Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Buffalo Unbound

Buffalo Unbound: A Celebration by Laura Pedersen
Published by Fulcrum Publishing 
Paperback, $16
Laura Pedersen wrote a hilarious book titled Buffalo Gal, about her life growing up in the snowy city of Buffalo, New York in the 1970s. As I grew up in Auburn, New York, two hours away but just as snowy, I totally related to her stories of making your way through feet of snow to get anywhere.

I literally doubled over with laughter at Pedersen's skewered sense of humor about her family, friends and hometown. Now she has written a new book, Buffalo Unbound, telling why Buffalo is such a great city.

Buffalo has taken it's share of knocks over the years, losing industry, jobs, and population. But a turn around occurred when The New York Times ran a story a few years ago about people who were moving from New York City to Buffalo to take advantage of the inexpensive, spacious housing and opportunity that a city trying to recover affords young families.

Pedersen recounts canceling her subscription to Forbes magazine after it ranked Buffalo #8 on its list of Top Ten Most Miserable Cities. She decides to give the reasons why this is not true by writing this book.

She starts with the fact that since so many people have left Buffalo, there is plenty of room, and you never have to wait in line for anything. No traffic jams, no getting to the beach at sunrise to get a good spot.

Buffalonians have always been tough, and Pedersen illustrates this by telling of Margaret St. John, who refused to move her nine children during the war of 1812 when the British were on the way to burn the town. The British general was impressed by St. John, and left her family home alone.

Pedersen explains that her own neighbors also had nine children and went on family vacation just once in 30 years, and so she understands St. John's position perfectly. She wasn't taking all those kids anywhere.

Buffalo has always been very staunchly Catholic, and the story of Father Baker explains this. In the late 1880s, Buffalo was beginning to discover pockets of natural gas.  Father Baker got $2000 from his bishop and invited drillers from a gas company to come drill on church property.

They struck gas, and the money from the wells went to provide services such as the Infant Home, Working Boys Home, and as the Great Depression struck, Father Baker was able to provide food, medical care and clothing for hundreds of thousands of Buffalonians.

Father Baker has been placed in nomination for sainthood in the Catholic Church, and his influence is felt to this day in Buffalo.

Pedersen's chapter on the Blizzard of 1977 is interesting, and I like her suggestion for a
"Western New York holiday gift list:  generator, chain saw, wood chipper, carbon monoxide detector, Yaktrax (chains for your shoes), Buffalo Sabres Snuggie."
If you know what she's talking about, you will appreciate this book. Ethnic festivals, chicken wings, the polka, the disappointing Buffalo Bills, Frank Lloyd Wright, and sponge candy- all of these get their due in this interesting book about the pride of being from Buffalo.

Buffalo has many designations, the Good Neighbor City among them. Pedersen closes with
 "No, Buffalonians have it right. Join the club and pay your dues. Find others. Celebrate your joys and mourn your losses together. Stick with the herd. Swim with the school. Stay with the flock. And my mother says to wear a hat."
Pedersen blends humor with history in this love letter to her hometown. In the days when we are all seemingly connected only by the internet, this book is a welcome reminder about the importance of a true community like Buffalo.

Rating 4 stars out of 5

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