The American Reporter
St. Simons Island, Ga.
October 11, 2005
INDOORS, THE SAME; OUTDOORS, TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- It's not uncommon for one of our older children to speak of ordinary family happenings only to have one of the younger ones say, "I wasn't born yet."
And so it was with our seven children. After an idyllic childhood for the older four, we left our home in the sandy dunes of northwest Indiana before the younger three could etch those days into their memories.
We moved from the dunes after nine years to the burgh (their affectionate name for Pittsburgh, Pa.) for the next 15 years. The settings couldn't have been more different.
The settings, yes; but the infrastructure, no - if I may stretch the use of that word to include in its meaning the society of a family. Nothing changed. Daddy went to work, I stayed home rearing the children. I was a wife and mother. We didn't use words like "stay at home mom." Scattered here and there we'd have neighboring moms who went to work but we didn't have labels.
Once we were established in the new town with school transfers, church registration, newspaper delivery set up, milk delivery and trash pickup arrangements made, library membership cards filled out, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, highways and byways memorized, medical records forwarded - well, we could then take time out for a leisurely look around.
With no place in particular to go, we would pile into the car. I drove a 1962 Chevy Convertible in those days. The seven children and I would fold ourselves into the small car and drive around Upper St. Clair, our suburb in the South Hills of Pittsburgh.
Yes, seven of us plus me - Dad drove the Station Wagon to the office - but we really had few problems space wise. Seatbelts weren't mandatory, they had not even been invented. The big kids held the little kids and the drive would be the first of many adventures acclimating ourselves to our new environment. How often we've used the word "adventure" to carve an ordinary happening into an event to remember. Perhaps that's why our memories are so sharp recalling those times when together we saw places for the very first time.
It was all so different in Pittsburgh. Once we went out our front door, we knew for sure we were out of our comfort zone. In very short order, everything fell into place, of course. Flexibility comes easily when you're young. School didn't change, just different students and new friends to be made. Church didn't change, just a different Priest on the alter. Weather was not too different, a little less sun.
The language didn't change but the accent did. It took some time getting used to Pittsburghese, as it's called. And their new friends laughed at their mid-western pronunciations as well. The landscape changed from sand and sage brush to soil and pine trees, maples and oaks.
We moved in on "Devil's Night," a far more ominous sound than the "Beggar's Night" we knew in the past. However, it didn't have the connotation it would bear in later years as many of the young revelers explored the dark side, roaming the streets, keeping in shadows and taking mischief to an evil level.
Costumes were not as bright and glittery this busy time so those of our kids old enough to go out trick or treating opted for smudged faces and pirate garb. (The eye patches didn't last past the first intersection.) It was a great way for them to meet the neighbors while the little ones and I stood at the door handing out candy. "One for the kids knocking, one for my loot bag; one for the kids knocking, one for my loot bag." They got into the swing of it and didn't mind their forced confinement at home.
We had heard stories from people who had lived in Pittsburgh in the "old days" when coal dust permeated the air for miles around. It was no longer the case when we arrived. It was crisp and clean and a model city of growth ready to vie for position with America's finest places to rear a family.
In fact, while we were there, Rand McNally named Pittsburgh "the most livable city." And, for us, it was a wonderful move. Imagine living in a city where ours were the winning teams. Our baseball team, Pittsburgh Pirates, won the World Series twice and players lived in our neighborhood; the Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls while we were there and we saw that team in and around town, too.
To children growing up, these things are a source of the pride needed to be focused in the present, looking toward their future and not lingering in the past where life outside their door now was so different from what they had known in Indiana - but only on the outside.
In our house on Bittersweet Lane in the sandy dunes, I could open the front door and out we'd go to a brightness that lifted our spirits and quickened our pace. It was like going from Kansas to Oz or from black and white television to color. When we came back inside, it was our home and it was that - our home - that we took with us when we moved to Pittsburgh.
Once there, they entered through our front door on Commanche Road and there it was - almost as if they had never left Indiana. Same furniture, same television set, same peanut butter sandwiches, same Gilligan's Island reruns to watch. School's out, they hop off the bus and run through the door: they're home again.
To the little kids growing into this scenario, Pittsburgh will be all they remember of their routine after school. Oh, they'll always hear stories of when the older ones went sledding down "suicide hill," the dune that was perfect for its high slope and its crash landing into a snow-covered pile of sand on the banks of Lake Michigan.
But I have pictures of them sliding around in their little red saucers taken on the same day their big brothers and sister climbed the dune. When they look into those pictures today, is it possible they can search the recesses of their minds and become again the little person shielding their eyes from the glare of sun and snow and saying "cheese?"
Well, just maybe they can. There's something I've learned from all seven of the children: It is what goes on behind closed doors that is life; what you see outside is merely window dressing.