Monday, March 17, 2008

Not Much Cost, But Great Value: Destination...Home

I stayed in a house setting on what I believe is the highest hill in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. The house was my home growing up and is still the place I call home. When my family moved into this yellow brick ranch style three-bedroom house in 1963, there were no trees to obstruct the view. Over 40 years later, the view of the city is telescoped between the tall pines and oaks that tower over the suburban homes in Eastern Estates. Looking from this high point, the dome of the Westmoreland County Court House is prominent – a place where I had my first real job working in the mail room in the summer of 1973 running envelops through the Pitney Bowes postage machine. The steeples of the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral Church stand out too – this was our family’s place of worship, attending the 8:30 AM Mass every Sunday. There’s an “H” on the roof of Westmoreland Hospital – my children Suzie and Chris were born there, Daddy died there. The view from Hemlock Drive hadn’t changed, just the lives there changed.

I had come to Greensburg because I missed a sense of belonging. Ed and I had been traveling and living in our motor home as fulltime RVers since September, 2007. In those five months, we’d traveled to New York, Quebec City, the Gaspé, Erie, St. Louis, the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, and border towns of Mexico. Our experiences will fill a book. The people we have met enrich us in their own way, but what is missing is a connection that is more than superficial. There are roots and meaningful relationships at home. At home, people never ask, “When are you leaving?” – a question repeated to the point of nausea in RV parks. I came home to be more than the person with the 60-second “introduce yourself” speech, the frozen smile, and “queen’s wave” shared with my RV neighbors.

Mom was glad to have me visit. She gave me her and Daddy’s old bedroom. The mahogany furniture is the original bedroom suite they bought in 1955 – one double bed, a mirrored dresser, vanity and solid, cushioned vanity seat. The bed still bellows one mournful creek when climbing in it. The slide of the dresser drawer wood on wood still reminds me of Dad’s search for a matching dark Gold Toe sock for work each morning. I’d be staying for nearly three weeks among the family and friends I love.

When I arrived, Mom had dinner waiting. “I made something that could stay warm in case you arrived late.” Truth was, I was truly late. I landed at Pittsburgh International Airport mid-day Sunday after a weather delay and missed connection between McAllen and Houston, TX on Saturday evening. I was 14 hours late.

Mom chattered about family news only to be interrupted by phone calls from her sisters. Each was surprised when I answered the phone. “Yes, I got tired of the sun, palm trees and 80° weather. I decided to come play in the snow and visit Mom,” I explained. Gertie and Betty embellished on the news Mom already shared and added more tantalizing details. By the end of my first evening in Greensburg, I had all the family news from several different perspectives.

In the evening, I started calls of my own…lunch on Monday, rides to Rotary, breakfast Friday at Eat n’ Park, come visit me at Mom’s, pack an overnight bag so Brianna can spend the weekend, Lake Erie on Sunday, meet you at Panera’s, pizza & beer, watch Brianna…okay! I filled my calendar.

Visiting with Friends

Sam and I have been friends for over 30-years. During our studies at the University of Pittsburgh, we’d close the Benedum Engineering School Library at 10 PM and head to Haddon Hall’s bar or The Luna for cold drafts. Now, we ordered water with our lunch at Red Lobster and talked about college for our kids and their future.

On our way back from lunch, Sam hit the brakes hard when I yelled, “STOP!” Then, I rolled down the window to say “Hi” to my friend Pam. As kids, she and I took swimming lessons together at the Y, made many fictitious trips to the post office just to drive past boys’ houses, and can still laugh about Pedro and Pat our teenage boyfriends. I am god-mother to her son Larry who now has a child of his own. After promises to get together, Sam drove me up the hill to Mom’s house. “Do we look like Grandmas?” I asked Sam. His complimentary reply: “No way!”

Cheryl (another fabulous looking Grandma) and I found two armchairs to sink into near the fireplace for a lunch of soup and sandwiches at Panera’s. We had been neighbors in Ligonier, PA in 1983, the year my son Chris transitioned from adorable baby to the “terrible twos.” Her daughter Audra became my #1 babysitter. Now, Cheryl is the #1 babysitter for her other daughter Suzie’s two pre-school children. We don’t talk about husbands anymore, it’s grandkids.

Laughter echoed in Eat n’ Park when Ann and I met for breakfast. We’d met while working for the women’s shelter. She stayed on and I moved on some twenty years ago. As novice fund raisers back then, we suffered disappointing results and terrible sunburn selling raffle tickets to giveaway a prized hot air balloon ride during the Hannastown Festival. We waddled together pregnant with each of our kids. And, still marvel at our escape from the Rockin’ R bar in Jennerstown after too many beers, hustling on the pool table, and insulting the locals. Could we really have pulled off such shenanigans? We patted ourselves for successful careers, raising fabulous kids, and meeting at Eat n’ Park, not the Rockin’ R!

I did go to the Sunset, one of the few places that has outside dining in Greensburg. In February, the patio deck is closed so I met Becky and Harvey in the bar for pizza and beers. Becky and I are cousins on my Dad’s side of the family. Growing up, we had little in common. Now we share a curiosity about family history, a love for motorcycles, and a taste for cold beer. Cheers!

My Rotary friends asked me why out of all the 96 members of the Club I called Mark for a ride. I was quick to respond, “Because I wanted to know what it feels like to ride with Mark in an upright position.” Mark is a funeral director. He is also a good friend, reliable and a committed Rotarian who could bring me up to date on the Club’s activities. He frequently complains that it is my fault that he is Treasurer – a lifetime appointment that I made during my Presidential term in 1995-96.

