Hotel Room in My Hometown

It’s not that I’m unwelcome. Pittsburgh always welcomes me warmly, even though I haven’t lived there for more than 20 years. And I still like to visit.

But what could feel more odd than checking into a hotel room in the city that was home for so many years?

My Mom and Dad, 86 and 89 respectively, now live in a nursing home in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. More than 10 years ago, they sold the house I grew up in with my two brothers. They moved into a condo not far away, a place I never liked much, but it was convenient. I got married in 1990 and quite coincidentally, moved to Chicago a few months later to take advantage of a career opportunity for my new bride. When I came back for visits, it was understood: I had a place to stay. I knew the smells, the creaks in the floor, where the spatulas went, and that the kitchen clock was always four minutes fast.

Be it ever so...homogenous....

Be it ever so…homogenous….

Once I was asked to come to town to give a speech to my old law school class. It was a great evening; I invited my parents (my Dad was not yet in a wheelchair). The speech went well. Part of the deal was that I would be given a room at the then-Pittsburgh Hilton, a local institution whose upper rooms looked out over Point State Park and the junction of the Monongehela and Allegheny Rivers to form the Ohio River. I dared not refuse it. I didn’t want to offend my hosts. But shaking hands with my Dad before he and my Mom went to “our” home felt dissonant. Sitting in the hotel room with a drink 20 minutes later was no more harmonious. Lavish, sure. Comfortable, yes. Proper? No.

Once it was clear that my parents would be staying in the nursing home, we all agreed it was time to sell the unoccupied condo. So…my real estate cords with my hometown were cut, probably forever.

It’s no one’s fault. I have never shed a tear. The condo, good riddance. As for the house…I loved that 1963-vintage colonial, a tight little four-bedroom affair with a working fireplace. It was perched on top of a big ridge, unsheltered from west winds that made the windows moan in winter — but unhampered in its magnificent sunset view in summer. There was a giant willow in back, so big you could sit under it and read in your own natural gazebo. From my north bedroom window I could just see, over hilltops, the red-or-blue weather light on top of the Gulf Building in downtown Pittsburgh, seven miles away.

I could dream on and on. But I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would. Maybe because it’s all engraved, not just jotted, on my memory. Still, being an out-of-towner in my town… I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it.♦

© 2013 Adam Barr

Photo by Adam Barr

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3 thoughts on “Hotel Room in My Hometown

  1. Gina Ehrhart says:

    Your thoughts and feelings are almost a carbon copy of mine, Adam. I guess what struck me more than anything is how my youngest daughter must feel now that we have sold the only home she ever knew and have moved into a condo. She doesn’t say much, knowing that this was a work move for her dad, but you can tell she doesn’t feel its “home.” For her, its a feeling of displacement.

    I thought I would miss the home we had in Mt. Lebanon. What I came to understand was that I missed the relationships established on the street I lived on in Mt. Lebanon. That became apparent at a recent funeral where many of the children I played with came together to say goodbye to an elderly parent.

    Great piece. Enjoyed it very much, Adam.


  2. Jim Teague says:

    Wonderful thoughts and memories, Adam. As you know, my experience is somewhat different. I never lived in any home longer than six years until I got married. Now I’ve lived in the same house for 13 years and constantly have “itchy feet.” I always feel like it’s time to move on; like somehow I’ve “used up” the memories in a particular place.

    I find myself looking at other houses – even in our same neighborhood – and wondering what life would be like there. Those houses aren’t any bigger or better than ours. They’re just different and, therefore, intriguing.

    It’s not that I don’t miss the places of my past. I evaluate everywhere I’ve lived in comparison to Pittsburgh (and to Mount Lebanon, in particular) and usually finding them wanting in some way or another. But my affections are not for my past homes. What I miss are the gathering places: the streets where we played kickball or where the “base” was for hide and seek; our soccer fields and those of our rivals; the parking lot at the McDonalds on Castle Shannon Boulevard where we would hang out. As Gina said above, it’s about the memories of the relationships.

    My wife’s experience is completely different. Her parents (who I adore) still live in the same house they were in when she was born. We only live about 30 minutes away, so we see them – and the house – on a regular basis. My wife and our kids can’t imagine living anywhere else. They are creatures of habit and consistency. So we stay.

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