The train locomotive rumbles into the dusky frigid western horizon, one of the last of 2006. It steams past the hardworking households of Kaisertown and Lovejoy, near the silent Central Terminal where thousands of untold travel stories of Christmas Past lie in the dust. It chugs along the gritty warehouses of South Buffalo; the warmth and holiday spirit of the people of the Queen City permeate through even the coldest forgotten old factory.
Signs of rebirth dot the way. Though the smokestacks are quiet, camaraderie remains. I step off the train; a light snow is falling as my dad and his heated '94 Sable, the same car that took me on childhood trips to Ted's Hot Dogs and Anderson's, waits in the parking lot.
I wrote this opening in the midst of final exam week, dreaming of winter break in Buffalo. Unfortunately upon returning, it was 20 degrees too warm to snow. There was broad daylight, and my mom picked me up instead. One characteristic remained true though: The spirit of Buffalo that brought a smile to my face as the Amtrak approached the Exchange Street station.
There's something non-Western New Yorkers at college fail to understand. When you're away, no strangers randomly give a nod and a smile as you walk on the street. No one understands the loyalty to our sports teams, who ultimately, like the city, are determined for success. No one else takes so much pride in their region's past, or has such unified hope for the future. Like the trees that suffered in the October snowstorm, our resolve is battered, but not beaten. A part of me is missing whenever I leave here.
As I pondered all this on the way back from the train station, my mom announced: "Now that you're home, you can put the garbage cans back."
When I left home, I relished the thought of independence. But by October, all I craved was just a spoonful of my mom's homemade beef stew, or even Hamburger Helper, as long as it meant eating a little slice of home. And while my parents always in the past nagged me to do my homework and eat well, it didn't really faze me until they were no longer there. Suddenly, I had to nag myself. While back at home, I must report where I am and adopt a set of chores, it's not so bad being a kid again. All of that responsibility stuff at college was kind of scary.
College challenges every thought I've had about life. After a full semester, I feel I understand less about this world than ever before. But one thing has remained clear: the importance of friends and family. Had I never left home, I would not have known just how special life is here, and the blessings I have.
I appreciate holiday traditions all the more this year. Once again, my dad and I started our good old-fashioned family Christmas by venturing out into the suburban jungle of Niagara Falls Boulevard to purchase a Christmas tree from a major corporation. I always go with him because whenever he's on his own, he says he picks "a lousy tree." As usual, my family watched "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" together. Even though we all knew the cat would be electrocuted at the end of the movie, we laughed anyway, for the sake of tradition. While being enlightened on the role of the media in the world and our national identity at college is wonderful, there is nothing like eating the leftover frosting from baking Christmas cookies with my sisters, mom and brother-in-law, or taking two runs to Mighty Taco with high school buddies in the first week back.
As a little kid, I would look forward to going downstairs and opening presents from Santa Claus: a mini-racetrack, a Lego castle, a new Nintendo game. No gift this year was better than sharing time with my family and friends again in the city I love.
Brian Hayden is a freshman at Syracuse.