I am back home in the hills of western Pennsylvania with my family this week.
This morning, I slipped away from my mom’s apartment and drove 30 minutes south to my hometown. I grew up minutes from a large park and to this day, it is one of my happy places.
I arrived at 6:30 in the morning before the sun burned off the fog. At such an early hour, there were not too many people on the walking trails yet but I still felt utterly safe.
Every single person I passed smiled and said hello. Pittsburgh is among the friendliest of towns; my hometown especially so.
My iPod served as the soundtrack to my life thus far, as I listened to an eclectic mix of music from the 70’s and 80’s, as well as praise music. In my mind’s eye, I saw my dad walking beside me, as he did so many times before. We spent many an hour pounding the pavement of the walking trails, conversing about both the absurd and the the monumental.
Rather than seeing an empty Corrigan Drive, I could “hear” the laughter and honks of Senior Skip Day, an (unofficially) sanctioned day at our high school. Seniors would decorate their cars in the morning, then cruise up and down the main drag, honking at each other and playing loud music. My friends and I decorated our friend Duane’s car with carnations that read “Class Of ’83.” We spent the rest of the day having a picnic, swimming at the Wave Pool, and swinging on the swings…a sweet slice of time when we could still be kids in a small town before graduation and college beckoned us into adulthood.
My girlfriends and I spent countless hours walking on the trails during our high school years, totally caught up in teenage drama and solving the world’s problems, big and small.
As I passed the track where the county fair used to be, I saw my teenage self running up and down the steep bleachers, preparing for track season while my dad stood by with a stopwatch, urging me onward. I could not help but smile as I remembered the days when the fair was a big deal and my brother and I clung to our parents’ hands while we looked around in wide eyed wonder at the animals, craft exhibits, jugglers, clowns, and magical pink cotton candy tempting us from behind the windows of brightly lighted stalls.
Nearby was the grove where Doug and I hosted our rehearsal picnic twenty years ago. Most of our wedding party was from out of town and we didn’t like the idea of their family and friends having to fend for themselves while we enjoyed dinner at a restaurant somewhere. So, we decided to have a huge picnic in the park after our rehearsal and it was a big hit. On that sun-drenched day, that grove overflowed with loved ones as the scent of grilled burgers and watermelon wafted through the spring air. I mainly remember the laughter, the sense of anticipation that manifested itself as butterflies in my stomach, and my attempt to freeze that moment in time in my mind. Without a doubt, that was one of the happiest days of my life.
I walked past the playground where I was so delighted to bring my kids to play when we visited Pennsylvania…the same place my parents used to take me.
It was to this park that I went when I was trying to process the deaths of my childhood friend Tracy and my dad. Despite the fact that my eyes were blurred with tears both times, walking those familiar paths brought a measure of comfort to my grieving heart. I walked until my legs were sore and the tears dried. Then I did it all again the next day.
Those paths feel like home to me, welcoming me both in joy and in sorrow.
On this morning, a church gathered in one of the parking lots to prepare for a 5K to raise money for clean water in Haiti. Bikers headed to the BMX track on the hill for a race. Pet owners walked their dogs, big and small. Kids and their parents appeared on the black and gold playgrounds. (This is Steelers country, after all! 🙂 ). People of all shapes, sizes, and ages shared the paths with me, sending along happy greetings as they passed by.
And I could not stop smiling.
It is so good to be back home.
What about you? Do you have a favorite hometown place that you love to return to whenever you have the chance? I’d love to hear about it!