I am from gravel driveways and paperback novels, the Boyce Park Wave Pool, the Squirrel Hill Carnegie library and the city of bridges; from JIF peanut butter, Skechers and Crayola markers.
I am from the measured, meticulous land packages of suburban development, vinyl siding, landscaped lawns with picket fences and pre-fab clubhouse/swingset combos. From a finished basement with a treasured Sega Genesis and a bedroom with sea-foam green walls, a shelf packed with books, a portrait of my late grandfather and a perpetual monster toddler a la Pet Semetary lurking in my closet.
I am from a yard full of creeping phlox, crab apple trees and ground hog burrows; from small stands of trees tangled in blackberry brambles and poison oak. I am from chipmunks and red breasted robins and raccoons and white tailed deer.
I am from potato latkes with applesauce, sour cream, or sugar on Hanukkah and Shamrock shakes after watching the Saint Patty’s parade from our dentist’s office on 5th Avenue. I am from curly dark hair and a sense of humor so dry that it’s parched. From Diane and Eddie. From Danny and Marian and Anne and Kenny. From Klein, Heller, Reichman and Stern.
I am from high expectations blended with unconditional love. I am from hypocrisy in regards to personal habits and life style choices. I am from masked anxiety and depression. I am from acceptance, patience and undying loyalties to family traditions. I am from forgiveness and mutual understanding, even when things are not always completely understood.
I am from “do as I say, not as I do,” and “as long as you’re truly doing your best, that’s good enough for us.” I am from “the most important thing in life is family” and “the most important thing in life is a good education.”
I am from an increasingly lax form of conservative Judaism that played a very important role in my upbringing but has progressively dissolved into a loose set of holidays that allows for frequent family get-togethers, reminiscing and over-eating. I am from not necessarily believing in god but believing in one’s responsibility to the welfare of people in general and specifically to one’s family. I am from the hope and belief that life does have some sort of purpose, and that life is a valuable thing.
I am from the Keystone State, from Pittsburgh: Steel City, the city of bridges and rivers and Iron City beer and Heinz Ketchup. From the city of Andy Warhol, the Carnegies, the Fricks, and the Mellons. I am from Spain, Germany, Austria, Romania and the shtetls on the boarder of Russia and Poland. I am from gefilte fish, brisket and matzah ball soup.
From the early morning walks my father took me on when we went to Virginia Beach every summer where he warned me to not step on jellyfish and inevitable ended up picking me up just as I was about to step on one, yelling at me to be more careful, but then continuing to take me for a walk every morning. From the time I was 15 and my mom took me with her to test drive a new car and then in the cover of darkness took me to the parking lot of the LDS church parking lot to let me practice driving for the very first time. From my very first legal beer when I turned 21 and my late Grandma took me to lunch and told me to order whatever I wanted from the bar, which was a wheat ale that she took a sip of to celebrate with me even though I know she hated beer.
I am from faded photo albums, some taken by fire, gone up in clouds of smoke. From Betamax made VHS made DVD copies of home movies and preschool performances. I am from a sweet and sour stew of blue and white collar families, vegetable hucksters, seamstresses, teachers, synogogue co-founders. I am from the stories told over and over again by my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, stories that will be passed down to the next generations along with the fraying books and tarnishing frames containing the faces of those who came before us.