A few days ago I returned to Ljubljana, Slovenia from a visit to the USA and my hometown, Somerset in Pennsylvania. Although several meaningful things happened during this journey, my adventures to Somerset were nostalgic and I easily lost track of time.
I am presently helping with the planning for a reunion weekend of my high school class. This event is a special one as it marks the 50th anniversary of my high school graduation. Even though my travel involves quite a distance traversing six time zones, it is worth it to me to contribute to the event and help make it memorable. Meanwhile, my journey reminds me of the time growing from childhood into being the person I am today.
My physical journey by car on the Pennsylvania Turnpike brought back memories of ROTC summer camp near Harrisburg, playing in a Little League tournament game at Nanty Glo, my dad honking the car’s horn going through tunnels with great names like Tuscarora and Kittatinny, and driving past Everett where someone painted their football goal posts orange and black (Somerset school colors) prior to a game back in the day. The Pennsylvania Turnpike even has a song written about it (here)!
However, on arriving in Somerset, the beautiful county courthouse, with its dome patterned after St. Paul’s in London, catches your eye and I knew I was home. Although I was there specifically to work on the reunion, I took some time for a drive to Stoystown.
My mom grew up in nearby Hooversville in a very modest house that is now abandoned and in need of repair attention. Close to Hooversville is Hollsopple which is named for my mom’s great, great-grandfather. Her family lineage goes back to some of the earliest settlers in the area.
But as I stopped to take photos of the house, the sweet, fragrant air there brought back childhood memories like walking on chilly, misty mornings over a creek, through the woods and a pasture to the barn. Senses in such a place are many especially the smell of freshly cut straw, the cawing of crows, or seeing steam rising from warm cow poop.
While out and about I stopped by the house were I was raised. It is so small! It has but one bathroom and I know I share the experience with many friends of juggling everyone using one toilet in a house. Doing so became a form of dance… often because you needed to go immediately!
One of the highlights of this visit was waking early as fog was lifting and seeing the beauty of this pastoral place. The beauty of the area and the respect for the surroundings is protected by the people living there. These are hard-working generous people where I grew up. They opened their hearts and homes to strangers… families seeking closure on 9/11… when Flight 93 smashed into the earth near my hometown.
As I work with fellow classmates on the reunion, I know my feelings are like all others yearning to return to friends and the fond memories we share like heavy snowstorms and beautiful autumn foliage (often in that order). How fortunate that many stayed in the area and how fortunate those, like myself, can return with an appreciation of the area and people who make my hometown special.