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It took a disaster for NJ to get some love

For me, New Jersey is more than the land between New York and Pennsylvania. I've long called it "The Fatherland," in tribute to it being the birthplace of my dad and most of his family. But in truth, New Jersey is much more than that for me. And finally, it's starting to be much more than that for many of you.

There may be no state in our great union more disrespected than New Jersey. No. I'll go ahead and say with certainty that there is not. Forever the butt of jokes, New Jersey is endlessly misunderstood and misrepresented by the visitors who have seen little more than the view from the Turnpike or Newark Airport. For those who have never been there, it's the home of TV mobsters and boorish guidos making fools of themselves down the shore.

But for those of us who really know New Jersey, we know how truly wonderful it is. From the vast farmland in the south to the wide, white beaches in the east to the rolling hills in the north, we know of New Jersey's beauty, its serenity, its sense of home. As an adult, it's where I spent a summer in college and plenty of time since visiting friends and family. As a child, it's where my family spent virtually all our summer vacations visiting my grandparent, uncles, aunts and cousins, who lived from the southern tip of the peninsula up the coast past Atlantic City.

My mother's parents retired from New York City to Mystic Island in a neighborhood built along lagoons in the intracoastal waters near Atlantic City and Long Beach Island. Sadly, the complexion of that part of the Garden State has been changed forever, and with it a big part of my childhood is gone. I learned tonight that Grandma and Grandpa's old house was damaged beyond repair.

I haven't stepped foot in that house for more than two decades, since my grandparents retired for a second time to central Florida. But I remember it fondly. The dock in the backyard, where Grandpa helped me bait crab traps to catch a special dinner. The old dishwasher that had to be hooked up to the sink, rags wrapped around the hoses connected to the faucet as it ran. The lighthouse lamp in Uncle Thom's bedroom. The houndstooth chair and ottoman that always fascinated me. The fact that somehow Santa Claus knew where we were during Christmas visits so we still had gifts in our stockings and presents under the tree. The cartoon character pancakes Grandpa wowed us with every morning (he sometimes still does).

That little house on West Mullica Drive was something special for our family; small, but always room for everyone, just like New Jersey.

It's sad to see what's happened to New Jersey. But it's nice to see that many of you are finally taking notice of it for the first time in a positive way, even if it's coming from a negative. It's sad that your first view of what so many of us have grown up loving may be of destruction and ruin. But it's nice to know that many of you care enough to help our friends, family and neighbors as they pick up the pieces and start to rebuild their lives.

It took a disaster, but New Jersey is finally getting some love. The rest of the country is getting a look at the people and the places that make New Jersey so special. Maybe it will help some of you in the Cape Fear understand a little bit better some of your neighbors here who used to call New Jersey home. You'll perhaps better understand the pride and passion they have for what they left behind.

Yes, New Jersey may be home to plenty of oil refineries and landfills, but more importantly, for so many of us, it's home to so much more. Maybe next time, you won't think of New Jersey as a joke. Instead, maybe you'll think of it as a place where real people have real lives. And right now, many of those people are hurting.

So to all of you who are taking time to make disaster relief donations, to say a prayer or just to take notice, from all of us with a piece of New Jersey in our heart, thank you. The Garden State can use all the support it can get.

By: Kevin Wuzzardo

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