Last week I was able to speak with one of my cousins. A lifelong resident of Broad Channel, New York, she and her adult children were directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy. To be blunt, they stared down the barrel of it. Her kids, both adult children live in Rockaway and Broad Channel as well.
Their houses were all but destroyed.
The home that is near the Shore Front Parkway had the boardwalk driven through the front of the house and flooded. The other house was filled with upwards of six feet of water and everything inside lost to water damage.
The oldest house was stripped to its studs.
This house in particular is one of two houses that my great grandfather was able to purchase by cobbling together a down payment with a combination of glue factory, church sexton, and gambling earnings. He was a laborer in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century.
The house I grew up in also had its roots planted the same way.
My great grandfather was a first generation American. His father, my great great grandfather, survived the potato famine in Ireland and sailed across the Atlantic for 39 days in steerage.
My mother, brothers, and I went to this house every year, every summer. From the late 1930s through the 21st century, we all made it there. It was not much of a house. It was a bungalow really and probably had no business being built, but it was a building, that became a house, that became a home.
That house has survived floods, hurricanes, fires, and a host of other meteorological activity.
But it’s still there.
Stripped to its core, it still stands, naked so to speak but not completely yielding to its challenges. It has been in the family, this bungalow has, for nearly a hundred years and it will not yield.
My cousin has survived losing both parents in a fire, countless hurricanes over the last 5 decades, and other calamities. But she knows her people manage.
When we spoke, she said “I have no expectation for sympathy or assistance. I chose to live here and this is where I am from.”
She also said, “We will make it. What are you gonna do? We’ll rebuild. That’s what we do. Uncle Larry did it, Grandma did it, my sister did it. What am I gonna do, go somewhere else?”
Tough broad, as my mother would say.
I am keenly aware how I came to be a New Yorker and then an American.
I know when and where my relatives landed in Lower Manhattan and made their way to Brooklyn. And I know how that bungalow came to be.
The house was ravaged by the sea and still stands. What a great metaphor for all those who did the same thing to build our Nation.
My cousin is tough as nails. Like many who live around her, they will rebuild.
They know no other way.
Stubborn, prideful, tough … resilient.
Don’t count them out.
What are they gonna do?