In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
Until last week, I hadn’t been back to Western New York since my Dad’s funeral. I grew up out there, outside of Rochester, amidst a fair bit of family drama, and some of that drama continued even after I left. For a long time, the only reason I could see to go back was family obligation, and even that was grudging.
But years have passed, and I wanted my kids to see some of the sights. So with some disbelief that we were actually doing it, this summer we loaded up the family truckster and headed west.
As an American Dad who enjoys baseball, I had to take the kids to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It’s well worth seeing. My Dad took me when I was about TB’s age, and I barely knew who any of the players were. Now I’m old enough to have seen many of the players play. And the kids were good sports about indulging my stories of them. (Another Dad laughed out loud when he overheard me describe Reggie Jackson as a horrible outfielder. He agreed, but it’s not the sort of thing you expect to hear there.)
After many years as an academic, I look at museums differently than I once did. The baseball museum had plenty of material on Jackie Robinson, though less on the old Negro Leagues than I thought would have been appropriate. It also had a pretty good exhibit on the various women’s professional baseball teams over the years, which I made sure that The Girl saw.
The Wife commented that she had never seen so many men in a museum. She was right.
But we believe in gender balance, so we also dropped by Seneca Falls to visit the Women’s Rights National Park. It’s the site of the 1848 conference that launched the suffrage movement (and, interestingly enough, the temperance movement).
The park itself is pretty small -- a reception building and welcome center, a rebuilt conference hall, a couple of plaques, and then some houses scattered around the town.
We took The Girl’s picture standing by the sign outside, in front of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton park. TG had done a report on Lucretia Mott for school this Spring, so we made sure to highlight any mentions of Mott when we found them. We found plenty.
The exhibits are a little dated -- I’m guessing circa 1990 -- but had their moments. The kids enjoyed a video asking kids in the 1970’s what they wanted to be when they grew up. The girls mostly said they wanted to be Mommies or ballerinas, and the boys mostly wanted to be astronauts or athletes. But TB and TG really liked the boy who announced that when he grew up, he wanted to be a turtle.
TG seemed to get the point that the museum was really for her, and she took to it. She even got sworn in as a junior park ranger, complete with badge. (Yes, she has an official badge allowing her to enforce women’s rights. World, you have been warned.) But I was also proud of how composed and non-defensive The Boy was. I made a point of telling him, shortly before we left, that I was impressed that he understood that it was really about fairness, and that he shouldn’t take any of it personally. I know grown men who haven’t figured that out.
Western New York being Western New York, we had to see Niagara Falls. If you stay on the American side, as we did, I’ll just make two points. First, avoid the “welcome center” at all costs. It’s the ugliest, seediest, nastiest, saddest looking caricature of Ugly America you will ever see. Second, walk the bridge to Luna Island and stand right over the falls. Totally worth it.
Later, we caught the falls in Watkins Glen, which are pretty underrated. If you get the chance, be sure to catch the ones by the post office. They’re practically in one person’s backyard.
On the way back from Niagara, we dropped by Rochester to catch a Red Wings game. The Red Wings are the AAA farm team of the Minnesota Twins, and they have a spiffy newish stadium.
The games are different than they were back in the 80’s. They’re much more family-friendly than they used to be, with t-shirt cannons and frisbee tosses between innings. The night we went, Rod Carew was there signing autographs. TW mentioned that when she heard the announcer say “Hall of Famer Rod Carew,” she thought of Adam Sandler’s Hannukah song. (“He converted!”) The Red Wings have not one, but two, mascots now, so we picked up a stuffed one for TG. I even bought the requisite Genny Cream, because Rochester, but I just couldn’t bring myself to buy a white hot, because self-respect.
Minor league ball is a fine, fine thing. At twelve bucks a ticket, we were five rows from the field, about halfway between third and home. The kids enjoyed the mascots, and scored a hat and a frisbee. The Wings won, TB and I carried on a running commentary on the pitching, and the food was even good. Score one for the old hometown.
Smell is the sense most closely tied to memory.
My Dad grew up in Memphis, and always enjoyed barbecue. We stopped at an amazing barbecue place in Oneonta, called Brooks’. It had an enormous active pit out back.
I’m not saying that I got a little tear-y when I smelled that distinctive barbecue scent again in Western New York. I’m not saying that. But I’m not saying I didn’t, either.