BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE
A FAMILY GROWS IN GREENSBURG
Sarah K. Byrne-Houser
While I never quite pictured myself evolving into a minivan-maneuvering soccer mom, I spent my childhood playing on a cul-de-sac in a streetlight-free township east of Pittsburgh. Suburbia and I came to know each other well.
Brooklyn born and bred, my fiancé possessed no true understanding of life outside a city. Apparently, he harbored some serious delusions upon his relocation to Greensburg in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
We moved from our college campus in Baltimore, Maryland to an apartment near my old high school. The apartment was a standard beige-and-white two-bedroom cheap enough for recent grads. His adjustment to Greensburg would take some time, we both knew. After all, his new “city” operated a very limited public transportation system and was no great example of diversity. Yet despite our familiarity with urban life, we chose to return to my birthplace for the sake of our toddler. With my (large) family sprinkled throughout Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, and the comparatively low cost of living, Greensburg was our best bet for a support system and a sense of financial stability.
At first, he seemed to explore his new digs adventurously: ordering treats from local cafés, trolling grocery stores for the best selections, navigating the streets and discovering shortcuts. I dutifully played tour guide, happy to share my trip down memory lane with a captive audience. Neither one of us, however, dared to explore the Southwestern Pennsylvania phenomenon that seemed to have taken over the area while I had earning my credits out-of-state: a chain of gas stations that peddled “made-to-order” food, the finest in convenience-store cuisine, 24 hours a day. And although our apartment sat adjacent from one of its neon-lit sites, we steered clear of its questionable offerings.
One particular night, I slept peacefully while my New York City night owl roamed the apartment restlessly, playing video games, watching television, repeatedly staring into the refrigerator as if searching for the meaning of life. Finally, around two o’clock a.m., he woke me, complaining of hunger.
“I’m starving, and we have nothing good in the refrigerator. I’m going to McDonald’s to grab something to eat.”
I had groggily ignored him up to this point, but this last statement, I shook off the slumber, and I laughed out loud. He stared at me incredulously while I explained that McDonald’s was closed.
“McDonald’s doesn’t close,” he spat with conviction.
“Here it does,” I replied, still giggling.
That initial disappointment led to an extreme case of culture shock. The provincial life hit him like the proverbial ton of bricks. There were no velvet-roped clubs, no four-foot sidewalks. And “downtown” Greensburg closed its doors at five o’clock pm, Monday through Saturday. Operations shut down entirely on Sunday.
He officially declared himself homesick.
We talked, a few times, about the possibility of relocation. After all, we wanted a varied existence for our child: cultural districts, exposure to racial and religious diversity…a community whose wardrobes no longer contained stonewashed jeans.
Then, a college friend came to visit on a summer weekend on her drive from her home in Maryland, to her new graduate school in Michigan. We took her to Kennywood Park on Thursday, and she gushed about the amusement park’s proximity — while chowing down on Potato Patch fries.
Our friend had a blast, purchasing a few souvenirs (particularly handbags and jewelry) as we explored the streets of downtown Greensburg, ducking in and out of quaint shops and driving by Seton Hill University. She raved about our proximity to an institute of higher learning, and speculated as to whether our child could take advantage of the school’s convenient location later in life.
Friday evening, we invited our guest to attend the city’s free concerts in the park. We strolled over to the amphitheater, enjoying the temperate weather and the rolling green landscape. As the music played, we watched children, my own included, playing barefoot before the stage,. Senior citizens smiled from their lawn chairs as young couples sauntered through with their dogs. The event gathered people of all sizes, all economic circumstances. As we talked, laughed, and sipped our lemonade, our college friend remarked, once again, on the area’s appeal. My fiance’s gaze met mine. We, too, had enjoyed the activities of the last few days. That evening, we talked about the reasons we chose Southwestern Pennsylvania: its affordability, its sense of community, the knowledge that our child could play in the streets as his father could never have done in Brooklyn.
We bid our guest farewell the following day. She thanked us for our hospitality on her way out the door, and as she turned to stoop into her car she said, “You made the right choice moving back here. It’s a perfect place for a family.”
Nine years later, after our second child arrived, we purchased a home just blocks from downtown Greensburg…and its perfect for us.