With the holidays approaching, I have several trips planned to return home to see my family and it usually gets me thinking about the differences between where I live now and where I grew up. The differences are pretty drastic and although I don’t live in rural Northwestern PA any longer and have some different viewpoints than I may have had when I was younger, I would like to share with you a little bit about my home.

I am a Pennsylvanian at heart. The place where I grew up is basically like Cheers- Everybody knows your name. I’m from a small town somewhere in between Erie and Pittsburgh.  According to Wikipedia, in 2000 the population of my hometown was 7,212 and only ONE McDonalds services all 7,212 people. We don’t have Starbucks, Taco Bell, Target or Macy’s. In fact, we once had a Wendy’s but it went out of business… get my drift? If you’re from my town your favorite place to eat is probably Sheetz and it’s a gas station (an amazing gas station that I stop and eat at every trip home!!!). I could write a whole blog on the wonders of Sheetz and its MTO menu (Made To Order) but THAT would make me weird, right?

The people in my town are pretty rural…we’re like a good country song- we love our dogs, our trucks and our country. Life moves pretty slow and no one seems to mind. Because it only takes 20 minutes to get just about anywhere at any time in my hometown, people spend less time traveling and more time doing things they enjoy. People enjoy a laid back recreational schedule that might be something like– Wednesday night they play bingo down at the fire hall, Thursday night during the summer they see a live band perform in the park, Saturday they drive out to Pithole and go camping… and No One misses the annual rock skipping tournament.  Going to see a show at the community theatre is considered a night out on the town that requires one to dress up and eat a fancy dinner at Eat N’ Park or Long John Silvers. One of my favorite things about going home is that if I want to go out on a Friday or Saturday night to ANY of the bars (I say bars because there are NO clubs)…I can wear jeans, tennis shoes and a ball cap and be one of the best dressed in the place.

The high schools are small and so you go to school with the same people for 13 years. My graduating class was around 66 people…we all knew each other and still stalk each other on facebook. It’s a strange situation where you are limited to a small group of people to carve your niche into; post high school graduation I realized that it’s much easier to get along in life if you’re not forcing friendships with people who you really share nothing in common with other than you live in the same school district. And then life comes full circle because once you’ve branched out and moved away, your school classmates are the only ones who can truly appreciate how things were growing up in a small town. Basically, it’s similar to the relationship you have with your parents…you don’t really appreciate them until you’ve left the nest and gained some perspective.

The friendships made in high school are also a key to your recreation activities when returning home for a visit. Generally, you go out to the bar and run into someone you know and then rehash all the stupid stuff you did in high school. The night is full of “remember when” and “we used to” and you getting back to the point in that circle when you realize why you left in the first place. The best is when you drag along some new person in your life and introduce them to your place of origin. They get to sit there and listen to you talk about those nights when “Bubba”, “Spank” and “Chuck” snuck up to “Mr. History’s” house and took a shit in his yard…or whatever. OR  the night when we all drove our beat up trucks, four wheelers or Chevy Cavaliers to a field or a spot in the middle of the woods and underage drank. Usually, you consumed some sort of quality beer like Strohs or Busch… ’cause that’s what your Daddy drinks. Most of your memories will also culminate with “and then we all went to King’s.”  King’s Family Restaurant was the cool place to hang out at after something…basketball games, dances, high school choir concerts… Most of us went without money and ordered water. King’s staff must cherish those times as much as we do.

Walmart is where EVERYONE shops. I don’t remember when the one near us was built… I was probably in high school…so maybe 10 years ago? And please keep in mind that this Walmart is NOT in my town. Before that, you had to drive over a half an hour to the nearest Walmart and people did because it was a luxury place to shop!! We have a mall nearby too (again not in my town) and it houses some familiar stores like Bath and Body Works and Sears but it also boasts a department store sized Goodwill, a regional nephrology (it’s your weekly vocabulary word, look it up, I did.) center, Curves and even a business machine rental store….you know, the usual mall stores. I should also add that the parking lot behind the movie theater inside the mall is where the kids from this town hang out. Seriously. They just go park their cars and stand around and talk…I know King’s didn’t sound like much, but I think it’s better than standing around in a parking lot….

….With such amazing places to shop, my hometown is always on the brink of current fashion trends…. For the 1990s. See, what many don’t know is that stores like Sears and JC Penny send clothes from their larger locations (aka Washington, DC) that didn’t sell at retail or sale prices, to small locations (aka my hometown) to attempt to sell at retail again. Basically, our stores are full of reject clothes that other people wouldn’t wear. So, the fashion statements are mind-blowing. Women and men in my town rock the windbreaker pant suit like nobody’s business. There are also some really bitchin hair styles to accommodate the up to date fashion trends… feathered bangs are always in style, right?

We don’t just rely on the mall to tell us what’s in style; people of my hometown have a very strong sense of personal style. Camouflage print is considered a neutral and also acceptable for any occasion. We rock the hunter orange better than any other society; I think it’s due to our coloring and the climate we live in that really makes it pop for us. Additionally, steel toed boots are a fashion must and also prove themselves useful. I think that the trend of jeans with holes in them BEGAN where I’m from, because our clothes get to lookin’ like that naturally…and we also can’t justify buying jeans for $50 with holes in ‘em already! And to round out your NW PA look, pin on your hunting license to your hat or hoodie and your look is complete.

I suppose it’s worth saying that we also speak our own language. It’s quite unique and can only be found in a small region of PA. Allow me to translate some common phrases for you:

I also recently got into an argument about the pronunciation of the word “pajamas.” I’ve always said pa-jam (with a short A)- mas and I was told that it ain’t correct. Northern Virginians say pa-jaw-mas (with a long A)….my argument is that is not how it’s sung in the “Bananas in Pajamas” song. (For your reference, I did look this up and both pronunciations are correct)

While my hometown sounds like a strange and weird place to you, I want to conclude my rant with this: I will always call NW PA home and love that I grew up in a small town. Yes, people in a small town know all your business, have some strange fashion trends and are at times indiscernible…BUT these people will smile at you when they walk past you on the sidewalk, they will open doors for you and hurry after you to make sure you get back that $10 bill you just dropped. No community is perfect, but having roots in a town where people care about others,–or at least pretend to because stuff gets around and no one wants to be known as an asshole– is something I’m very proud of….  After all, our license plates used to say “You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania.”

And if that doesn’t sound good enough for you, there are a multitude of famous people from my side of PA:

Louisa May Alcott (author), Mary Cassatt (painter), Gene Kelly (dancer,actor), Grace Kelly (actress, Princess of Monaco), Jim Kelly (football player), Andrew Mellon (financier), Arnold Palmer (golfer), Henry John Heinz (industrialist), Lynn Swan (football player), Fred “Mr. Rogers” Rogers (actor), Michael Keaton (actor) and Sharon Stone (actress)…..

and my personal favorite PUNCHLINE!!! Please enjoy their tribute to all that is Pennsylvania– Keystoned:

Sincerely,

Jammer

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