Mr Mo, the Embot, and I spent a couple of days back in Pittsburgh at the end of August. It had been a while since we'd each visited, and of course no trip to da Burgh would be complete without the pilgrimage to our former homes there.

Accordingly, we went back to Greenfield and discovered that The Greenfield Organization (where I used to work) no longer exists (at least in the physical world — there is still apparently some kind of internet-based community entity), among other changes. After visiting Greenfield Elementary School, we headed down the hill to Lower Greenfield, a.k.a. Four Mile Run, a.k.a. The Run, where we'd lived for eight years, and where we were resident when all three of our children were born (albeit only briefly wrt Youngest).

I had already discovered via Google Earth a few years back, much to my enormous surprise, that one of the houses next door to us (the one on the uphill side) had disappeared. While some further googling informed me a bit about what had happened to the neighbors: the wife (whom we knew when she was a teenager and who had very occasionally babysat our kids) left that house — her childhood home, followed by an ugly divorce and custody battle, followed by the death of her loutish AK47-toting ex-husband at a young age … I couldn't find anything about what had happened to the house. In the interim, the next uphill neighbor had purchased the lot and essentially allowed the back part — where the house had stood — to turn into a little pond-like wilderness, complete with cattails. That neighbor was not home. Despite certain parties' misgivings, I went over to our other next-door neighbor's house and knocked.

Jeanne was home, and pretty much the first thing out of her mouth was to say that she had hardly recognized me, given all the weight I'd put on in the intervening years. I laughed and observed that she, by contrast, had lost a lot of weight.

As neighbors, we had remained simply friendly acquaintances over the eight years we lived there; in fact, we usually talked only when we happened to be outside at the same time hanging up our laundry on our respective backyard lines. Married to Leon (deceased for about 10 years now, I think), Jeanne had legal custody of her daughter's first two children, Missy and DJ. Missy was disabled — and my understanding was that Missy was disabled because her father had seriously abused her. In any event, Jeanne kept her grandchildren under close watch. There were occasional loud squabbles that emanated from their household over the years (of course, I'm not sure our own contretemps were all that quiet; and, too, the Embot hated getting her hair washed so much as a young child that she would scream utter bloody murder every time) — but it wasn't necessarily Jeanne vs. Leon: sometimes it was between her and her daughter, who lived across town; sometimes it would involved Jeanne's son Danny.

I think I went inside Jeanne's house only once the entire time we lived in The Run, and that was when I came to collect the Embot and the Ner: I'd received a call from Mr Mo's boss after lunch one fine day. "I think Mr Mo has eaten something that disagreed with him," said he. "Oh?" I replied. "Yeah, the paramedics are working on him now." Umm. I took the girls next door and asked Jeanne if she could watch them while I went to the hospital. (Verdict: Mr Mo cannot eat scallops ever, ever, ever.)

Anyway, after the emergency wound down, I went home and picked up the kids. Jeanne's living room was clean, the furniture a bit worn but conventionally so; there was a large TV,… and there was not one book nor magazine in sight. I perceived not too long after that that Jeanne was functionally illiterate, after she'd come over with some kind of letter from a utility company that she asked me to explain to her.

The last time I'd spoken with Jeanne — several years after we'd moved to Europe and all, I was pleased to find out that DJ had graduated from Allderdice High with honors and was successfully managing some kind of big box store. Given the mentality of so many people in the area, kids in particular (including DJ) — that becoming a sports star was the only ticket to success, I found his turnaround very heartening. This time Jeanne related that DJ lived in Florida with his wife and 4 (or 5?) kids and was still doing very well for himself. Missy, however, had been taken from Jeanne's custody and was institutionalized; and Jeanne's son Danny had been killed in a motorcycle accident just a couple of years ago. Jeanne now lives by herself and rather likes it, seeing her family (both near and far) when and if she pleases (though she seemed pleased that DJ flies her down to Florida every so often to see her great-grandchildren). She'd had a pretty rough life in a lot of ways, but she seemed in decent health and spirits for all that.

As for what had happened to the other house next door, it had burned down. Our former babysitter had remarried and apparently still lived someplace nearby. Whether she regained custody of her kids from her noxious ex-inlaws, I don't know. Jeanne's news about other neighbors that were from our time was a bit sparse, though we also learned that both the deaf man and his vicious dog had died; so-and-so was in the hospital; other folks with familiar names had died or moved away; the druggies down the street were druggies still, and their kids were even worse, etc.

Following all these revelations, we went down to the end of our old street and explored a bit behind Big Jim's (best pizza in town, at least when we lived there). Mr Mo and the Embot went up into Panther Hollow while I knocked on the door of what had been the Parish House attached to St Joachim's Catholic Church. The parish had been shut down some years before — swallowed up by St Rosalia's up the hill after many years of trying to stay afloat. The man who now owned both the parish house and the church (using the latter as a sound studio) had been our newspaper delivery boy all those many years before. He remembered us, these odd folks from the outside who took up residence in what had been a fairly tightly-closed enclave, particularly during its banner years (i.e., when the steel mills on Second Avenue were still operating). We never really fit in: though the Embot attended half-day kindergarten at Greenfield Elementary, both she and the Ner ended up going to CMU Children's School rather than to St Rosalia Catholic School; and apart from a nice young couple on Acorn St (who have long since moved to a farm about an hour north of Pittsburgh), we were never more than friendly acquaintances with a handful of other folks in that little blue-collar neighborhood. (Nor did we fit in "upper Greenfield" itself, for all that I worked for the G.O. and edited/produced the Greenfield Grapevine monthly for a good decade.)

—At the time, that was OK: we had friends at church with whom we're still close, and likewise we still have dear friends from Mr Mo's time at CMU. There is a little part of me, however, that wonders if we ended up missing out on more than we knew then — and now.