New York City, a homecoming

typical street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn

Both of my parents were born and raised in Brooklyn.  Both of my older brothers were born there as well, although the family moved to Missouri for the boys’ early years, and then to Ontario just before I was born.  I have never lived in New York City although I came close once, a lifetime ago.

I had a revelation about this American heritage this past Christmas. My oldest brother and his family (who live in California) were visiting, as were some local friends who had stopped by for dessert. In the course of conversation, I overheard him say, “Yes, I always knew I would go back to the States.”  I was mildly shocked to hear him say ‘back’.  That sounded odd to me as *I* grew up in Canada and never thought of the U.S. as home. Back?  I only saw his move to Boston (where he went to school) as leaving.

Looking back I see of course that my brothers had an entirely different childhood to mine.  They grew up together, 2 years apart in age, in Missouri, with their parents still together.  I grew up in Ontario, both brothers out of the house by the time I reached the age of 7, with a single mom and a weekend dad who had remarried and started another family by the time I was 5.  (My parents divorced while I was still an infant.) My brothers and I share very few childhood memories, particularly of place or location.


For the past few years, I have made a bi-annual trip to New York with varying configurations of family in attendance. What was originally an informal gathering of my mother’s family has now officially been called the Lem Family Reunion.  And true to the Lem family’s ethos of thrift and autonomy, we first gather in a food court – Grand Central Station, South Street Seaport – to catch up.  Then, with news and updates out of the way, a day or two later we meet in Chinatown for a traditional Chinese meal.  Chicken heads and all.

This year, we had 18 people.  We came from Toronto, Austin, Los Angeles and Chicago, joining those who still live in Brooklyn and New Jersey.  To get a sense of future possibilities: there were 15 Lem children, with my mom being 2nd youngest.  6 Lem siblings are still living.  In total there are 26 Lem cousins, widely scattered across the U.S.  I have lost count of their children.

This year’s reunion was last weekend.  I went with Angus, my mom and my sister-in-law from California–and Carsten joined us for part of the time.  Click any photo to enlarge.



  1. How wonderful — the stream of photos are beautiful. Both of my parents were born and raised in New York City (my mother in Brooklyn and my father in Manhattan), too, but I’ve lived in several states so I never know what to call home! I’m glad you all have this special trip — I’m sure there are many stories to tell —

    • Haha our paths keep crisscrossing :) Based on your photos in LA, seems you’ve landed in an ideal place regardless of the path behind you… Thanks for your comment E.

  2. Jennifer,

    Awesome pictures, and interesting story! You’re very talented. I’ve always wanted to go to New York, and at one point thought about moving there myself.


    • Thanks Mike! I love it there but I always need a week to recover when I get home.

  3. I love this post Jen! It reminds me that as the baby of 7 who emigrated here when I was 7, how different my family experience was from my siblings. I have a brother who is nearly 20 older and sometimes I wonder if we grew up in the same family. And I realize in many ways we didn’t.
    Love the black and whites!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *