House and Home,  Western Pennsylvania

Did You Hear About St. Basil’s?

2013-10-26 Phipps-015St. Basil (or Saint Basil) Catholic Parish in Carrick was all over the Pittsburgh news last month. They shut down their church festival – their big fundraiser – for safety reasons (social media posts and actual brawling) on opening night. Permanently, I read someplace. They took a large financial hit, and the community lost an event that should have brought them together.

I care enough to blog about this because: My mom grew up with her five siblings in Carrick, and the family belonged to St. Basil’s. They lived a few blocks from the church. My parents got engaged on their walk home from Christmas Eve Mass there.  They got married there in 1974. One of my sisters was baptized there.

So Carrick remains on the list of places important to my family history. Not the only place, but a place nonetheless.

I grew up in central Pennsylvania. However, sometimes I stayed in Carrick with my grandparents during school vacations.  Here’s what I remember: Carrick sits on a slope above downtown Pittsburgh. When I was very young, before the Pennsylvania steel industry finished collapsing, it smelled of sulfur. (I noticed it because my nose was used to the farms back home.) Like many places in Western PA, our car trips through the neighborhood could be confused with roller coaster rides. On brick streets.

The neighborhood had challenges even then. Actual and perceived. I watched my grandparents attach “The Club” to their car’s steering wheel before Mass. We walked past the adjoining parochial school that my mom attended. It was closed and boarded up. By the end of the 1980’s, my grandparents had retired to the country and all of my aunts and uncles also left the neighborhood. Some of them left the state.

A few weeks ago, Jonathan and I stopped for lunch at an Applebee’s in Michigan and I pulled out my phone to read the Pittsburgh news. That’s how I learned about the festival cancellation. I thought, “Oh, what a shame.” Then I went back to eating my shrimp salad. But I kept thinking about it, and I realized something:

In 2013, I discovered the memoir “American Elegy” by Jeffrey Simpson. The author recounted  his childhood memories of my current neighborhood, Parnassus. I blogged about it here and here and here. I didn’t like the way that Simpson portrayed my neighborhood, my street, in the last chapter. Because at the end of the day, I still live in Parnassus and I still build my future here.

Well, in some ways, Carrick stars in my own version of “American Elegy.” I’m proud of the sacrifices that my grandparents made to build a life for their family in Carrick. I’m sorry that some of my relatives drove past my grandparents’ old house and were saddened by its condition. I need to respect the people who still live in Carrick and still build their futures here.

(On a happier note, a few nights ago I found the Go Fund Me page that was set up for the financial hit that St. Basil’s took from the festival cancellation. The page said that the campaign was fully funded. When I went back to click on the link today, I received a message that the campaign information was unavailable.)

I want to close with a happy story: Over 40 years ago, my dad proposed to my mom on Christmas Eve during the walk between St. Basil’s on Brownsville Road and my grandparents’ house on Sprucewood Street. My mom got so exited that she knocked the ring out of my dad’s hand. My parents had to get down and look for the ring on the snowy ground. They found it. My mom said yes. They married at St. Basil’s. They now have 41 years of memories and five daughters from the life that they built together in central Pennsylvania. People move on from the places that they know and build new lives in other places. That is life. That is how our country was built. You don’t have to be tied to past homes, but you can honor your memories there.