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  • Last weekend it was Philadelphia and South Jersey, where I spent twenty years, from 1977 to 1996 – this weekend, it’s Pittsburgh, where I was born and raised and lived until I was 17. We’re going to a family wedding out there – ironically, not my family, but Kathy’s. Her niece met and fell in love with a Pittsburgher, and now lives out there.

    Honestly, I have a stronger and more immediate connection to the Philly area than I have to Pittsburgh, even though it is my roots. I rarely get back to the “burgh” – the last two times back were for hockey games between my team, the Washington Capitals, and their hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. So, both of those trips felt more like invasions than homecomings.

    On the one, we were very much treated like invaders, dressed as we were in the enemy’s colors (Caps jerseys, hats, and license plates). That time, we were greatly outnumbered, and one of the natives even fired off a moon at us as we drove through the Liberty Tubes – seriously, just hung his ham right out the window as they passed us in the tunnel. I was kind of embarassed to say I was from a place where the natives did such things. Savages!

    For seventeen years of my life, it was all that I knew. I loved living there, even though it was still a dirty old Steel Mill town then, where the sun rarely shown and the rivers were badly polluted. It had character, and characters. Hey – it had me!

    Almost from the moment I first moved away from Pittsburgh, though, it became a strange place to me. I had some kind of an intellectual and “natural” awakening when my family moved to Connecticut and I discovered Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing, nature, the whole nine. The first time I went back to Pittsburgh after that, several months later, it looked completely different to me. It looked downright ugly. I couldn’t understand how I had ever liked living there. It smelled, that unmistakable industrial smell. The next time I went back, I was trying to find something there that I thought I’d lost. Of course, it wasn’t there. I learned the truth about never being able to go back home.
  • The Pittsburgh I see when I go back there today bears no resemblance to the Pittsburgh I grew up in. It’s actually a lovely city, now. The Steel Mills all closed within ten years of my moving away, and they cleaned the place up, nicely, in the eighties. It’s actually, dare I say it, kind of beautiful, now. It still has all the bridges, and tunnels, and hills, and rivers, that I remember so fondly from my youth. But, the Pittsburgh I remember is really a ghost town, a place that exists only in my memories – I always feel like a visitor there when I go back, like this is some place else, not the place I grew up in.

    And, that’s o.k. Where I live now is very much my home. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere. I am no longer looking for anything other than whatever this day will bring – wherever I am. I keep my eyes wide open, and try to appreciate the wonder of it all, each and every day. Events of this year have made it a lot easier for me to do that. When I’m having a relatively good day, or sometimes just a day that is not spinning or nauseated, I relish every moment of it. It truly is a wonder. I do what I can to make this one count. I don’t want to miss a thing.

    I still love going back to Pittsburgh. It fascinates me, how much the place has changed, how well they’ve done revitalizing the place. Each time I go back, there usually is a sight or two that triggers some long forgotten memory, when I least expect it. I am hoping to find the time to visit a relative or two of my own while I am there, and maybe take a ride through my old neighborhoods, if there’s time and Kathy’s tolerant of my desire to take a ride down memory lane. It always seems so much smaller than my memory’s eye recalls it to be.

    And when it’s all over, I’ll be most happy to be going back home – where I live today. Today, I have found that it is true – you actually CAN go home again. I do it every time I travel. It is always the very best part of the trip. There’s no place like home!
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    The first two pictures are scenes from Brookline Boulevard, which was a block from where I lived my last 9 years in Pittsburgh. The last picture is a recent shot of the street I used to live on, Berkshire Avenue.
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