The Tape: Finding My Mom In New York City

Preparations for my Mom's funeral were overwhelming. I was driven by productivity, checking off the list of to-dos to keep some semblance of control in what otherwise felt like chaos. Through all the planning and organizing was a surprising discovery that lit my spirit a little.

My Mom was a professional modern dancer for the Bill Evans Dance Company in the late 1970's through the 80's. For 10 years she performed locally in Seattle and around the U.S. with many of the performances recorded. My Mom talked about her experiences as a dancer and I always wished I could have witnessed it, but she stopped dancing when I was young to focus on raising me and my brother. Now amid the strangest kind of turmoil I had ever experienced, I discovered an archive of her dance life, 3,000 miles away.

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I must give credit to my Uncle Fenton (my Mom's brother) who discovered it. Just by a search into the details of Bill Evan's company, a link popped up, that led us to the New York Public Library. Up until January 2015, we did not know a piece of my Mom's history lay safely stored on their shelves.

I looked into borrowing a copy for the funeral to share that powerful part of her life, but as I had imagined, they don't allow archived videos to be released. Offering very kind condolences they said the videos are available for viewing anytime in the library. So right then and there I created an account, got my 4 digit pin, and promised myself that one day I would visit and watch this video.

5 months later, I did.

The NY trip was inspired too by my friend Nicole's desire to go and knowing that there lie my chance to not only see this amazing city, but reconnect to my Mom, was an opportunity I could not pass up.

New York is a city bustling with life, character, and history. Here were some of the highlights...

 

9/11 Museum

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I was in my 4th grade classroom when the towers were hit. Witnessing the destruction on the news was so far beyond belief, the shock so immense, I could only imagine the magnitude of those directly affected by that painful day. In all honesty, visiting the site was like a new shock to my system. I had forgotten, and living on the West Coast so removed from the event, had not ever really known the severity and struggle of it. It made the experience of walking through the memorial even more powerful and humbling. 

I highly recommend it.

Where the towers once stood are now deep caverns, each with a thin but strong cascading waterfall on all four sides. Bordering all around are dark steel plaques with the names of over 3,000 men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. Some were highlighted in gold, reflecting the light, thin gaps in the metal allowed for flowers to be placed, and there were plenty. Delicately placed, they are a simple but beautiful way to show appreciation for an immense sacrifice.

The line was long, but it was so worth it. The museum is beautifully designed, very minimalist and bare, letting the content really speak for itself. There are sections devoted to highlighting the service members of New York and surrounding areas, details of the flights involved, the repercussions  of the attack as it pertains to the War on Terror, letters and anecdotes from people to their loved ones, and so much more. It was incredibly moving and reminded me just how strong and resilient these people are. As a city, as a state, as a nation, people from all walks of life banded together to do their part in this injustice. And though you would hope such unification could happen under peace and prosperity, it is powerful to see it happen during adversity. I guess that's truly when it is needed most.

 

coney island

Coney island is awesome. A part of the Brooklyn neighborhood, it's a great summer getaway for locals and tourists alike. The weather on the day we went was lovely, crisp blue skies and every color seemed to pop with so much vibrancy. And there is a lot of color. The dozens of amusement rides, the large 'Wonder Wheel' looming brilliantly over you, and the saturated yellow and red umbrellas of Nathan's hot dog restaurant all pull for your attention. Then there's the soft sandy beach with lots of beautiful sea shells and the vast ocean spotted with laughing people. That was quite lovely too :)  

 

central park

Made up of 843 acres, Central Park is like a vast forested escape from the concrete of the city. My favorite areas were the Bethesda fountain and the Mall & Literary Walk, a straight long paved path lined by enormous American Elm trees and local artists, their easels decorated with beautiful landscapes and quirky caricatures. It was peaceful yet lively, and though an escape from the cars and hum of city life, it felt very much a part of the city. We watched street performers and heard live music, rode on a carousel (I really like them), and I even left a surreptitious note near the fountain for my friend Erica to find. She was visiting New York a week or so later and fyi she found the note. SUCCESS.  

Also, on the upper east side of the park, near the obelisk, you'll discover a lovely, pretty well known museum... 

