Thanks to everyone who commented on my first blog! I had a busy weekend doing several events in the Pittsburgh area and then spent some time visiting family and didn’t get around to seeing your posts until yesterday. For future reference, I’m planning to blog (still getting used to saying that) every Thursday.

I mentioned last week that I sold my house in Pennsylvania and moved in with my boyfriend who lives in New Jersey in a town very close to NYC where my daughter lives so I get to see her more often. (That’s a plus!) This isn’t the first time I’ve left my home state. When I turned eighteen I wanted nothing more than to get out of my hometown of Indiana, PA. I wanted to expand my horizons. I wanted to live in a city and make my mark on the world. I wanted to attend Northwestern University because they had a great journalism school and I did go there despite my high school guidance counselor trying to talk me out of it because they had a bad football team. (They did have a bad football team but the degree was more important to me than pigskin bragging rights.)

I met my first husband in college and we eventually settled in the Chicago area. This is where my children were born, where they said their first words, took their first steps, started school. I tried to be happy in the Midwest but each time I’d drive home with the kids to see my family and approach the Ohio/PA border, and the rolling hills would suddenly unfold before me, and the road construction would begin (it’s still going on twenty years later,) and everywhere I looked was ubiquitous black and gold, my heart would swell because I knew I was home again.

After my divorce I moved back to PA to raise my children. They’re both grown now and I recently moved to New Jersey. I still get the same heart-swelling feeling each time I see the hills in the distance as I near the Welcome to Pennsylvania sign only I enter PA from a different direction now and have to deal with the shock of adjusting from the country’s most impatient drivers to the country’s most patient. (Are you familiar with the “Pittsburgh left?” It’s when the light turns green and you’re waiting to make a left turn and the person across the intersection with the right of way smiles and waves at you to go ahead. Then there’s the “New Jersey left” which is the punch thrown at your head after the NJ driver runs you off the road, pulls you from your car, and pummels you for pausing more than two seconds at a green light.)

When I first started writing novels I set them everywhere but Pennsylvania. None of them were ever published. It wasn’t until I wrote about where I grew up – in Back Roads – that my work finally rang true. Since then all my books have been set in western PA and they all explore a similar theme of dealing with the conflicting feelings we sometimes have about our roots, how we can love a place but not want to be there, how we can leave but still be drawn back.

I know people who grew up living near the sea who say they never feel completely right when they’re away from the water and those who grew up living in the mountains and can never adjust to being a flatlander.

What is it that we miss about PA when we move away? The hills? The potholes? The pierogis? Listening to your grandma talk about “worshing” the dishes and “redding up” the room? Or is it simply the same thing that we all feel whenever we return to wherever it is we began: that comforting feeling that this is a place and these are the people I know best.

Tom Wolfe very famously wrote that you can’t go home again, but I’ve found that you can. And you should. Every chance you get.


Comments

You Can Go Home Again — 6 Comments

  1. I know the feeling of going home pretty much as you describe it. Having “grown up” in the coal country of Western Maryland. I now live in the D.C. area. That’s what has made me feel at home in your stories. Good luck on your new home but I kind of hope your stories are still centered at “home”. Do you still have Truman? How does he like his new home?

    • Don’t worry, Joe. My novels will continue to be set “back home” and home for me will always be small town, steel and coal country PA. I tried for years to set my books in places that were as different as possible from where I grew up and none of those novels ever got published. It wasn’t until I wrote about what I knew best and what I cared about the most that my novels finally rang true. Write what you know. They say that for a reason. Whoever they are. Truman is a long story. He’s doing great. He’s a service dog now and I’m very proud of him. Maybe I’ll write about Truman in my next blog. I’m still very emotional about him and it might do me some good to put my feelings “down on paper.”

  2. Had to comment on your grandmother’s use of the term ‘redding up’. My friend’s grandmother (from Indiana) used this term in our growing up years and I’d never heard it before. We grew up in the western Oregon area and I was always curious about the term.

    • I thought everyone used the expression “redd up” and didn’t learn otherwise until I went to college in Chicago where nobody had any idea what I was talking about. As far as I know it means to tidy a room, pick things up and put them away. It’s mainly used in Pennsylvania and is most often attributed to the state’s German settlers, the Pennsylvania Dutch (the Dutch part came from people mishearing the word Deutsch) but there’s debate about its origins, if it derived from German or Dutch, old English or Scottish.

  3. Would that I could Tawni. I’m happy for you. You can go home again and I’d like to agree with you that we should. But I can’t. My hometown is San Diego, California. I grew up on the family farm in a town without freeways. Highway 1 was a two lane undivided blacktop road through pasture land and as Woody Guthrie called them: ‘fruit fields’. It took forever to get to our cousins house in LA but we loved the drive, passing acres of colorful florist trade flowers in bloom growing right down to the ocean on one side and unfenced, unspoiled oak and grass lands on the other. The little beach towns were quaint, small and charming and we knew where all the best milk shakes were.
    Now when I go home I don’t recognize anything. I’m lost, Tawni. Nothing looks the same. Nothing feels the same. I left my home when I was young and I sadly seldom return. I love and miss my friends and relatives who stayed but I’d rather have them come live with me than to return and live with them in that now strange, unfamiliar town. And sadly I’m experiencing deja vu here on the the south coast of Costa Rica. As your kids have told you this little banana republic is quite magical but as with So Cal paved roads have set the stage for development. Meanwhile, as you know you’re always welcome at Jazzy’s, so don’t wait too long. We can sit under the palms on the still unspoiled empty beach and compare our east and west coast notes. Pura Vida! ~Steve Fergus/Dominical, CR
    PS: I have printed and framed the email reply you sent me recently and the local literary crowd is echoing my praise of your books now that we’ve discovered them. Can’t wait to see the movie.

    • I know what you mean, Steve. The overdevelopment of everything is truly awful. Places like my little hometown haven’t been paved over and the countryside lost simply because there’s nothing there to attract more people. Keeps the population down and they get to keep their trees, too, but eight out of ten of them don’t have a job. My son goes to college in So Cal and frankly, I don’t know how anyone lives there. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to survive Jersey! Thanks for framing the email! That’s awesome.