Belle Harbor Is Home
Belle Harbor Is HomeDear Editor:
(Eric Capper, a resident of Rockaway and a senior at Xaverian High School wrote this letter. It was read at a memorial service that was held at the school.)
For as long as I can remember, Rockaway, Belle Harbor to be specific, has been the quiet, safe, sandy haven on the outskirts of New York City. Belle Harbor is praised for its suburbia-like qualities, lovely beaches and easy accessibility to the greatest city in the world. Belle Harbor has been as big a piece of my life as my closest of friends or my family. To tell you the truth, I don't think I would have done so well if I couldn't have come home everyday across the Marine Parkway Bridge to see the horizon glimmering across Jamaica Bay, or Saint Francis de Sales standing strong like the monument of our Catholic community or wake up every morning to the sweet sounds and smells of the Atlantic Ocean. Belle Harbor is home, and to put it very simply, there's no place like home.
I grew up in a two family house on 123rd Street in Belle Harbor. I lived with my mom, dad, and two cats that were older than me; we shared the houses with the Gerace's, who are Bolivian and Italian. They celebrate their Bolivian heritage more than their Italian heritage, because Spanish is the common language of the household and trips to Bolivia are a common thing for them. Since both my parents worked, I ended up spending just as much time in their half of the house as I did in my own half, and was raised with their five children. They became "mi otra familia," my other family.
Now, growing up with Tanya, Nando, Graciela, Coni and Laura, I became accustomed to calling their parents "Mama" and "Papa", just as they all did. They became my second parents, and their children became the siblings that an only child longs for, being that I never lived with my Dad's kids, my half brother and sister. Anyway, during Thanksgiving dinner last year, I was offered the opportunity to partake in a forty-day summer visit to Santa Cruz and Reyes, Bolivia with the Gerace's. How could I resist?
The trip was amazing, and once we entered the tiny Bolivian town called Reyes, I quickly grew accustomed to a great feeling of awe that often overtook me. The people there treated you with so much love and respect that it is amazing. First of all, Mama introduced me to the town as her "otro hijo," other son and five minutes after I arrived, I felt as welcome in that small town as I do in Belle Harbor. The trip turned out to be a great experience. I loved it and hope one day to return. The trip gave me a different perspective on my own hometown. I realized how much we take for granted and how fortunate we are.
Recently, my perspective has changed even more. Since I started elementary school, 129th Street has been the heart of Belle Harbor. Not only does it have a very respectable bakery, Ciro's Pizza and Bon Appetite Delicatessen, but it also has Saint Francis de Sales, our local parish church. Across the street from St. Francis is the church parking lot and the basketball courts; this street really is the center of our little town. Every day, I went there to meet my friends, and it was not what we did as much as the fact that we were together, and we were home on our quiet little peninsula.
Belle Harbor has become as just as much a part of all of us as we are of it, so you can imagine the way we all felt when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed on 131st Street, destroying family and home alike. My friends and I, at the time, immediately ran towards the crash to see if our help was needed. The fires were still raging, and when we got there, every single one of us realized we shouldn't have come. Immediately, I was filled with a swell of pain, sorrow and remorse. The sight of the smoke, friends and loved ones crying and Belle Harbor in such chaos made me physically ill. I took a long walk with my friends that night. We realized that life must be lived, and that every ounce of sympathy we could muster went out along with our prayers to the many victims of Flight 587. Everyday since, I've loved life, my friends and my quaint little town that much more.