Connecting with The Clancys of Queens

I stayed at my mom’s house this weekend, so I commuted into Manhattan this morning from my hometown of Rockaway Beach, Queens. It’s a long but spectacular ride on the MTA’s A train. As the train leaves Rockaway and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean behind, it crosses over Jamaica Bay into the bordering town of Broad Channel. When I looked out the train window as we pulled into Broad Channel station, I recalled my experience meeting Tara Clancy and reading her new memoir The Clancys of Queens.  

Tara is a frequent guest on The Moth Radio Hour. Anyone who has heard her knows she’s a gifted storyteller with a very unique voice. In her memoir, Tara describes growing up in Queens. Because her parents divorced when she was young, Tara split her time between living with her dad in an old boat shed in the Irish Catholic community of Broad Channel, and being raised by her mom, grandparents, and her large extended Italian family in Bellerose. She was also chauffeured out to the Hamptons every other weekend to her mom’s boyfriend’s estate. A limo would literally pick her up at her dad’s shed and drive her out to the mansions that line the East end of Long Island. Moving from one strata to another with such ease is quite a talent. It also makes for one priceless education.

View of Broad Channel from the A train

View of Broad Channel from the A train

When I heard Tara would be narrating the audiobook edition of The Clancys of Queens, I asked to sit in on some of the recording. I got to talk to Tara for a bit during her lunch break that day. Having grown up in neighboring towns, we knew some of the same people. We also shared some of the same experiences. For example, it was during college that each of us realized we had an accent. You can watch Tara describe that realization here. While it was the word huge that tipped Tara off to her accent, for me it was the word softball (pronounced sawfball if you grew up in Queens).

During this morning’s commute, as I recalled Tara and her memoir, I realized I’m connected to her neighborhood by so much more than a bridge.  There’s the shared dialect, sure, but there’s another language you learn when you grow up in a working class neighborhood in Queens. You learn the language of people—all types of people. You learn about the quiet strength and courage of the cops and firemen who live in your town and protect your city. You learn the surprising stories of the regulars who line the barstools of the local taverns. You learn from the neighborhood folks who’ve moved out to the West Coast or into Manhattan where they now feel free to fully embrace their lifestyles. And you most certainly learn from the strong, loving, accepting women who have raised you in the midst of constantly growing themselves.

Regardless of where you grew up, you can share in that experience, too. Take a listen to The Clancys of Queens.