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.
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