My sisters and I drove to Pittsburgh once from our home in Cleveland Ohio, but I knew nothing about the Steel City; a city that was a mere two hours from where we lived. Little did I know, I would soon move to that very city and it would change my life. There was a whole new universe outside my own little world.
I was terrified to move away from my hometown of Cleveland. I was truly anxious to leave everyone I loved behind, especially my mother, Shirley. Before the move, I was crying in my coffee wondering if I could start all over. I didn’t know a soul in Pittsburgh and wondered how I would fit in and if I would meet people who would touch my life as much as the people from back home. I was that girl, the small-town girl who knew nothing but what was in her own backyard. That would soon change dramatically.
We chose Pittsburgh because it was the perfect place to start a brand new life and because of its proximity to Cleveland and wonderful universities and culture. I was just an arm’s length from my comfort zone. I could begin fresh but still hold onto the apron strings of my life. My first home away from home did not occur through happenstance. My fiancée, James, was going to Point Park University and he researched the best community to live in the Pittsburgh area, a place with good public transportation to the city. He found Mt Lebanon. He chose well. Mt Lebanon is a picturesque community in the heart of the South Hills; with beautiful tree-lined streets, many parks, and a friendly and safe environment.
Soon I decided to take a few waitress jobs, because there was a wedding to pay for. Instead of bowing out of our grand moment because of the lack of funds, I decided to go all in to pay for the wedding of my dreams by myself. This is where my life lessons would begin. If I never moved, I would have never met the people who made such a positive impact on my life. Home is where people you love reside, and I have many homes. It all began in Mt Lebanon and unlikely friendships that would make me feel connected at a time when I could have completely unraveled.
I began waitressing at the old Red Lobster on Washington Road. It was exhausting and a culture shock at first. Now when I look back I do not recall the long doubles or sore soles from hours of serving shrimp, I remember the people I met in my time there, including the people of Mt Lebanon who treated me like family when I was homesick. Many of these people were my co-workers and customers I waited on at the job I thought would just earn me tips to pay for my wedding, but I was bestowed so much more. I met my co-worker and friend Brandi and my lifelong dear friend Linda there, who came in often with her beautiful parents whom I just adored. She is one of my life’s inspirations.
One of my regular parties that requested me were a group of ladies from the community. I ended up waiting on “the lunch ladies” because most of the wait staff was a bit intimidated by their unusual requests so I offered to jump in. They would soon adopt me as their own. This was everyone else’s loss and my gain.
Soon I would find myself running around, running food and my lunch ladies would arrive one by one at Table Four. I would be greeted by big smiles and even bigger hugs, and like lightning I was off to fetch cool iced teas and sliced oranges for my five favorite gals. I loved pampering my girls, and the lunch ladies in each of their unique way reminded me of my mother and Aunts. I treated them with the same reverence I would treat any family member, and they reciprocated in spades. I was at home but I was at work. I learned they could be the same.
My wedding would soon approach and I received gifts from many of my guests and coworkers including Linda and Brandi. My ladies collectively gave me a wedding gift and card. Sheila, my Pittsburgh adopted Mother as she called herself even came to my rescue once when our car broke down on Washington Road. Little did I know those moments would be with me for a lifetime. I even met her daughter Lauren and she introduced me as her adopted daughter.
Now I find myself in Los Angeles, many years and moves removed from my early days in my first home away from home, yet nostalgic and grateful. I am connected through Facebook to Sheila’s daughter Lauren. She and I are in touch often, and I’m happy to say Sheila is doing well back in Mt Lebanon.
In retrospect, connecting with my customers was more monumental to me then planning the wedding the waitress job funded. Did my wedding go off without a hitch? No wedding does. We had a beautiful wedding but in life we sometimes remember the simpler times more than those grand moments we painstakingly plan. Life takes us on unexpected journeys and we realize the road we travel is just as memorable if not more than the destinations we seek, especially when that road is paved with beautiful new friends from all walks of life.