaneck, New Jersey where my grandfather once lived, though homes in Teaneck are generally larger and better appointed. I had overheard that my maternal grandmother was tired of dealing with me. If that were true, I figured Wakefield wouldn’t be a bad place to live. Texas? Not for me.
Troublesome fifteen-year olds with divorced parents have so few options in this country. One false move and a kid could wind up at an airport with a one-way ticket to…Texas. On the one hand, it felt good to be going someplace different. I am an adventurer at heart. I had not been on a plane since my grandfather took me to Disney World when I was five years old. I would be reunited with my dad, stepmom and sister! On the other hand, I was going to…Texas.
Regardless, I was brimming with anticipation the whole flight. I recall that the older white woman seated next to me struck up a conversation. Despite my mother’s best efforts, I was so poorly socialized, I didn’t understand why she would want to talk to me. She didn’t know me and she didn’t come from my world. The idea that some people simply talk up strangers on planes was alien to me, but she was so cordial, I had to drop my guard. I talked up the family reunion fantasy playing out in my head, how I was seeing my dad, stepmom and sister for the first time in maybe a couple of years and how they had relocated from New York and everything. She seemed so interested, I didn’t want to disappoint her by clamming up.
When the plane landed, she and I deplaned together. Just as I told her, my dad, stepmom and sister were waiting for me just beyond the podium. For God’s sake, there should have been a film crew there to shoot a commercial for the airline. When my co-passenger and I looked at each other, each saw a heartfelt smile on full display, eyes gleaming, teeth twinkling. We raised our hands in a universal gesture of farewell, and then I turned to face my adoring family. In my peripheral vision, I glimpsed the old girl dab a Kleenex against her cheek before I threw myself into waiting arms. And the music swells…“We’re American Airlines, something special in the air…” Cut and print!