The idea of home is usually freighted by many divergent and personal responses. This is especially true as I am discussing a recent return to the neighborhood in which I grew up. The idea that I consider the place that I spent 17 of my 62 years as home seems ludicrous. Surely those were the most basic, formative years; but where does that place my four years in college, or several more as a single working woman living in Manhattan? What about my life as a wife and mother for the last 30 plus years and where we raised our children?
I think that maybe this visit, as the many before, merely confirmed what it knew: that my family, combined with those years in my working-class, ethnic Catholic neighborhood have formed how I have reacted to everything since. I think, too, that this is not unique, nor is it always inspired by good behavior. There were plenty of bad habits of mind and otherwise in my home.
What is particularly wonderful about this is that my close friends from fifty years ago and I can greet each other in ways that are both the same and different. One woman’s “hey girl, where have you been”, is another’s “oh my God, I can’t believe what my mother just said. Sorry, how are you?” They translate the same. “I know you, we are safe with each other and we are going to have a good time.”
There are a half dozen of us, not always at the same time. We have a couple of outliers for whom we see it as our duty to bring back to the fold. If we can make contact, we promise no recriminations, only hilarity and fun and stories never completed that are not always hilarious. We run the gamut of adult difficulties, but our shared experiences are not really about commiseration or direct support. We tell stories we want each other to hear because we will all agree, or they know e-x-a-c-t-l-y what it’s like, or because we know that no one else will get the humor, no matter what the circumstances, the way we do.
I recently read a review of a biography of John Updike which reported that Updike, after living in Ipswich, MA for many years kept few of his friendships after he moved. On the other hand, Updike maintained lifetime friends in Shillington, PA, outside of Reading, where he grew up. He felt Harvard robbed him of some of what was essential to him according to the author. I was not in such lofty precincts at Penn State, and I do remember some breaches, mostly healed, among my small, beloved group; but I will forever acknowledge and deeply enjoy the pleasures of my dear, long-held friendships as I continue to call Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh home.