Buffalo is not where you are from, it's who you are. It's an adjective that describes your work ethic, dedication to family, commitment to the greater community and perseverance.
But for much of my life, folks elsewhere saw Buffalo as snow, chicken wings and four consecutive SuperBowl losses.
It was hard for me to sell others on my town's heartfelt intangibles when I was part of the exodus generation. We were the Rust Belt babies of the 60s and 70s who found our lives and livelihoods elsewhere and came home for weddings and funerals.
We'd find each other in Buffalo Bills Backers groups in the southern burgs in order to celebrate the shared shorthand of our collective childhood as much as share gridiron pain. We'd tell each other we'd love to go home if... We worried outloud about the economic realities facing the families we left behind. We invariably came up with fundraisers and community projects in our local areas and could be counted on to help each other out in a pinch.
When I finally got back to town a dozen years ago, it was a better Buffalo. My personal patina of a few decades revealed the riches of arts, culture and architecture that I didn't appreciate as college student with looming loans. But more was happening.
I was fortunate enough to work for people who were investing heavily in their fervent belief in the region's future. I saw daily the challenges of trying to grow something in unrelenting soil. The nay-sayers were plenty and there was nothing in the political or regulatory structure to support the change they sought. But they, and a handful of others, rewrote the rules -- and as true native sons and daughters, never gave up.
Professionally, it was exhilarating. Personally, I loved being here and getting to know the children of my cousins whose many early milestones I missed. It was even harder to leave them than my work when my husband and I went back to Texas.
He said his Southern bones simply couldn't take another winter. The actual reasons went unacknowledged. Our first grandson was 1500 miles away and my surviving parent passed after a long winter of hospice care in our home. It seemed like the right decision at the time. It wasn't. It took almost six years to undo it.
Buffalo has done just fine without us.
To read some of the national coverage these days, Buffalo is the new Brooklyn - a foodie-hipster-arts-preservationist haven with a vibrant refugee community. My attitude from afar was "it's about time you noticed." But even I didn't realize how far and fast things had developed.
A half-dozen new hotels have sprung up downtown since the prophets of "no way" insisted the market couldn't absorb the one I worked on. The value of our previous downtown home has skyrocketed out of our price range. The boom in downtown loft space seemed like an exciting alternative -- until we were met with waiting lists on nearly every call.
We found a new conversion and signed that day on unfinished amenities in hopes it would be ready for move in by September 1. In rustic temporary digs without most of my materials, I spent the summer luxuriating in my extended family and exploring the many eventual avenues for my art here. Folks are a little surprised that designing jewelry is what I do now -- but because this is Buffalo, my family stepped up.
My cousin Cheryl is great photographer. I asked for her help hoping her daughter and her brother's daughters might be able to model. She lined them up and added her son Connor's girlfriend and her nephew Bob's girlfriend too.
I'm wondering how long it will take for me look at the those pictures and not choke up about the beauty there beyond anything I could create.
These young women represent the best of what we were , but more importantly -- they believe in what Buffalo can be and have everything it takes to make it happen. The opportunity is here and they are ready. They are Buffalo 2.0.
They are smart, savvy, caring and committed. Rachel recently completely her MBA and CPA concurrently. Sharon works several jobs while finishing college this year. Both of them racked up multiple academic and athletic honors in college. Nicole shares a deep passion for the outdoors with Bob, but she attacks her college studies and job with equal fervor. Jennifer and Gabrielle are already stand-out athlete/scholars in high school and middle school respectively.
All of their schedules are overflowing. Even though they haven't seen much of Aunt Judi over the years (or had only met her in passing at massive family events) of course they made the time to help. I'll be writing more about each of them in the coming months. But something else happened this weekend that represents them all.
Out my downtown window on Saturday morning, I watched the beehive of tourists and locals file into the ballpark for the International Chicken Wing Festival and laughed to myself. It was a Buffalo woman who took the pieces of chicken that others discarded, added two simple ingredients and created an international menu staple. Chicken wings are now a major agricultural commodity responsible for tens of thousands of jobs.
Later that afternoon, photos popped up on Facebook showing Sharon was crowned Miss Chicken Wing 2017. She didn't mention she had entered. I assumed she would be in tiara mode for at least the weekend - I would. But on Sunday she went to work at the mall, did some quick queenly things for the festival and then joined Cheryl and Rachel on folding chairs in my apartment-still-waiting-on-the-movers-to-bring-furniture to help me get ready for my first event here this week.
Because that's what a Buffalo Gal does for family - even your boyfriend's family.
In that brief window when network television and Drew Carey were simultaneously relevant - I used to say "Cleveland rocks, but Buffalo rolls with the punches."
Not anymore. Buffalo 2.0 is ready, willing and able to deliver a knock out punch. I'm delighted to be ringside .