The Necessity of Neighborhoods by Venessa Bowers

A few months ago I went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with my husband to visit family his family. And, even though I am proudly from Cleveland, Ohio, (wait, hold your thought on that statement) I was happy to go the land of the arch enemy…you know the Steelers, the Pirates, the Penguins, etc. See, those sports teams are “the enemy” because when you grow up in Cleveland, you have no choice but to root for your home team. It is also important to note that often, us Clevelanders learn to talk sports before we learn to say “please” and “thank you.” And let’s be honest, as much as I tell myself that “This year the Browns will go to the Super Bowl,” I know in my heart that going to the Super Bowl would mean sitting in the stands to watch Pittsburgh play. And, living with and loving a man from Pittsburgh is where I gave up my hometown loyalty, anyway…that’s worse than marrying out of my religious faith for some people I know. However, I digress and I promise, I’m going somewhere with this.

So, on this trip to Pittsburgh, I was struck by something at the ballpark. It wasn’t a hotdog shot through an air gun, or a foul ball that came into the boxes, or by the beer the woman behind me was waving around like a lunatic as she in turns cheered and cursed the Pirates. I was struck by the sense of neighborhood and how much I missed my home. See, living in Indiana is really NOT like living in Cleveland. I guess on some level because Cleveland is such a strange place, with a love/hate relationship with itself and those who live or have lived there (*clears throat*, Lebron…), I will always be something of an outsider in the Midwest.  But when I was in Pittsburgh, much to my chagrin, I FELT neighborhood, even though it wasn’t MY neighborhood.

So, the feeling of neighborhood for me is best summed up in a few key things that convey a sense of belonging: the accent – it’s there and I love it. In Pittsburgh it sounds like the inhabitants have perogi in the front of their mouths, right behind their teeth. If you read the next line out loud, you’ll hear it for yourself. “Dat’s ok huhahnny (uh and ah in the)…go ‘head an dross the dreet” (translation, That’s ok honey, go ahead and cross the street.) Now, in Cleveland, it sounds like a bastardized version of the Brooklyn.  Take this one out loud too: “Ah can buddun ma coat.” (translation: I can button my coat).  So, that said, I miss the accents of my hometown and places like it. When I got back from the trip, I could hear my own accent and boy, when I come home from Cleveland, forget it. No one understands me and people think I’m just bouncing with the ghetto slang for the heck of it (all of you speakers of street, know what I really want to say here).

Then, there is the phrasing of the insult “GOD, CAN’T YOU EVEN PRETEND TO KNOW WHERE THE STRIKE ZONE IS?!?!?!” followed closely by the same voice “LET’S GO BUCS! (that’s the name the fans yell at the Pirates – for buccaneers…took me a minute too. Since, being from Ohio, the only BUCKS I know are THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY BUCKEYES! Yeah – I said it! HA!)

There is an infectious amount of laughter too. People from my hometown and from Pittsburgh equally find humor in the absurd. They find it in the tragic (e.g., the Browns stink for the 35th consecutive year). They laugh at themselves and each other. They laugh instead of cry. Let’s face it, the “ish” is hilarious.

The other part of neighborhood I felt was the energy of the crowd – the beer vendors, seat wipers, ticket buyers, kids, the elderly, the transplants, the visiting team’s fans – they all coalesce to make a neighborhood for a couple of hours where everyone is welcome and invited.

It dawned on me when I was watching the perogis (that’s a Slovak potato dumpling…yeah, I know but my great-granny used to make the BEST in the world) run around the field during the Seventh Inning Stretch (yep, Perogis) that I missed these feelings. I missed this sense of comfort in the familiar sounds and smells of the ballpark. The insults, the accents, and the energy. And I realized that missing that feeling wasn’t a fault of my new home, it was a fault of mine. I don’t look for that feeling here. I don’t expect to feel it – that peacefulness. And because of that, I have been longing for something that I didn’t have to do without in the first place.

I realized I could create my own neighborhood. One where I feel welcome and invited, one where I can be myself – ghetto slang and all – one where I could just be me and feel good about that. The neighborhood I grew up in is still in my heart – I never really left it. I have a model for those feelings and sense of being stored in my memory and I can call those memories up whenever I want to feel comforted and at home in my own skin. Who knew? I think that’s why people go back to the ballparks to watch their teams lose as much as they want them to win – it’s the living embodiment of the memory – summer means baseball and fall means football and it is in the MEANING that our lives are built.

Do yourself a solid – don’t let the meaning you have made out of your childhood neighborhood leave you. Don’t give up on it. Those memories and meanings keep us sane and focused on the lives we want to create. Isn’t that what great teachers teach us? We need our neighborhoods. We really, really need them.

How do you define neighborhood?

Oh, and GO BROWNS!

Bright Blessings.


1 comment so far

  1. Twanna on

    awesome post!!! Makes me think of my home. Alabama no matter how far I stray home is still home

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