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.