Why I live in Smallbany

Most of the spots Leah mentions in her story.

By Leah Wolff-Pellingra

soapbox badgeI never thought I'd stay.

In the Capital District, that is.

My mom's family has lived in Smallbany since 1736. We fought for New York in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Five generations of my family have lived on the same road in West Albany. My great-grandfather built four of the houses for himself and his children. My grandfather was born, went to school K-12, lived, raised a family, and died at home, all in one of those houses. My grandmother's family had long standing Irish roots in South Albany. My grandparents met at a USO dance and had their first date at Ralph's on Central Ave. Their grandchildren spent their childhoods meeting every Sunday for pancakes, then walking down the street for Grandma's pies and Kurver Ice Cream.

For my father's family, Smallbany was a refuge. They arrived in 1948 after fleeing Nazi Germany as Jewish refugees. We are now four generations of family at Congregation Gates of Heaven on Ashmore Ave in Schenectady.

I was raised in Schodack and went to East Greenbush schools, then to UAlbany. I married a boy from 'Toga and we lived in Guilderland. Now we're raising our daughters in Niskyuna.

That's how it happened. That's how I stayed.

But it took a Super Bowl weekend trip to LA to make me realize why it is I'm really here.

I stepped off the plane and into LAX just in time to see Tom Brady's epic fail of a Hail Mary pass. I was a stranger in a strange land, where the people studiously avoided eye contact, but I was a proud New Yorker. The team that trains at my alma mater had just given me every right to strut.

At first I felt like a country mouse in LA. Don't get me wrong -- I don't mind big cities. I absolutely love New York City, but I was overwhelmed by the enormity of LAX with her abstract art, neon glowing palm trees, and fashionably dressed people waiting for others to carry their expensive luggage while complaining about this cold snap of 65 degrees in February.

Still, it wasn't the lack of eye contact and the $130,000 cell phones on Rodeo Drive that made me realize how much I prefer Albany to LA, it was an unexpected illness that turned my three day trip into a week long visit. Seven days, six nights in the LA medical system and all I got was a lousy t-shirt.

When my husband, Dave, got the emergency call back in Smallbany, troops began rallying. Dave booked a flight at Albany International while his boss from Queensbury helped make sure he was covered at work. My parents in East Greenbush were packing up my girls in Niskayuna to stay with them, while my father-in-law in Ballston Lake offered to drive Dave to the airport. My sister-in-law and her boyfriend in Saratoga booked Dave a hotel, while my aunt in Colonie village drove over to West Albany to check on my grandmother who had just heard the news. My brother and sister-in-law headed from Latham to Niskayuna to do the same for my grandfather.

This was all possible because in Smallbany nearly everything and everyone is 20 minutes away. And the stuff that requires a trip downstate, or to places like Vermont, the Adirondacks, Connecticut, the Berkshires, Boston and the Cape, or over to Syracuse and Rochester are only a morning's drive. Meanwhile, you're home, living in a village that is aware of its people.

And on the day we needed them, our personal village was aware.

The next morning, while Dave was changing planes in Chicago, the Caring Community Chair from our congregation called -- from our doorstep -- to ask where she should leave the food, front door or back?

It was like an all points bulletin had gone out. Our Facebook walls lit up with questions: What can we do? Do you need help with the girls? Do your mom and dad need a respite from the girls or do the kids just want to meet up for a play date? Can we check on the house for you? Who's picking up your mail? Will you need help when you get home? What do you like to eat and when can we drop it off? Go to Disneyland before you come home -- you deserve it. Forget Disney and come home now; we miss you.

When I had called my doctors in Smallbany for guidance, all the secretaries knew my name, asked after my kids, stayed on the phone. They held my hand -- and David's -- across 3000 miles as they waited for the doctors to come to the phone -- just to make sure we were not alone.

Back in Smallbany, my father's family gathered a mile from my house at my grandfather's home for his 91st birthday and my dad's 60th. My cousin sent me a video of my smallest riding up the stairs with her sister on my grandfather's stair lift, with a note: "Wish You Were Here."

