This I believe- you can always go home again.
I grew up in a lower class suburb of Pittsburgh. Sons and daughters of steel workers were my classmates. My parents as a minister and nurse where one of the wealthiest couples in town. We lived in the biggest house on our street, probably the biggest in the school district.
I felt out of place. My parents were from the east coast and had only landed in this Pittsburgh suburb by chance. My father and mother both longed for the big city and wanted out of my father’s very rural parish in eastern PA. They took the first offer he got in a big city and so by default I was born five months later at West Penn Hospital in downtown Pittsburgh. My parents brought me home to the house on St. George Drive hoping to give me the benefits of the big city in a suburb that was a tad cheaper then the others around.
I went to school every day riding the bus with my two brothers and always feeling like I never quite fit in with my blue collar classmates. I longed for places far away and dreamed of becoming a diplomat. My parents sacrificed a lot to encourage my dreams and took me on vacations all over the world. Some children went to Disney World, for my ninth birthday I went to Iceland. My neighborhood friends dreamed of just one vacation in five years while I spent every summer at the shore or traipsing up and down the east coast in my father’s K-car.
At 18 I finally made a permanent escape from my “hometown” by enrolling at a wealthy, private university situated among the picturesque farmlands of western Ohio. Alongside children of doctors, lawyers and even diplomats I attempted to keep up. I joined the most expensive sorority on campus and took two jobs to be able to afford the trendy labels my friends wore. When people asked where I was from I always responded with the name of a town one town over from where my parents lived. It was the wealthier suburb.
I lived abroad then returned to Ohio, graduated, married my husband and moved to Washington DC. I began my carrier in politics. Three years later we made a break back to Ohio and I became a part of the white color set in this very white color town. We put down roots, bought a house and began to raise a family. My parents moved away to a town 40 minutes from where I grew up so it was easy on those Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with them to forget my roots. And still I felt like I didn’t quite fit in.
Then this past June my world stopped spinning for a moment when my best friend called and told me her father was dying. He had been a second father to me. The man who had taken me to my first football game, who encouraged my interest in baseball and who always made me feel like I did belong was passing away from terminal cancer.
I spent weekends over the next 3 months enduring the long drive on I-70 back to the place I had so badly wanted to erase. I sat in the house that had been my second home for 15 years. I talked to the parents of friends who I had long since lost touch with. I was remembered and embraced.
My friend’s father lost his battle with cancer in October. My husband was on a business trip and my parents were watching my young daughter so I attended the funeral alone. I arrived early and sat towards the back of the Catholic Church in a pew by myself. One by one old classmates, PTA moms and neighbors began to arrive. Another old and very dear friend came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to join her and her family towards the front of the church. We cried together at the untimely lose of a man so loved and so full of life
After the funeral we all piled into cars and drove to the local VFW for a reception in his honor. Over the course of the next few hours I connected with my high school science teacher and laughed with my old girlfriends over long ago and almost forgotten high school pranks.
I was the last to leave the reception with my best friend and her family and when I hugged her goodbye in the parking lot I felt a sense of comfort and belonging I had never thought I could feel. These people, this town, this was my family. This place with its rusty signs, pot-holed streets and 70’s era roller ring was the place that had molded me into the woman I am today. They had embraced me as a child when I did not know better and now their arms were reaching out to me and telling me that I had a place where I would always be remembered- A place where I could always go home again.
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