July 2011

A Jersey girl

By Suzanne Strazza

“Nothing matters in this whole wide world
When you’re in love with a Jersey girl.” —Tom Waits

I am totally revisiting the Jersey days — it’s kind of weird. When I left New Jersey a hundred years ago, it was in that get-me-out-of-here-as-fast-as-possible-I-will-NEVER-return-again sort of way. And now I am suddenly a Jersey Girl.

Not that my childhood was bad – nor NJ for that matter. I grew up in “horse country”: woods, meadows, open space, clean air and enormous homes. My formative years were filled with family, friends, horse shows, tennis matches on grass courts, golf (but I sucked at that), and summers on the Vineyard.

Nothing to complain about. But, boy, did I want out. I was always very aware that there was a place in this world where my unclassy, unpolished, inner-dirt-bag self would fit in better than at the Club.

So, here I am, settled comfortably in the heart of Montezuma County, fully prepared to grow old in Mancos.

Even my parents and brother have left and moved West.

So why am I suddenly nostalgic for New Jersey? I haven’t been back in over 20 years. I have kept in touch with no one.

But recently, several of those folks that I haven’t kept up with have gotten in touch with me and I am actually having fun with it. I am not that person; I am an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person. So maybe realizing that I actually like some of those folks has my brain spinning. I’ve even had the treat of seeing some of them too, which has been amazing.

Although it also brought back the trauma of being an uncomfortable 15-year-old misfit.

So the memories have been flooding back and as much as I would never ever move back there, I am realizing that there are a few things that I miss. A few things that make me still feel connected to my childhood home.

It’s like having escaped the brutal Chinese rule in Tibet, climbing over mountains, risking life and limb to do so, knowing that leaving was the only choice, yet missing it sometimes, remembering the good and not the bad, from the safety of Darhamsala or wherever else you may have ended up.

I am safe here in Colorado, but suddenly my past doesn’t look nearly as bad as it felt when I was living it.

And the things I am feeling sentimental about are a little bizarre and they definitely reveal my blue-blood upbringing. And there are also the things that just make me feel that permanent connection to place.

• I am a sucker for seersucker. Pink pants with lobsters on them would have me swooning. Put it together with a navy blazer and I’m yours.

• I still think that pink and green complement each other, magnificently.

• I would rather watch tennis than any other televised or live sport. A man in whites gives me butterflies in my stomach.

• My favorite drink is an Arnold Palmer, followed closely by a Tom Collins.

• My most coveted dishes are the Lilly Pulitzer cups that K brought me from Vero beach.

• I still feel deep shame that I do not enjoy lobster.

• The married man who is pursuing me wants to have a liaison in Nantucket. I can count on him to wear a blue blazer.

• I still view Ralph Lauren as the “newcomer.” Alligators laid claim to this territory long before the pony came running through town.

• I have to consciously tie my sweater around my waist, not my shoulders.

• I am appalled when my son uses a salad fork for his main course.

• I believe that you look decent to go to the grocery store because you never know who you might run into. Jackie O was a regular at our A&P.

• I am a huge fan of the Thank You letter.

• Boarding school was a good thing.

• Never show up for dinner emptyhanded.

• Never scrape and stack dishes at the table.

• Being overdressed is way better than being underdressed.

• A man wearing a belt is hot. But not with the rodeo-rider-license-plate-sized belt buckle.

I have a friend here in town who is of the same ilk as I. As a matter of fact, small world that it is, our families’ circles even overlap in several places. We tease each other relentlessly; when I show up in my yellow and green Lilly pants, or his collar is standing at attention, we’ll mention, “your roots are showing.”

Thing is, I take great comfort in this friendship. It’s been my only connection to that past life in my new (25 years) life. Until now when all of these old friends are back in my world.

So I sit here listening to Bruce Springsteen, reminiscing over the days of my youth. Thing is, I never actually listened to Bruce back then, having become a Dead Head at a very young age. I never even heard the song “Jersey Girl” until I was living in California at age 28.

But of course, now, Bruce and Tom Waits are symbols of my youth and the only artists that I can listen to when I get in one of these melancholic I-miss-thegood-life-in-Jersey moods.

I would never move back – God forbid. It’s hot, muggy, buggy and crowded. As much as I love pink and green together, I don’t want to see it every day. I enjoy not having to worry about which fork I am using and whether my belt matches my shoes.

I love the proud feeling of having escaped, of having discovered something better.

But, as I age, as I sort out what I do and don’t want in my life, I get that there are things that influence me now that I will never leave behind. So I will embrace those things, give in to them.

Matter of fact, I just bought a pair of Madras pants.

Which I will wear with my pearl earrings while dreaming about Asbury Park.

Former Jersey girl Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos, Colo.