By Tom Gordner
To family and friends in northern New Jersey. Some of you have asked what life is like in Buffalo. The most important thing to know is, the people here are crazy. For starters, and this may be all you need to know to understand these folks, there is Dyngus Day. I know that back in New Jersey, most everywhere really, nobody has ever heard of, nor would they believe there is, a major holiday on the day following Easter, but there is. It’s called Dyngus Day.
Really? Dyngus? Isn’t that what we used to call somebody who was a goofball? Anyway, it’s is a big deal up here. I have tried to learn what it is supposed to be about, but the explanations I have been given are pretty sketchy. Some business about the girls chasing the boys around, trying to hit them with pussy willow branches. The guys reciprocate by shooting the girls with water pistols. The holiday is associated with a St. Stanislaus. I’m pretty sure, though, that there were no water pistols in his time. Like I said, sketchy.
Also, we have two St. Patrick’s Days – really. There is the one that everybody knows about, with a parade and green-colored food and all. Then there is the other one a day earlier in another part of town, complete with its own parade. The reason there have to be two parades is, well, I really don’t know why. Again, sketchy.
Then there is the unstoppable enthusiasm these people have for the local sports teams. There are two major and one minor sports franchises here. I’m for sure going to hear about it if I left another one out. Many people’s lives here revolve in large part around attending the games. Their investment of time and money and heart is enormous. There is no need for the teams to advertise, because everybody on the Niagara Frontier is walking around like a human billboard. Sweatshirts, hats, gloves, snow scrapers, all declaring undying team loyalty. The babies even get outfitted in team gear. These teams delight their fans in every possible way, with possibly the sole exception of winning a lot of games.
Buffalo probably invented the idea of unusual local cuisines. I remember the first time I ordered french fries here. The waitress asked did I want vinegar on them. Vinegar? Was she loony? Why would I want to trash perfectly good potatoes by pouring nasty smelly bitter stuff on them? Well, it’s popular here. So is pouring hot sauce on, well, pretty much everything else. I have gone to lunch here with coworkers who have ordered Limburger and onion sandwiches. I wouldn’t be surprised if they put hot sauce on it, too.
You could wonder why I keep myself embedded in this place. This is something about here you may have a hard time believing, these people are friendly. I mean it, really friendly, in the best possible ways. On the street, in doctor’s waiting rooms, at work, people are outgoing and remarkably decent. Youth events are much more a sharing than a competition. Charity events are well-attended and quite financially successful. Neighbors step in and help neighbors to do practically everything, lending their equipment and their time to shovel driveways, take down trees, repair old cars, put on additions and watch one another’s kids.
Because of this friendly environment, the honest work ethic, the unpretentious outlook and the general decency of these people, this place is everything you could hope for in a location to plant your roots and raise a family, quirkiness notwithstanding. The people here have a robust love of living, in all its marvelous aspects. It becomes contagious after a while.
Tom Gordner wants his New Jersey people to know about Western New York.