Friday, October 01, 2010

These Roots are Deep

I’m proud of my roots. My very blue-collar roots are sunk deep into the coal-laden Allegheny Mountains and watered by the Monongahela River. Different parts of my rather large family tree have lived within 20 miles of “the Point”—the place where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to create the mighty Ohio River—for at least 150 years; I have a letter from my great-great-great-grandfather dated 1863 describing life on his farm just outside Elizabeth. My dad’s family lived in Carrick and later Mount Oliver; my mother grew up in Hays (her father worked at National Tube in McKeesport). I was born in Pittsburgh and went home to a house in Baldwin. Pittsburgh was home—imprinted on me the way a specific patch of gravel in a specific creek is imprinted on a salmon--even though circumstances required this part of the family be transplanted to Southern California. I grew up in the vast suburbs outside Los Angeles, went to college, married, and established my own household, but home was always right around the corner, in the way the light strikes a group of buildings, or the tantalizing scent of woodsmoke on a crisp fall evening. The imprinting runs as deep as the roots: when traveling to Washington D.C. by train, I knew when the train passed through Pittsburgh and up the Mon Valley in the middle of the night, before I peeked out the window to catch a glimpse of the hills and bluffs of West Mifflin. Later that same trip, I became hopelessly lost coming into Pittsburgh from the Pennsylvania Turnpike; I hadn't been there in nearly 25 years, had never driven in the city, and simply didn't know which offramp led to what bridge. I ended up at East Carson Street in South Side and, on a hunch, turned left. It felt familiar, and then I saw a sign for the Blue Belt at Beck's Run Road. I knew where I was, turned right, and fifteen minutes later was in front of the house where my father grew up in Mount Oliver.

I live in Vallejo because it reminds me of home. While visiting a friend, I fell in love with the town: little old houses marching up and down hills to a working waterfront dominated by the big brick industrial buildings of Mare Island Naval Shipyard. I felt like I was home.When we could, we moved to Vallejo, found a wonderful old house to love, and put down new roots. It's not quite home, but it's pretty close.