I want to talk today about my home town, Butler Pennsylvania.
Full disclosure, it’s not where I was born. I was born on a military base in Groton Connecticut. But I digress.
My great grandmother moved to America from Hungary with her parents when she was little. For some unknown reason, they decided to settle in Butler. They built a house, that my great grandmother lived in until the day she died. She raised my grandmother and my two great uncles there. My grandma ran away and raised four of her six kids in Connecticut. Then, she and my mother moved back here, grandma to raise the youngest two of my uncles, and my mom to have me.
Both of them have since moved back to Connecticut, leaving me here alone. I have no blood family in this town.
Butler isn’t known for much. We’re the birthplace of the Jeep, that’s about it. We’re an old coal mining town, and we used to be a steel town. We’re not in the Bible belt, but you wouldn’t know it from looking. My town is mostly Republican, and those Republican’s voted for Trump in the primaries. (We few Democrats voted for Bernie, though, so that’s a plus.)
Can I also add that we don’t have a Starbucks, Whole Foods, Ikea or Ihop. Trying to find fresh produce isn’t a thing that happens, and I can’t find a decent place to buy Indian spices anywhere outside of the Strip District.
So, if I wasn’t born here, I don’t like the politics here, and I’m frustrated by the shopping and food choices I have, why do I stay?
Because I have roots here.
I walk through my memories every day. This is only something that you’ll understand if you also live in your hometown. I was married in the middle of Diamond Park, where I played as a child and now take my monsters to play. Walking down Main Street I pass my first job, the bar I had my first legal drink in, the restaruant my mom used to run, the crappy apartment we lived in above the burger place. There’s the coffee place I used to go to with my friends in high school. There’s the coffee shop where I sat and scribbled a prayer over the first draft of Broken Patterns. My kids will go to the same high school I went to. I can see the hospital where my monsters were born from my back porch. Here is where my great grandmother is buried. Here is where I’ve had all but two of my birthdays.
Being from this town, I have a great appreciation for miners, and steel workers. They built this country, and were casually disregarded when no longer needed, left to choke to death on Black Lung and poverty.
I’ve seen Pittsburgh, our closest city and my favorite place on Earth, become a home for technology and medicine. We are also apparently becoming Hollywood South. (We were Gotham!)
Our dialect is unique, stranger than even our other Appellation towns. Gumbands, Sou’side, all that. Yinz know what I’m talking about.
People know me here, and for the most part they like me. They knew my mom, grandma and great grandma, too. Which means that some times I’m called ‘Becky’s daughter’, or ‘Mary’s granddaughter’. My husband’s the same way, and now that we’ve been married awhile sometimes I’m getting ‘Denise’s daughter in law’.
There’s something great about that, though. I don’t have a lot of family, and I don’t talk to most of what I have. For much of my life I’ve felt sort of like a tree with very shallow roots, as though I could be blown over at any moment. When someone recognizes me from my family, I’m reminded that I wear my heritage on my face, and that my roots are deeper than I realize.
I draw inspiration from this town, and a lot of that is fed into my writing. When my main character in Woven says she thinks her city is the most beautiful in the world, that’s me talking about Pittsburgh. When another character weeps for the old mining town he grew up in drying up, that’s me talking about Butler.
I walk with my memories, with my roots under my feet every day. I don’t think I would be the person I am if I had grown up anywhere else. And even if I someday leave it, it will always be with me. This will always be my home.