When I read this entry last year from one of my all time favorite writers, Rick Bragg, it literally took my breath away.
I sat with it for a long while before I put a pen to paper. Writing as everyone can attest is an organic process that comes to you when you least expect it. In my case it was a job opportunity nestled smack in the center of my hometown and the chance to go home again. I turned down the chance to return but the lingering effects of saying good-bye to my hometown in a more permanent fashion stuck with me. From there the following emerged.
This place that I had struggled to “escape” from for my entire youth. It represented what I didn’t think I wanted or needed.
Salt of the earth, hard-working, pull yourself up by your boot straps kind of people. People who didn’t hesitate to stop and offer a hand to those in need but also knew every aspect of your existence. From your first day of kindergarten to how you like your eggs cooked, your story was a piece of the fabric of the community. I believed they didn’t get me- my poetry, my drama, my need for space.
So I ran.
First to a wealthy university in a small midwestern town and to Europe for time abroad, then on to DC to chase my dreams.
Finally I settled in a midwestern, midsize city where no one knew me. Over time I learned my story revolved around what I wanted to tell not what those knew of me from childhood.
In a moment of middle-aged identity crisis I turned around and looked. I realized I had for 17 years been caught up in something superficial and I longed for home.
The place where you counted by generations how long your family had been a part of the fabric of the city.
The place where on sunday afternoons, after church, the world stopped and you all watched your team.
The place where you had your own shared “language”. Words like gum band and yinz where ways to connect with each other not language barriers.
The place where the lady down the street knew your parents by name and didn’t hesitate to call them when she caught you in the backseat of a parked car on a saturday night with a boy you thought wanted you “forever”.
Maybe that place exists in everyone’s history.
Maybe my place is not all that unique.
Maybe everyone has a Pittsburgh they call home.
But what aging has taught me is that no matter how far you travel you cannot escape the places that molded you.
You will always come back to the start.
And so now I long for that for my three young girls.
A place which knows them so intimately that they too as an 18-year-old long to escape from “home” and to become unknown in a foreign land.
A place which makes them uncomfortable with all of its knowledge of their teenage souls.
The years of aging also tend to make you look back and pause to say thank you.
Thank you for making home uncomfortable but comfortable. Beautiful and broken.
But, most of all, thank you for providing me with a foundation.
I will no longer run from my history as it has now become my refuge.