I was raised in a town called West Orange, New Jersey, in the thick of Good Fellas, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Quiet Man and Fiddler on the Roof. My family lived in the township in New Jersey that was approximately 15 minutes from or about 12 miles from NYC. The cultures in the movies I listed above were so well casted and depicted; looking back, I can see mirrored scenes from those movies in real life. I would say the scenes were mostly from the mafia and the greek films. I was friends with many and was able to learn and respect each nationalities traditions and ways. The town was very clannish. It wasn’t a shock if one, maybe even two of my friends are really in the mafia. Many greek friends parents did and still do own diners. My nationality was a mix of Irish, German, and Swiss. My mother’s parent’s religion was Quaker and my father’s was Catholic. My parents demanded I go to church every Sunday; yet they never attended church; only when I was baptized, made my holy communion and confirmation. Today, I ‘m not a Catholic. In fact, my faith is somewhat similar to the Quakers; in that they believe that all have the ability to access the divine, or “inward light,”
I really feel that I benefited growing up in this diverse community. I’m sure it helped to shape me who I am today and my career as a Technical Recruiter and in Human Resources. I loved learning about people from other countries with different religions. I always made it a point of striving for diversity and equality in the workplace.
As per Wikipedia, West Orange was originally part of the Native American Hackensack clan‘s territory, for over 10,000 years. The Hackensack were a branch of the Unami tribe of the Leni Lenape. In their language, “Leni Lenape” means, “The Original People.”
West Orange is located at the peak of the Watchung Mountains. This vantage point over the valleys east to Manhattan – had a strategic value for Leni Lenape warriors, and later George Washington’s troops during the American Revolution.
The Eagle Rock Reservation covers 400 acres (160 ha) in West Orange, Montclair and Verona. It was home to many eagles. It currently is the trail head for the Leni Lenape Trail. Rock Spring is located at the bottom of the Turtle Back Rocks – currently at the corner of Northfield Avenue and Walker Road, West Orange. The water from the spring was considered to have healing powers since Native American times. By the 19th century, visitors from New York City would come to West Orange to drink the water from this spring for its supposed curative powers. West Orange became a resort or country retreat – with boating, fishing, and an Amusement Park at Crystal Lake near Eagle Rock Reservation.
My parents had their wedding reception at the Rock Springs Country Club. As a child, and living right next to the Eagle Rock Reservation, I played, hiked and spent countless hours exploring the wooded 400 acres. I would hunt and dig for rocks, arrow heads and minerals for hours. I would stumble upon little springs as well. I found peace in the reservation. I remember packing myself a lunch and spend the whole day in the woods.
There was a special path I walked in the reservation, it led to horse stables; I actually made bread crumbs along the path so I would always remember the way back to the stables. Once a week, I would go to the horse stables and brush them. I would watch them ride and train in the rink on the weekends; I loved this.
I had first generation friends from Greece, Ireland and Italy. I enjoyed visiting their homes because they always fed me. The food the fed me was always different than my mom’s; but unforgettable. I also enjoyed trying to understand their languages. Kally’s mother always made baklava and moussaka; Susan’s mom made italian pastries and an awesome ziti.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager and could drive, that I took advantage of my surroundings. I was 1 hour away from “The Shore”, 40 minutes away from the ski mountains, and 15 minutes away for “The Big Apple”. We didn’t call the beach…the beach, it was the shore. Manhattan was “The City”.
When I was 16-18 years old, I had an Italian boyfriend and his parents made it a point to try to fatten me up! Jerry’s family lived around the dinner table; his mother cooked, and cooked! She would always tell me I was too skinny; I wish that were the case now. Her cooking was incredible!!! Other family members and friends would visit and talk, eat, and drink around the table for hours. They would talk about missing their homes in Italy. I never realized why they missed Italy so much until I had traveled to Italy years later. I often thought about calling them over the years to let them know, I now understood the beauty of their homeland. My travel bug didn’t stop in Italy; I was able to visit many states in the US, Spain twice, Portugal, England, France twice, Africa, Ireland twice, Germany, Canada, and Mexico. I have many more spots to visit on my bucket list.
It much different ways my mother’s childhood neighborhood was very diverse as well… However, it was called a homestead. I was out to lunch with a friend of mine today, we saw a large group of ladies wearing clothing and accessories, and hats that looked the part in either Amish, Quaker or Mennonite. Julie and I chatted at the Quakers. My grandmother and Grandfather were Quakers in Pennsylvania. When my mother was living, she never spoke about her religion or views growing up; She converted to Catholicism when she married my father.
My mother and her 8 sisters were born and raised in Penn Craft, PA. The community of Penn-Craft was built to see if families of different races, nationalities and religions could live and work together when the country and the world were struggling for ways to recover from the Great Depression.
Using private money raised by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that is still operating, the Friends bought the 175-acre Isaiah Craft farm in Luzerne Township and selected 50 families of various backgrounds to try to create a self-sustaining community.
Families began working together to construct one another’s homes and build roads in June 1937. They built, worked at and shared in the profits from a knitting mill, a store and a dairy farm. Behind many of the 48 remaining original stone homes are the 20-by-20 temporary ones, which the families converted into chicken coops. My grandparents had a stone home that is now a registered historic site.
Black lung is as old as coal mining itself. Mortality rates were extremely high in Penn Craft, 7 members of my family suffered from lung disease. My mother passed away in 2008; she had COPD, I’m convinced growing up in a home heated with coal and moving into a toxic home as I described in an earlier blog, my mother’s lungs didn’t have a chance.
Raising angora rabbits and selling the fur to mills in New York was among the self-help ways the homesteaders earned money. I had an Aunt who worked in the Angora Mill; unfortunately, she died from what they called “white lung”. My Aunt Etta Ruth had so much angora in her lungs, she could no longer breathe. About 90 homesteaders worked in the knitting mill, which was expanded at one point to keep up with demand. The homesteaders had to work at the store, mill or farm in Penn-Craft or find outside jobs, to pay off the mortgages on their homes and buy what they needed.
I remember visiting the homestead every summer. The landscape looked like an Ireland postcard. The homes where made from shiny granite stone; it glistened in the sun. The front porch had rocking chair on it and had a roof overhead for cover. When I sat on the porch, I saw farmland of their neighbors, and to the side; the chicken coup and the fruit tree orchard. I miss my grandmother Georgia and her homestead. My grandfather passed away when I was very young, so I don’t remember him.
Visits were peaceful there; I would love visit the town again someday.
So, the moral of this long story is that my mother and I both grew up in small diverse communities, both have always welcomed all neighbors and last but not least, NEVER WEAR ANGORA SWEATERS!
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