October 10, 2017
As seen on The Buffalo News:
I am betting that I am hardly alone in this memory. More than a half-century ago, I was a little kid in Western New York, the youngest child in a factory family. We'd drive through downtown Buffalo in early evening, the sky just bright enough to highlight the silhouettes of the twin statues atop the Liberty Building, one facing east, one facing west, with electric torches raised high.
To a 4-year-old looking out a back-seat window, some 315 feet below, it almost appeared as if there were enormous steps you could climb to reach the base of the 28-foot statues. My mother would explain that these monumental twins were not the real thing. They were replicas of the statue that has greeted newcomers and travelers, for generations, in New York Harbor.
The Buffalo statues were real enough to me. My dad drove heavy equipment on a coal pile. My mother, born to immigrant parents, worked as a clerk or a cleaning woman. In the same way as many of my friends, from similar backgrounds, we basically never went on overnight vacations. New York Harbor was a faraway place, visited only by imagination. To me, it might just as well have been the moon.
The only Statues of Liberty I'd ever known were the two who kept their vigil on the Buffalo skyline. All the qualities I'd been taught the American experience should represent – justice, decency, kindness, courage – were tied in with the way I felt whenever I saw them.
They still make me feel that way today.
For years, even as an adult, I'd daydream about the chance to see one of them up close, to climb those risers, to study the detail, to learn a little bit about the larger story.
Last week, out of nowhere, I got the chance.
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