Wednesday, May 5, 2010

When I was Seventeen. . .

Remember that old song by Sinatra?

". . . when I was seventeen . . . it was a very good year. . ."

Actually, seventeen WAS a very good year for me, probably the single best year of my life. I graduated from high school two or three days after my seventeenth birthday and flew to The Big Apple to live with my older sister in a beautiful old brownstone in Upper Manhattan for over a year. I was supporting myself and feeling very grown up.

New York is where I developed my deep love for books and literature because my first job in the Big Apple consisted of working in the Enrollment Department at the Book of the Month Club located at (I'll never forget it) 345 Hudson Street, just a couple of blocks from Wall Street.

Every week day morning, I walked the two blocks to Broadway from West End Avenue and picked up a cheese danish from one of the local bakeries. The proprietors were busily scrubbing down the walks in front of their shops, but always had time for a chirpy good morning. Next was the newsstand on the corner where I descended into the subway system. Another cheery "Good morning, young lady, and how are you today?"

So much for the dour New Yorker.

Next, I'd hop the subway into downtown Manhattan, hanging from the strap just like the rest of the old timers and reading my newspaper, neatly folded lengthwise in order to read with one hand.

I was a savvy New Yorker and oh, so happy.

And then there were the Saturday nights ushering for La Puma Opera Company followed by cheese omelets at an all night coffee shop, called Russell's, and once in a while an afternoon at the Met where I saw Giuseppe Campora make his Metropolitan debut. It was a wonderful opportunity to earn a living, to meet new and interesting, and sometimes wacky, friends that I would never forget.

It just makes me think, though, how sheltered our kids are today. I was barely seventeen and on my on. Today, kids are still living at home in their middle twenties and supported by parents whose insurance will soon be covering them at age 28.

I worry that kids today are so coddled and overly protected from every possible risk -- even working while going to college appears to be anathema for some parents -- and every unknown in their lives, that they will never experience what it's like to try something a little risky on their own. Risk taking and thinking outside the box help us to expand in so many ways, but especially in self confidence, knowledge and plain, unadulterated happiness.

Going to New York at 17 was a landmark in my life -- one that I've never forgotten, an adventure that I would happily wish upon my own grandchildren.

So I say to High School grads: if you're not ready for college, do something different and exciting. Get away from your parents and volunteer for some of the programs offerered by the government. Or just travel to a foreign land, learn a foreign language, work hard and represent your country with dignity -- when you do finally return and decide to go to school, you'll get a break on your tuition from the government. Live a little before you get tied down with family and mortgage. Do it now while you're young. Remember,

. . . seventeen, eighteen, nineteen and twenty -- they're all very good years -- to test your wings and fly. . .

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