On Valentine's Day, David and I flew home into Albany International. Everyone met our eyes, and everyone said, "Hello," smiled back, and offered to help as Dave wheeled me through the airport with our bags in tow. I wanted homemade tapioca from Gershon and I got it. My cousin brought milk and eggs from Stewarts and flowers from Anthology Studio. My mom stayed to help get the girls to bed, and was back the next morning as Dave headed off to work.

Neighbors checked in. Friends stopped over. An indoor planter from Felthousen's and tree for the garden from Fadddgan's, promising spring. Dave brought me Emperor's noodle soup after picking up the grocery order from Price Chopper Shops4U. Later in the week, my mother made chicken soup and stayed with the girls and I for Shabbat, soaking up the broth with Mt. Pleasant Bakery's challah.

So, here I am. A lifetime resident of Smallbany. For my generation, a sign of "growing up" is uprooting and transplanting in a new home in a new area. But, my roots run deep here.

And I'm proud to have Smallbany as my home.

Leah the Nosher writesNoshingConfessions and has lived in Rensselaer, Albany and Schenectady counties. She has yet to try Saratoga, but she married a guy from Milton, so that should count for something.

Leah on the Soapbox:
+ Kids in public
+ Pioneer Market and the gentrification of the Collar City


I came when I was 19, left when I was 31, and still think of it as kind of my hometown. I don't share the reasons for this sentiment with the author (which are centered around childhood and family), but I always felt Albany was the smallest big city and the biggest small town I'd ever lived in.

Albany Love is a lovely thing.

This is a great reminder of why we stay or in my case, come back. I lived in some great big cities and sometimes feel like I miss the more cosmopolitan offerrings. This is a nice reminder of why so many of us return. Family, friends, proximity to those cities whenever we want. A great place to raise kids and a network of caring neighbors cannot be replaced!

I was born and raised in the Capital Region. Left the area back in 2006. Now I live outside Rochester with my wife and family. I certainly miss the area for sure. The internet does make it easier to keep myself somewhat involved. It also helps that my parents still live in Sch'dy. So I still have some ties to there and still visit every now and then.
I work for the DOT, so my job still has some Albany influence in it.

The thing I miss the most is probably Stewart's.

Great piece, Leah! I left Albany when I was 18 and have lived in California for the past 10 years, but still consider the 518 my home at heart.

I'd say the thing I miss most from the Capital District would be Albany Italian food. Even my wife (an LA girl) admits that little Smallbany has more great Italian places than all of Southern California.... I also profess a fondness for the Albany area's abundant bowling alleys and the beautiful waterfalls up in Rennselaerville.

Maybe when the 518 becomes a mecca for Latin music and Argentine food, I'll move back. Til then, I'm always happy to visit.

This post is less about the Capital Region, and more about living in a place where you're surrounded by friends, family, and decades of personal history.

It's a real blessing, but people wear walking away from it as a badge of honor. Or never had it in their hometown in the first place.

> This post is less about the Capital Region, and more about living in a place
> where you're surrounded by friends, family, and decades of personal history.

Agreed. Switch the town names, it could have been written by a LA resident in All Over Los Angeles (tm).

Yes, indeed, Laurie Bird. As a transplant to Albany at age 32 after living in a couple of other cities around the country, I do love it here, but have no family or history here. This area has more people with roots in the area than other places I have lived. This is both wonderful - a sense of history, lots of great stories, easy to get recommendations for contractors, mechanics, etc. - and a bit sad for us newcomers because natives don't really understand what it's like to have no family around and are less likely to create "family" with strangers than in other places I've lived.

I've also found that natives gripe about the place as much as - often more than - outsiders. Sometimes when you've lived in a place forever, you don't appreciate the great stuff about it.

Like you can get anywhere in 20 minutes in Los Angeles.

Smalbany always sounded derogatory to me.

No other US location has a better combination of nature, urban availability and convenience

What a nice story! I found the reference to Smallbany throughout a little distracting - I like calling it that as a joke, but not as a real place. But that's just me. I like Albany too, with no roots here but the ones I've made in the past 6 years. Its fun to hear others stories - and so glad to hear it was a happy ending!

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