In 1960, I left City College after my second year and traveled to Paris to live. When I came back home a year later, I realized I could not live with my folks in Sunnyside anymore. With her librarian skills, my mother used to scour the New York Times Classified sections for jobs for her fired friends, so she slipped easily into finding me a railroad flat on East 75th Street - between 1st and 2nd Avenues, three flights up, the bathtub in the kitchen and overrun with cockroaches, but in Manhattan for $54.15/month - along with a job at Payne Whitney Psychiatric clinic as a nursing aide. I returned to finish at City, fully independent on the face of it, but in great emotional turmoil beneath. Young adult angst catapulted me into psychotherapy sessions lasting years. If, in retrospect, they seemed to be little more than hand holding, they helped get me through to the other side.
I finished at City with a BA in Romance Languages, realized quickly that my French was too weak to get, let alone hold down, a job requiring it, and happily took on the Welfare Department Social Investigator’s position for a fairly long stint – 10 years. While at the Harlem Welfare Center, I became active in the Social Service Employees Union which, in January 1965, held the longest public employee strike ever. The small independent Social Service Employees Union expressed our youthful idealism - we really wanted to help our clients - we asked for smaller caseloads to be able to do so. After the strike, I was sent to Columbia University School of Social Work by the Department with full tuition and full salary paid. When I received my Masters degree, I paid back my commitment in a small Consumer Ed division called CHANCE (Classes in Home Arts, Nutrition and Consumer Education), a great little program, way out in an apartment on Coney Island. The War on Poverty ended, the program drew to a close, and I failed the Supervisor II exam: I saw these as auspicious signs to move on.
I was living in Park Slope at the time, right on the park, but in the early ‘70s, the neighborhood was deteriorating. Gun shots in the night, robberies in the building, people sleeping in the hallway, plus one very harsh learning lesson in a political organization, were experiences that pushed me towards flight. Most of all, a lifelong yearning to live in the country drew me out of New York and on to Canada, where land was very affordable. A fluke - an invitation by friends of friends - led me on a Thanksgiving weekend trip to Cape Breton, where I decided definitively that this was the place I wanted to call home.
Initially, the people in my new small town asked me if I was lonely – my only thought to answer: I was lonelier in New York City. People here were immediately friendly and helpful, if also curious and wary – after all, I had come with my two cats and three dogs to live alone in the woods in a fairly harsh environment. Looking back, I can easily see the impetuousity and nuttiness of my move, but I was passionate about my dream and determined to make it work. A year later, I met my husband Ian, a Vietnam War resister who had immigrated to Canada a few years before me. Despite coming from a background diametrically opposite to my own, Ian and I found common ground in our world view, our ideals, our work ethic and our love for Mother Earth. Originally an abstract sculpture artist in wood and marble, Ian turned his attention in the early nineties to preserving a large tract of land at the end of our road on which he was instrumental in developing a system of hiking trails. Our son Robin was born in 1980, and by 1986, I became employed at the local high school as librarian, a position I found absorbing and challenging: between the noise and chaos of the kids, their humor and their energy, and the quiet book-space, I could not have dreamed up a place more suited to my needs, more instructive in life-lessons and exciting to hang out in for twenty years.
Retired now, Ian builds trails on our land and is otherwise occupied pretty full-time in getting firewood in for the winter, repairing the house, gardening, and doing the many chores that homesteading requires. Retired as well, my own first love is gardening, though, if truth be known, I wasn't even aware that beets had greens when I first arrived! During the snow-free months, we grow all our vegetables, and I manage to freeze enough for 7 months (from December to July) to ensure we have enough to last through our long winters and cold springs. Once winter sets in, Ian works outdoors whenever weather permits and writes when it doesn't; I dabble in painting and some writing, and both of us toss wood into the stoves to keep warm. Twice yearly, we try to visit our son and his family in Maine, especially our two grandsons, age 3 and 1.
The Sunnyside Stories project is an outgrowth of the current presidential campaign and the bigoted rhetoric that has become normalized. Story-telling seems a good way to dispel preconceived notions about people: getting to know each other through our stories, we should no longer be able to fall easily into the trap of seeing one another as "the other." That is my hope.
Ruth Horowitz, 2016