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Monday, October 22, 2012

Seasons Change - In the "Borough of Trees"

Seasons Change - In the "Borough of Trees"

by Steven P. Velasquez
October 22, 2012 

Today's absolutely gorgeous weather and a clear calendar made the perfect storm for a brief photowalk in my hometown of Rutherford, NJ.  I had finished some errands and was contemplating picking up a night shift at one of my employers.  I was equally balancing my desire to not work and just take a night to myself to go out, like normal people do.

The delightful sights, sounds and ambient temperature lured me to Rutherford's downtown area to shoot some shots of things going on.  Rutherford is known as "The Borough of Trees" for obvious reasons.  So the months of October and November become a deciduous delight to the casual observer and visual potpourri  to those armed with a single-lens reflex camera.

St. Mary High School - Rutherford, NJ
I loaded an 80's themed Internet radio station on my phone to set the sights to music and so they did.  I felt as if I had traveled through time and was back on the tree-lined streets of my childhood, heading to school.  As a teen, I went to a Catholic School (St. Mary) until my sophomore year.  I remember my mother, frustrated by my lackluster performance, yelling; "You are now going to Rutherford High School.  You can fail there for free!"

Don't hate. I was sucking badly and costing my family a fortune. She was right. So I attended, and eventually graduated from, the two great high schools of Rutherford.

As I approached my old school and church beside it, the places I would play and pray, I began raising my lens and grabbing some shots.  The church has had a major renovation that is truly something to behold.  I couldn't explain the tears that welled up in my eyes as I remembered serving there as an altar-boy under Father's Jude, Michaelzak and Reilly (forgive me if I've misspelled any of their names).  Through my tears, I saw a young version of myself on the steps of the church in my little robe, eager to serve and be smiled upon by God herself  (Was I the only kid who absolutely loved the taste of those communion wafers??).

St. Mary's R.C. Church
As I shot and backed up into the street, a priest approached me.  I expected to be questioned as to my intentions with a camera near their church and school.  There were none.  He greeted me and was very touched to speak to a former parishioner and altar-boy  He had informed me of the passing of Father Reilly (several years ago) and it saddened me to hear that news.  He also told me of the great renovations and future projects they were working on.  It all sounded exciting.  We said our farewells and parted.

My lens kept clicking and I suppose the school day's end had arrived.  The school doors opened and all the uniformed youngsters came pouring out.  They looked so cute! The image gave way to a flood of happy memories as they ran around the same buildings and driveways I once did.

The new face of St. Mary's

Then a car pulls up  before me and all I can see is the DOT approved, day-glo yellow jacket inside.  A voice emits from the car; "Can I help you?"  Click, click, click. "Can... I... help you!?" His voice raising.  My angered eye emerged from behind the eyepiece and I replied (politely of course) "No you may not..." And I called him by name.  He re-examined my face and focused on the shield hanging from my necklace (a symbol that I'm a good guy, a public servant).  "Oh my God, Steve I didn't recognize you.  It's been so many years..."  Who he/she was is of no importance. The fact that I was suddenly, somehow suspect just for being around a school was my impetus for writing as I was initially somewhat offended.

My initial impulse was to challenge the day-glo voice for interrogating me in the first place.  "What do you mean 'can I help you?'  I'm standing, uninfirmed, holding a camera.  Do I strike you as someone in need of your 'help?'"  (all of this passes one's mind in fractions of a second). My familiarity with his face and responsibility immediately tempered me.

Then my parental side chimes in.  I'm the father of three daughters.  My life would end if harm befell any of them.  Recent news in this local area reports of several attempted abductions and approaches to children by strangers.Thank God there are still people in places that take public safety seriously and challenge the unfamiliar.  This was not about the color of my skin, my choice of clothing, the pronunciation of my name or anything news agencies salivate over.  These once seemingly safe streets, these tree-lined safe streets where I spent all my childhood days and nights playing and praying, are safe no more.  There are people who want to harm our children and bring sadness to our families and so, the seasons have in fact, changed.

I long for the days of safety, I miss the endless bicycle rides and the sounds of my friends,  beneath the orange, red, green and yellow canopy of protection, in the borough of trees.

 Station Square - NJ Transit Train Station - Rutherford, NJ