I’ve been spending the last week in my hometown of Pittsburgh visiting my family. With me in Los Angeles and my brother and his family in Minneapolis, we started a tradition over the last few years of all coming home during a week in July to spend time together as a family at my parents house.
Over the years, I’ve had many different impressions of Pittsburgh, this steel town where I was born and raised. As a teenager and then young adult, I found myself becoming restless. I knew that there was a whole new world beyond the steel city and I had a strong desire to discover those worlds. To see how other people lived and what their experiences of life were. To meet people who were different then myself. Almost everyone around me growing up was white, Catholic and a Democrat. There was not much diversity, people thought the same, didn’t seem to question anything…and I questioned everything and had an imagination and dreams of exploration and discovering and learning new things. Pittsburgh seemed like such a conventional city with conventional people and I was a pretty unconventional person who always felt a little weird amidst the normalcy.
I went away to college to Westminster College, which was about an hour away from home and had my first taste of being on my own. Shortly after graduation, I took the first chance I could to get out of my hometown and moved to Washington, DC. In my youthful arrogance, I had many judgements and opinions about Pittsburgh and deemed it a town with lack of culture and innovation. I often dreaded coming back to visit and felt that if my parents didn’t live there, I probably would never return.
After three years in DC, I moved to Chicago and my first experience of Chicago was that it reminded me of a combination of New York and Pittsburgh. It had the art and culture of New York and the down to earth, loyal and hard work ethic of Pittsburgh. I fell in love with Chicago, moved there and stayed for 17 years. Chicago became my adopted hometown and whenever anyone would ask me where I was from, I’d say Chicago.
When I moved to Los Angeles, it was Chicago I longed for, missed and desperately thought of returning to when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay. My parents very generously offered the opportunity for me to move back with them so I could regroup and plan my next steps if I did indeed want to leave LA. While I appreciated their generosity, the thought of moving back to Pittsburgh made me shudder. I seriously thought that I would wither and die if I had to return and be in Pittsburgh for any long period of time.
But somehow this trip has been different. I’m not sure if Pittsburgh has just drastically changed in the years since I’ve been gone (and I’m sure it has…I’ve been away for twenty-three years), or if I’m just seeing with different eyes and a lot less arrogance, but Pittsburgh seems a whole lot cooler. Perhaps it’s a little of both.
I have come to find a new appreciation of Pittsburgh…I appear to have made peace with my past. We visited some haunts of my youth like Kennywood Park and The Pittsburgh Zoo and I remembered such fond memories of times there and I marveled at how grown up and hip areas of Pittsburgh have become. The entire city seems to have undergone a brand refresh. There are cultural events, cool loft spaces, and regentrified parts of town that are simply breathtaking. It’s hard to imagine that this city with some beautiful rolling hills and stunning architecture was once a smelly, dirty industrial steel town with polluted waters and tall smoke stacks. There are things happening here.
I still don’t imagine myself living back here, but I have become friends with my home town again. I’m even proud of it. Hell, I’m even proud to be from this town. I learned a lot about how to be a caring, decent human being from growing up in the surroundings of this city.
I am a product of a twelve-year Catholic school education and a blue-collar family who worked hard so that my brother and I could get a good education, never go without, and have better advantages than the generation before us. I am the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college, my brother is the first person in our immediate family to obtain a graduate degree. We had dinner on the table every night and ate as a family. We went to church on Sundays, had Sunday dinner with my grandparents. My mom was home to greet us when we came home from school and the entire family attended every theater and performance that I was involved with and every sporting activity that my brother was involved with growing up.
I learned loyalty, being and keeping your word and honoring your commitments. My parents, as an example of honoring their commitment to each other have been married for almost 47 years. I learned what really matters. I learned kindness and being caring towards others. I learned to always extend the offer to help someone because it’s the right thing to do, not because you expect anything in return. I learned to treat people with respect. I learned from my parents that gender didn’t matter, I was capable of doing anything if I put my mind to it and worked hard to achieve it.
I’m the dreamer in my family and my big dreams and desire for adventure and seeking new shores has often kept my parents up at night with concern. But the unconventional way I choose to live my life has also enabled them to stretch out of their comfort zone to join me in my adventures. My mom got on a plane by herself to help me get settled in my apartment when I first moved to LA and end up staying for over three weeks. She loved it and said if it wasn’t for me, she would have never done that. And the conventional side of my family provides me with a haven when I become overwhelmed, need to rest and simply be surrounded by love.
I know that in spite of what may in my mind be my “weirdness” that I always have a home and I have a family who will give it to me straight and always have my back even if they don’t agree with my choices. I know that I am loved and that there are many different expressions of that love.
The more I become aligned with my authentic self, the less I resistance I have to where I came from. And I’m finding that no matter where I go, no matter who I meet and no matter where I may fail or what I might accomplish…I will always be a girl from Pittsburgh. And I’m completely fine with that.
Just a still town girl on a Saturday night, lookin’ for the fight of her life. In the real-time world no one sees her at all, they all say she’s crazy.
Locking rhythms to the beat of her heart, changing woman into life. She has danced into the danger zone, when a dancer becomes a dance. – Maniac from Flashdance (filmed in Pittsburgh).