A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: A message from an erstwhile English teacher 

January 12, 2021

Greetings from Brooklyn! I was delighted when I was invited to write a guest blog, and of course I couldn’t resist the temptation to talk about a BOOK YOU HAVE TO READ!!!

But first, let me tell you what’s been happening here in NYC. Like all around the world, life has been upended by COVID. The subways have been eerily quiet and trash pick-up isn’t what it used to be. And there’s no denying that so many of the things that make New York New York--such as live theater, bustling restaurants, crowded streets with people happily (or grumpily) shuffling and bumping into each other, concerts, sporting events--are all on hold. But that’s the same everywhere, right? 

A core thing you need to understand about New York is that the average person pays a lot of money to live in a small amount of space. Why do they do it? Because they can get cool jobs in NYC they can’t find anywhere else. Because they meet and schmooze with people from all over the world who come here to do interesting things. Because it’s a center of culture, academia, art, finance, commerce, etc, etc, etc. Because there’s so much to do outside of their small apartments, and they spend so little time there anyway, the lack of space doesn’t bother them. 

Except now. Now it’s different, because for New Yorkers, being stuck at home means being confined to small apartments. If they are lucky enough to still have their job, they may work from home (which makes it worse) or at their parents’ house back in the burbs (which can be pretty awesome). Many of us lost our jobs because the restaurants, theaters, hotels, and shops we worked in have closed. Again, this is not unique to New York. 

You know what hasn’t changed, though? Something that IS unique to New York? The skyline.  The views. The bridges. The parks. The paths along the rivers. The history. 

Many of you who read this blog may only know the Disney-fied version of NYC in the past twenty years. A very funny comedian recently referenced how anomalous it is that there is an M&M store in Times Square. Isn’t NYC tougher than that? Well, yes, we are. We’ve been through harder and worse. And we will get through this. 

The last few weeks in November I worked helping a new restaurant in Brooklyn get ready to open. The restaurant is named Francie, after Francie Nolan, the protagonist in the great American novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The owners of the restaurant came up with the name long before the pandemic struck, but it has become an apt analog. Francie Nolan came from a poor Irish immigrant family who lived in Williamsburg. Things weren’t easy, but Francie and her family survived the adverse and difficult circumstances of early 1900’s Brooklyn, and things eventually got better. 

In the annals of English literature, Francie Nolan personifies resilience, hard work, hope, and the value of education. Francie slogged through tough times and the book ended happily with a brighter future ahead for Francie and the Nolan family. We will do the same. Like the tree of the title, Francie the restaurant will take root in Brooklyn, grow, and prosper. 

In the meantime, on a more personal note, it has not escaped my notice that I was also living in New York during 911. I’m currently working on my second book (which I started 20 years ago at college, so never give up, people!!) which is set during 911 in the high-end New York restaurant world. I seem destined to be here in this powerful, magical, exhausting and exhilarating city at times of crisis. As uncomfortable and unsure as things have been, I’m happy to be here to support the city who’s given me so much. And I’m really excited and honored to help bring back restaurants. 

Don’t worry. I’m taking notes. 

Miss and love you all! 

Erica W. Cantley

Follow on Instagram @ericawcantley 

Website: https://ericawcantley.com/