The House That Was a Home

LEBANON, Pa.—It really was never supposed to be my forever home.

Two years ago, I took one last look at what had been home for most of my adult life and decided to say thank you instead of goodbye.

Thirty-one years earlier, I crossed the threshold of 260 with a six-day-old infant and a boisterous 3-year-old.

Home is never really a place as much as it is a kaleidoscope of experiences that range from soaring highs to heartbreaking lows with plenty of ordinary in between. If you embrace those moments, they never go away, despite leaving the structure where you hung your hat every night.

My practical engineer father winced the first time he and my mother came to see the house. First, I dared to find a place to live outside the neighborhood they and both of my sisters did. And second, because the house was old, with old creaky windows, crooked floors, and ancient plaster that dimpled the wallpaper the previous owner desperately used to cover its flaws.

My father saw work; I saw potential. He saw endless trips with his toolbox; I saw a home ready to be loved. It took 31 years and a lot of elbow grease. Still, the wall-to-wall carpeting was torn out, the floors sanded, the wallpaper ripped down, and every room painted a vibrant color to bring out the character.

It was here my daughter Shannon hit her first baseball over the top of the roof, kicked the soccer ball endlessly off the back of the foundation, and fell asleep in her walk-in closet sitting straight up while listening to a yoga CD.

Also, it’s where my son Glenn wore holes into two fence slats while practicing pitching a baseball. He overshot the basketball hoop causing the ball to land on the bakery roof next door. He used to open the window to his bedroom and crawl out onto the sunroom roof to read a book.

All in all, a score of windows fell to the children playing a sport of some kind. My favorite moment is the roller hockey game in the driveway that led to a hockey puck sailing through the stained-glass front door window and landing at my feet in the living room.

It was the home both of the children’s friends (sometimes the entire team) came to, to “carb up” with great big bowls of homemade pasta and sauce the night before the big game. It was here all the children’s friends came after a big win or loss to celebrate or commiserate the moment.

I always thought it was funny that despite all the homes in Mt. Lebanon, they came to ours. There was no game room, fancy television, or sofas in our basement; it was literally a basement with a couple of used couches pushed together.

My guess is they came for the food.

Things were tight in our home. We may have lived in one of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest suburbs, but we didn’t have much. Clothes shopping for them was not Abercrombie & Fitch at the mall; it was Goodwill. When they had soccer or baseball or football camps or tournaments to attend, my father kept a ledger of the times I had to borrow money and pay him back so they could attend.

There were plenty of times I would silently cry on the landing between the first and second floor when the children were asleep and after I paid the bills. I wondered how we were going to get by on the little amount left in the checkbook.

The children never complained about their clothes. They never complained when we couldn’t always eat out after soccer or football games with the other families. And they kind of enjoyed looking for spare quarters to fill up the gas tank.

They never complained because we had this place called home. It was a place that, for 31 years, we hosted the Feast of the Seven Fishes for the entire extended family. It meant an early morning trip to the Strip District to get our fish from Wholey’s and our Italian delicacies from Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., and great big cups of coffee from La Prima to keep us going.

Constructed in 1929, 260 is a Dutch colonial. The first owners were the Sumters, who lived a soap-opera life filled with infidelities, intrigue, and a questionable suicide. It set the tone for scores of owners who never lasted longer than a few years.

The Bradfutes were one of the more extended owners. He was the local justice of the peace and served as an air raid-siren captain in the 1940s during World War II. In 2018 when I redid the attic, I found a portfolio of his daughter Carol’s charcoal drawings—hundreds of them—done as a student at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University), revealing a very rare view of the 1930s Pittsburgh landscape and fashion.

When I left, I knew the only appropriate thing to do was leave them at 260 with the new owners. It didn’t seem right to take them; they belonged there in all their historic beauty. They were part of the house, not part of my home.

My father was right: 260 was a lot of work.

I was right, too. She lived up to her potential; so much love passed that threshold, so many dreams realized, so many struggles, heartbreaks, and failures, as well.

She gave shelter to the three of us for a very long time. She was a gracious host for proms, graduations, birthdays, family gatherings with uncles and aunts who have long passed. It also served as the place for an annual Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newsroom Christmas party and even several Burns Suppers.

It’s the house where my son-in-law Michael picked Shannon up for their first date and where my son Glenn hugged me goodbye when he left for Colorado to make his way in the world.

The note he left me in the attic came to the new home, as did the memory.

My parents always taught me to leave a place better than how you found it. At the time, they weren’t really talking about a house, but the sentiment applies.

They always taught me to be grateful and always show grace, no matter the situation. As I pulled away from 260 two years ago, I thanked her for letting us love her and for loving us back, and I told her to take good care of the new owners.

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