In my three visits to my home Rotary Club, I garnered some attention. I presented six hospitality flags from other Rotary Clubs I visited while on the road. When the Rotary Club camera ran out of memory during the check presentations, I saved the day by pulling my digital camera from my purse. I broke President Carl’s streak of stumping our Rotarians with a word-of-the-week by correctly defining weal (a sound, healthy or prosperous state of well-being) with a quick entry in Merriman-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary on my PDA. And, I helped the Club make a connection with Sony for a $500 gift and big screen TV for a service project in Greensburg, Kansas – a town struggling to rebuild after being leveled by a tornado on May 4, 2007.

A trip to the supermarket is never quick back home. On this occasion, I ran into my friend Ray who runs his family business. We laughed about growing up as grocers’ kids in Greensburg – chasing buggies, doing price checks and helping with inventory. In the 60s, we used ink stampers to mark prices on every item in the store, and noted our relief over how UPC codes make retail so much easier. Ray noticed my motorhome parked in his lot from time to time last July. He now threatened to begin charging me rent on my next trip home with the Prevost. I committed to shopping only at his store in exchange for free parking. A deal!


Nearly every day, my four-year-old grand-daughter Brianna came to visit me. We compared my recent digital photos of armadillos and wild pigs to those in my childhood animal encyclopedia that survived her Dad and Uncle Chris’ rough treatment. We sang Sponge Bob’s song about Texas off-key. We pilfered through Aunt Suzie’s scrapbook stuff for stickers, foam, and paints to create masterpieces for our art gallery. We explored neighborhood shortcuts when our legs got tired or our bellies growled while on our walks outside. At Pet Smart, we agreed to buy a beta fish just like the one her Daddy had when he was little.

Brianna and I practiced throwing snowballs at the windowless part of the house, made angles in the snow, and sculpted a small snowman. I gave into her pleas to roll down the terraced slopes of the back yard and handed her Mom my eyeglasses for the dizzying roll. I watched Brianna pirouette in her Saturday ballet class and practice the Polka, a dance I never mastered until seeing it explained to the group of pre-school kids.

I experienced the sting of her tearful refusal to play Candyland with me again after I won and the joy of losing every game of the memory teaser Husker Dú thereafter. (Thank you, Alice for loaning me this game after hearing about my banishment from the Candyland circuit.)

Brianna made me tired but refreshed with our playful days together. She ticked me with her observations and conversations but one will always stand out. She said, “Grandma, I am going to be a big sister.” Did I hear right? Nods from Jason and Lisa confirmed that a new baby is coming in October! Good reason for planning another visit for sure.


At times when Brianna napped or attended morning pre-school, Mom and I took time to enjoy each other’s company. We baked her famous chocolate chip cookies to mail to Suzie at college in Missouri. We visited with our good neighbor Donna and former neighbor Alice. She challenged me to aggressive games of Canasta at night. And, she traveled with me to Erie to visit Chris.

At the Avona, where we met Chris for lunch, Mom had excused herself from the table. About the time she’d be returning, a loud ruckus erupted in the bar side. Chris was on his feet and through the room looking for his Grandma. “No one is gonna put Grandma in the cross hairs of a fight,” he said after protectively seating her in the booth again. Mom enjoyed the ruckus. When we got to Presque Isle, she waited patiently in the car with the heater running while Chris and I walked to the ice dunes. She was quick to step out of the car when we stopped briefly to shop at specialty sporting goods store and when Chris made a “U” turn into the Tim Horton’s for a donut treat.

Mom is 81 now and never really dwells on her past. She says it’s because she can’t remember most of it. And, in our quiet time together during this visit, I pushed her to answer the questions in the “Great-Grandma Journal” – a book that asks questions about your the stages of your life, favorites, life experiences and wisdom to share. I scribed while Mom answered the questions. The book would be for Brianna.

I learned a lot from this Q&A. Mom grew up in a household of 10 kids. Her own Mom, a housewife, died at the young age of 51. Her Dad worked as a coal miner. Mom had to help with the vegetable garden in the summer but still had time to enjoy baseball games and outings with her friends. She met my Dad at the soda shop on one of these outings. He canceled their first date because he had to work late. He sent his brother Bob to Mom’s front door with a box of chocolates as apology. She sent a message back; she’d see him the next day. Mom laughed about learning how to drive and abandoning Dad on a country road when he ordered her gruffly, “Turn that wheel.” She says she got scared driving alone and went back to get him.

I probed her each day with questions for the “Great-Grandma Journal.” She talked about the importance of family, how she liked being my Mom, and expressed her opinion that it’s fine to spoil the grandkids. I wrote a message from her to Brianna: “Study hard and follow your dreams.”

Later, I noticed Mom had written her own message in the journal. “I wish your Great-Grandfather – Pap – had lived to know you. He would have loved you just as much as I do.”

This was a short visit, a meaningful visit. It was a trip without attractions or fancy restaurants. It was without great cost but much, much value. Going Home…What a wonderful destination!

February 17 - March 6, 2008

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

Cute little Brianna gets her own blog spot and Chris gets his blog spot...are you forgetting anybody? Here's a hint: Blonde hair, blue eyes, and is stuck in Missouri!
Love you!