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Once vibrant East Side bears scars of neglect

I believe in teaching my son real lessons in life. So as we were pulling out of the parking lot of the Buffalo Science Museum, we talked about the surrounding neighborhood. That's when I decided to take him for a ride.

This particular lesson took us through Buffalo's East Side. We talked about how difficult it is for many people, and the many hurdles they have to overcome. And as we drove by in what seemed like cinematic slow motion, you could see and almost feel some of the sadness and worry that is wearing this part of Buffalo down just by looking at people's faces.

We ended up on Bailey Avenue, very close to where my grandmother lived almost 30 years ago. Once I found her street, I was very excited to show my son her home on Goemble Avenue. But as we approached it, I stopped dead in my tracks. Extreme shock and sorrow rushed over me as I saw a place that held so many memories for me as a child now empty, abandoned and deteriorating.

The once quaint yard was in disarray. The beautiful tall shrubbery that guarded this home was a mere pile of twigs. The front porch was deteriorating. And the once beautiful large front windows I used to peek out of as a child were all boarded up, with large numbers spray painted across them.

I could not believe my eyes. I started to weep. I weep now as I write this account. My 9-year-old son felt my pain and sorrow and was on the verge of tears himself.

Memories washed over me as I sat in the car looking at what once was a virtual playground for a little girl. Especially now, as we approach Easter, I have memories of sitting in my grandmother's kitchen eating her chruscikis. They were the best I have ever tasted. They melted in your mouth. And then there was the homemade placek loaded with raisins and crumbs. For years we enjoyed those treats sitting around her kitchen table while my father worked outside in the yard -- mowing, edging and trimming those tall hedges -- until the sweat was pouring down his face.

Then there were the days when I would sneak into what was once a back apartment.

It had never been updated, so for me it was like time traveling. It had beautiful wood cabinets, a squeaky floor and endless boxes of memories. The rooms were filled with old hats my grandmother would wear for Sunday Mass, clothes of times gone by and all sorts of tools that I could almost feel were used and loved by the grandfather I never knew.

Those memories will stay with me forever. So will the picture of my grandmother's home and all the other homes now left abandoned. This neighborhood was once full of life, love and hope.

In my mind, I remember it with almost a yellow glow -- as if God was watching over this little corner of the world. Now, it is cloudy and gray. It is cold, empty and lonely. Like many of Buffalo's neighborhoods, maybe God planted the seed of life here many years ago, but the city forgot to water and nurture it.

My grandmother and her dear home may have "passed away" but my memories of them will live on forever in my mind and heart, and in my son's as I share them with him. Our family will plant, grow and nurture our own -- some of which may have sprouted from my grandmother's home with those 8-foot-tall shrubs outside, the smell of chruscikis inside and all those boxes of treasures buried in the back room.

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