I had an interesting telephone conversation with my brother earlier this week. He had driven from his home to Mechanicsburg, Pa., to spend a couple of days visiting my father in Pittsburgh. Somehow, they got the idea to drive another hour west to visit the town were we grew up — Wheeling, W. Va.
Some background here. While I usually claim the ‘burgh as my hometown, the truth of the matter is that my brother and I grew up mostly in the Wheeling suburbs of Bethlehem and Elm Grove. My earliest memories, at maybe four or five years old, are of Wheeling. My parents moved the family back to their hometown of Pittsburgh between my freshman and sophomore years of high school.
My brother described how they drove around our old neighborhood in Bethlehem — Mt. Lebanon Drive. I was able to follow him perfectly as he described what he saw and how it had changed, at least from his childhood memories.
“Do remember at the bottom of the “steep hill” there was a house on the left.”
“Yes. David Morris lived there.”
It was really quite a flashback. We moved away from that neighborhood in 1967, when my brother and I were 12 and 13 respectively. Yet, we were both able to visualize and share a tour, as if we had lived there yesterday.
Part of that probably has to do with the nature of the neighborhood and the way we grew up.
This neighborhood was actually fairly isolated. It was located top of one of the many “mountains” southeast of central Wheeling. A single road originated off of a highway and wound its way up the “mountain” and along the hill-top ridge. It eventually split in two near the end. It was one long cul d’ sac. There were maybe 45 homes in the entire neighborhood and most of them had school-aged kids.
Every direction out of the neighborhood was downhill. We and our friends used to roam all through the surrounding woods and old farm fields for hours at a time. As far as we were concerned, we “owned” the area and walked or rode our bikes everywhere. We would leave the house in the morning and not return until dinner time. We didn’t have swimming pools, carefully groomed ball fields or parks. We didn’t need them.
We also had no need of maps or street signs. We gave the various features our own names. Death Valley, Echo Valley, The Old Tank Road, The Moon, Mount Help, The Steep Hill, The Empty Lot, Old Softy, and so on.
On one side of the neighborhood, there was what appeared by be an aborted effort to start a new development. For whatever reason, after the developers had bulldozed and cleared lanes for streets, they abandoned the project. This left interconnecting strips of raw dirt, rocks, weeds and gullies where we used to hike, play “Army,” build forts and anything else that sounded like a good idea. Eventually, those areas were developed. What we called Death Valley, the Old Tank Road and Echo Valley is now “Baytree Drive.” Maybe I’m a little prejudiced, but I like the original names better.
My brother and I are both in our late 50s now, but when he described “Do you remember when we used to go down the Old Cement Road and passed by Mount Help…?” it made perfect sense.
At the time, we probably didn’t think our childhoods were as idyllic as they seem through the prism of 40-50 years. However, my brother and I both agreed that as adults, our memories of growing up there are pretty good.