Thoughts & Views: Yes, it’s good to be back home again

When I was a kid, spending summers up at Culver Lake, my family loved to play John Denver music. In fact, they played it so much that I grew to hate all of his songs until I got older. If one of his songs came on the radio, I turned it off. But I grew to love Denver’s music again in my early 20s, and one song today has a particular significance:

“Ain’t it Good to Be Back Home.”

As I write this, I’m sitting on a deck at my mom’s home on Lake Owassa, which is technically Newton. To the north, less than a mile away and within view, is the Appalachian Trail. It’s a sight you really have to see to appreciate.

To say the least, it’s great to be back home in New Jersey for two weeks, a time to see family, a way to see old friends, a way to escape the still-absurd heat of Port St. Lucie, Fla., my new home.

And yet, as I am here in New Jersey for a few weeks, I can’t help but think of my old hometown Kearny, a place that was home from 1985 until 2006. I am reminded of my dear friend Barbara Cifelli Sherry’s letter to the editor of a few months ago where she took exception to people who criticize Kearny because it’s changed so much over the years and decades.

How many times, indeed, have we heard “Kearny just isn’t the same anymore. It’s not like the good old days, when many were Irish or Scottish — and when everyone knew the English language.”

Every time I hear that, I cringe. Every time I read it, I cringe [and lord knows, people write it often on Facebook]. And I definitely take exception to it.

I’ve always said if the day comes when I decide to return to New Jersey from Florida — and it may very well happen one day — that it’ll be to Kearny or nowhere at all.

This notion that Kearny was a better place back then because everyone spoke English isn’t just absurd, it’s insulting — especially considering I can recall as a young boy needing a translator occasionally when someone from Scotland spoke to me.

The notion that Kearny was a better place back then because the restaurants were fish and chips joints rather than restaurants that serve Latino, Cuban, Portuguese, Spanish food is just as absurd. The notion that Kearny was a better place back then because it was so much more vanilla is as bad as it gets.

And yet, there are some — many, in fact, it seems — who would let those who don’t know Kearny believe that the second you enter the town, you’re being approached by drug-selling gang members on filthy streets while reading signs that are only in Spanish.

You might be led to believe if you lived here, chances are your home has been or will be burgled.

Some have this notion that if you put your kids through school here, they’re not getting a top-notch education.

I could go on here forever with examples of how people have absolutely trashed this town — and 95% of it is a bunch of lies and bullcrap, frankly.

Has Kearny changed? Of course it has. What was once Hudson County’s only Republican- controlled town is now heavily Democratic.

Do we hear Portuguese or Spanish being spoken on the streets? Sure we do. But we also still hear Polish, Italian, French and many other languages being spoken here. This makes me wonder even more about the people who say Kearny has changed too much: Are they really offended English isn’t being spoken or are they offended because Portuguese and Spanish are being spoken?

And yet, I still find myself attracted to Kearny because of that diversity. I love that on a given day, one could go to the Greeks for a typical Jerseystyle breakfast with Taylor ham, egg and cheese — and then later in the day, head to dinner to enjoy some of the finest European cuisine on this side of the Atlantic.

I love that a kid of Irish descent could be on a team with a kid of Portuguese descent. And do you think any of that matters to the kids on that soccer team? Of course it doesn’t. But for some reason, for many former Kearny residents, it does — and it turns them off, which makes me sick thinking about their reaction.

I love that after being away from The Observer after a two-year stint as the newspaper’s editor from 2006 to 2008, I could return in a different capacity four years later. The best years of my life were at The Observer – and in coming back, I’ve been able to rekindle some of the best friendships I’ve ever had – with people of Scottish, Irish, British, Portuguese, Brazilian, Italian and Spanish descent.

Did I also mention you haven’t worked for a true boss until you’ve worked for Bob Pezzolla, the general manager of The Observer – and that one couldn’t have a better colleague than I do in one of my childhood idols in Ron Leir? Did I mention how lucky I am to also have colleagues like Karen Zautyk, Jim Hague [my fellow Prepster], Michelle Rybeck, Melissa Bastek, Diana Crespo and Kim Pezzolla?

Thankfully, many of the Kearny bashers have since departed Kearny for other places in New Jersey and across the country. Good riddance to them, indeed! They think they left for the better. I say they left behind a Kearny that is, itself, a better place because they’re gone.

What’s even worse is that if you asked any of these folks the last time they were in town, they probably wouldn’t even know. But of all ironies, if they did come back for a visit, they’d likely learn it just isn’t as bad as they might have thought.

I know that’s true. You likely do, too. And I know if the time comes where Florida is just too hot to handle anymore, I would be happy to once again tell people where I’m from: my beloved hometown of Kearny.

John Denver, God rest your soul, you were right — it really is great to be back home again.

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Editor & Broadcaster at 

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, an organization he has served since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook, and X, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to Kearny to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.