Loquacious: full of excessive talk : wordy (www.m-w.com)
Once upon a time, I lived in a place where I knew no writers, no artists, no creative types. Then one day last April I received an email from a stranger who said she'd been reading my blog off and on for years. She had stumbled upon it again (via Liz, one of my best friends, who lives far away in Seattle) and noticed that I'd written for a Pittsburgh publication. This stranger, who lives about an hour outside the city assumed that I lived and worked in the city (instead of an hour outside of it in this quiet little town). But then she noticed a photo this old blog post. "And I squeaked a little at my desk," she wrote. "I know that artist. Heck, I know that mural. Cue serendipitous music here. I spent many a Saturday evening across the street from it hosting poetry readings. And then I realized you were not knee deep in the richness of city culture, penning your work from a brillobox barstool or supporting yourself with a plethora of city clients, you were right here in Westmoreland County."
This stranger turned out to be Stephanie Brea, a writer and poet living just 15 minutes from me. I'm grateful to Stephanie for reaching out to me with her delightful "stalker-ish" email (her words), for introducing me to local creative opportunities and other local writers (including another recent Loquacious guest), and for becoming an in-real-life friend and creative cohort. It's fitting that her guest essay focuses on a word that is a local peculiarity. Stephanie's essay, like her personality, is a great blend of humor and thoughtfulness. I think yinz will enjoy it.
By Stephanie Brea
If you aren't from Western Pennsylvania, or know someone who is, you probably have no idea what this means. A word used among those who "identify themselves with the city of Pittsburgh and its traditions," yinz stems from the second-person plural of you 'uns and means you or you all. Of course, it has none of the beautiful lilting of the y'alls associated with those south of the Mason-Dixon line. Yinz is all hard ys and zs fumbling around in your mouth, fighting to get out. To use it in a sentence: Yinz wanna come over and watch the Steelers and drink some beers?
Growing up, I always wanted to be somewhere else. I was in a hurry to leave my hometown, to leave Western PA. Like those hard ys and zs, I was trying to get out. I was going to end up someplace different, I was going to be someone different. Yinz was a word my grandmother used, along with other Western PA favorites such as slippy for slippery and worsh for wash. She also ate things like fried, chipped ham sandwiches and called bologna "jumbo," which she fried for sandwiches, as well. No, I was not a Yinzer.
My junior year of high school I was an exchange student in Finland. As I spoke to my classmates (in English, because who is conversant in Finnish?), they sometimes remarked on the way I said things. "It's not an accent, like you are southern, or from Brooklyn," they said. "You have no accent at all. Everything is flat and easy for us to understand, except for certain words." Those words were the ones that I tried so hard to avoid pronouncing incorrectly, those Yinzer words of my grandmother, my father, the guy selling Steelers t-shirts in the Strip District.
Being an exchange student made me reevaluate my relationship with home. I analyzed who I was and where I came from. I began to miss everything about my suburban Pittsburgh hometown. When I finally arrived at the Pittsburgh International Airport, after a trans-Atlantic flight and a 6-hour layover (spent clutching my purse to my chest and trying not to fall asleep and get robbed at JFK in New York City), I cried when we crossed the Fort Pitt Bridge and the city sparkled in front of me like a million rhinestones.
But after only a year back home, the wanderlust started. There had to be more for me, because I was no Yinzer. I was cultured, well travelled. I had seen the Mona Lisa (it is smaller than you think), learned to ski on the Swiss Alps. I had sauna-ed and seen the northern lights in Finland, took psilocybin mushrooms and ate apricots under the Eiffel Tower. I had been to Italy!
Like my father before me, I headed west, to Arizona. I was thousands of miles away from home, thousands of miles away from becoming a Yinzer—until my very first night there, when my father decided we should go out to dinner. The place was called Harold's Cave Creek Corral. As we drove up, a huge banner announced, "You're in Steelers Country." This tiny desert town had no traffic lights, but it had a Steelers bar. It seemed that Harold hailed from Monessen, one of the small steel towns littering the circumference of Pittsburgh. Harold was a true blue Yinzer and unapologetic about it: If he was starting a bar and restaurant in the middle of nowhere, it was gonna be a Steelers bar, and there was gonna be pierogies and he would import Iron City beer and make sure all Steelers games were televised. And my father, another Yinzer transplant, was damn well going to patronize his fine establishment.
After Arizona, I migrated north to Spokane, WA, which I consider the Pittsburgh of the Pacific Northwest. Spokane is no Seattle. Spokane is no Portland. It felt familiar, yet different enough to keep me interested, like a good first date or the idea of bacon and BBQ sauce on a burger. This didn’t stop me from insisting on someone buying me a Rolling Rock to toast my 21st birthday, even though it was considered an import, even though I wouldn’t allow Rolling Rock to touch my lips at home because it tasted like piss water. I'd driven by the brewery in the town adjacent to mine plenty of times. I'd seen the "springs" advertised on the bottle, which looked more like a large, dirty stream. But, once again, more than 2,000 miles from home, the Yinzer was infiltrating, burying itself deep beneath my skin, tattooing itself on my heart. I was homesick, and I needed that familiar green glass bottle to stand in for my friends and family.
Fast forward again a few years, and I am finishing college in New York City after another stint back home. When I come back to Pennsylvania for visits, I leave with two cases of Iron City beer, one for me and one for my high school friend Brian, who lives down the street from me in Astoria, Queens. Eight million people and five boroughs in NYC, but I had to rent near the ones I knew, as if I had never left home.
This is when I realized that it was time to come home for good, to accept the fact that years of travel had only strengthened my bond with Western PA. Like the strength of steel forged by Pittsburgh's industrial past, this bond couldn’t be broken. Maybe being a Yinzer was something to be proud of. After all, this was the region that produced Nellie Bly, Annie Dillard, Mister Rogers, Andrew Carnegie, Andy Warhol, the first banana split, and Heinz Ketchup. We pioneered French fries and coleslaw on sandwiches and the Big Mac.
Richard Price, the novelist and screenwriter, once said that where you're from is "the zip code of your heart," and I believe it. Southwestern PA, 15601: Yinzer for life.
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Stephanie Brea lives in a farmhouse outside of Pittsburgh, PA. By day, she is a kick-ass administrative director for a museum exhibit fabrication company that specializes in dinosaurs—meaning she can spell archaeopteryx without the need for spell check. But, she considers her "true" work the creative writing workshops and events she facilitates for local schools and non-profit organizations. Her work has been published in The Legendary, Nerve Cowboy, and the Pittsburgh City Paper. She will always go with you for an Iron City and a Primanti's sandwich, but only if you're buying. Visit her online at Word Farm Workshops.