 

metropolitan museum of art

Founded in 1870, the MET is distinguished, brilliant, and the largest art museum in the United States. Exhibits cover tons of time periods, from Egyptian hieroglyphics and statues to the designs of the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. My favorite of the exhibits, his work was beautifully showcased in a detailed F.L.W. inspired room. His work was very Arts & Crafts; low ceilings, straight lines, and detailed craftsmanship. My dream is to one day visit his Taliesin West home he designed in 1937 in Scottsdale, AZ and the ever memorizing 1935 Falling Water home in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. 

If you buy tickets at the door, it is all donation based and you decide the amount you'd like to pay. You can also buy advanced tickets, prices start at $25 for adults. I would recommend giving yourself at least 2 hours to explore. There's lots to see.

 

staten island & the statue of liberty

Two wonderful, distinct places of U.S. history. The statue of liberty is extremely impressive, the scale and green patina still clear in my mind. Nicole and I took a ferry, which runs between the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island, which was so cool. Versed with tons of history, you can read about the migration of the thousands of people over the Atlantic, the growth of the nation, and further migration West. At the island, there is an area devoted to researching family members who came through Staten Island. Nicole was able to find some of her family history, which was really cool.

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nyc library for the performing arts + the tape

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The moment of truth. When I walked into the 3rd floor of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division building of the New York Public Library, I was slightly giddy, a childlike enthusiasm running through me that, in stride with the overwhelming pain, reminded me that joy can still be felt even in the memory of a loved one. And here was a moment when I got to engage in a really joyous reminiscence. 

When I asked the attendant about the video, I was so excited to explain the details. This was not just some video of some modern dance to fulfill a whim, this was my Mom, a beautiful dancer who left impressions on each and every person she danced with. 

I sat down at my assigned computer, the chair slightly cold to the touch, and slid on the worn cushioned headphones. A slight crackle from the tape pricked my ears, and soon the soft melody of classical music began to play. I read the title and saw the dancers’ names listed, my eyes immediately found Theresa Kraft. My Mom. I felt such immense pride. Through the grain and faded quality of the film, I could tell, without question, which dancer was her. She had a distinct form, a simultaneously delicate and strong movement, that I grew up admiring. So even through the blur I could see her. Remember her. Connect with her.

I wish I could have gotten just one photo, just one. But it's a good reminder that significance doesn't have to be lost when there is no visual proof to remember it by. I'll have that memory forever.

 

the highline

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Such a unique park of the city, the Highline was a favorite of mine during our visit. It is a really cool example of nature and metal cohesively combined, working within the parameters of the surrounding buildings and infrastructure to create something that feels organic, and not just because it is covered in plants (though that is a distinct feature). It is built on a historic freight rail line elevated above Manhattan's West Side streets. I still fondly remember and love how foliage and bloomed flowers covered the old railway tracks. There were lounge chairs and stones to give you a quick rest, and ice cream. Melt Bakery had a small stand set up with these delicious ice cream sandwiches with such tantalizing names like 'thick mint' and 'morticia'. The Highline has an awesome partnership with restaurants and bakeries, all the proceeds return back to the maintenance and operation of the line.  

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my ny gallery

 

That trip was wonderful. New York has so much character and is a really enjoyable city to explore. I am so grateful that I acted on my motivation to see my Mom in a new way and for it to work out as smoothly as it did. Dance was such an important part of her life, a love that she carried with her long past her days of professional dancing, that she instilled in me, so to watch that tape felt like I was connected to her again. I cherished every minute.

The significance of the discovery and the act of exploring it through travel means a lot to me, as much now as it did 2 years ago. I could have thought finding that tape was a nice idea and just left it at that, but I knew if I did not act on the impulse, I would regret it. Traveling to New York was my own endeavor to further immortalize my Mom's memory. I hope too that it might provide inspiration for others to make a journey. I believe when you are compelled by an opportunity to discover, connect, or reconnect, that urge should be pursued. Whether it is 1 mile or 3,000 miles away, it is the greatest investment to seek.

 

Warm wishes,

Kels