Romick Holiday Trip

A Love Letter to Wheeling, My Home

It is a foggy Friday morning as I prepare to teach one of my favorite lessons to my eleventh-grade students at Wheeling Park High School. It is a lesson exploring the meaning and many definitions of home. We explore and discuss several definitions in literature; Robert Frost’s poem “Death of a Hired Man” provides two definitions, Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” describes that special feeling of longing when one is away from home, John Denver’s “Country Roads” speaks of home being where one belongs, and Springsteen’s “My Hometown” offers a stark and at the same time, nostalgic examination of home. After reading the poem and then the song lyrics while listening to the songs, I share my own experiences with that elusive and evolving definition of home…

Growing Up in Wheeling

I first moved to Wheeling with my family as a young teen in the early 1970s. I was born in Pittsburgh and at a month old, we moved to New Jersey where we lived for thirteen years, and then moved to Wheeling. My father, a minister, was raised in Martins Ferry and moving to Wheeling was like coming home for him. Having known only New Jersey, my siblings and I did not know what to expect. Upon hearing of our upcoming move to West Virginia, our Jersey friends were quick with the jokes (do they even wear shoes in WV?) and some did not even know that West Virginia was actually a state. We were hoping that the “Friendly City” sign that welcomed us to Wheeling was at least partially true. It took a little while to make friends, but nearly everyone I met was friendly.

  • Michael and his family shortly after moving to Wheeling in 1974
    Michael and his family shortly after moving to Wheeling in 1974

I attended Woodsdale Junior High for my ninth-grade year, my first in Wheeling. I still have two bricks from the original building since there is where I met my future wife; It was torn down to make way for the present Woodsdale Elementary School. Then it was off to Triadelphia High School for a year before attending Wheeling Park High School. I grew to love it! I made friends, played baseball, participated in theatre, got my driver’s license, worked a part-time job at Foodland on Chapline Street, and spent time hanging out with a group of neighborhood kids most nights on “the corner” in Dimmeydale.

Branching Out

After attending Bethany College for a year, I married my junior high sweetheart and I took a job with a store at the Ohio Valley Mall. The store was part of a multibillion-dollar corporation based in St. Louis. I soon worked my way up to manager and was promoted a few more times, eventually leading to a job at the company’s home office in St. Louis. My wife, daughter, and I settled into our new life in St. Louis,  where we would live for the next fifteen years.

  • Michael and his future wife, Julie, at senior prom in 1978
    Michael and his future wife, Julie, at senior prom in 1978

While we were living in St. Louis, we would always look forward to spending time at home in Wheeling for Christmas. We would save up our vacation time so that we could stay for as long as possible. Christmas time is rather magical in Wheeling; Seeing family and friends, revisiting our old neighborhoods and haunts, eating DiCarlos nearly every night, and we always made it a point to see the festival of lights at Oglebay – there were light displays in and around St. Louis, but none could compare to Oglebay.

Our annual holiday vacation spent back home helped us to relax and refuel so that we could face the next year. It was around this same time that we began to realize that we still referred to Wheeling as “home”. Even though we had not lived in Wheeling for a number of years and we owned our own house in St. Louis, some 600 miles away, whenever my wife or I spoke of home, we both knew it was Wheeling that we were talking about.

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Our Journey Home

My wife and I often pondered what type of jobs would enable us to live where we wanted. Our jobs had always dictated where we lived. After much soul-searching, contemplation, and prayer, we decided that I would go back to school to earn the credits needed to be certified to teach, something that I had dreamed of doing for years. My wife was a registered nurse, so she could work anywhere.

After earning my degree, I taught English and ran the theatre program at a small high school in Hermann, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis for nine years. It was really nice, but it was too far away from home. Could we move back home, back to Wheeling? And if not Wheeling, at least somewhere closer? We decided to give Charlottesville, Virginia a try. My wife was quickly offered a job at a hospital there and I got an offer from the principal at Albemarle High School. (Fun fact: the principal who hired me was a former Wheeling native and Central Catholic graduate, who saw that I was from Wheeling and called me).

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I taught in Charlottesville in 2014-2015; during that school year, we took several trips to Wheeling and reveled in being so close to home again. But then my beautiful and wonderful wife was diagnosed with cancer. We knew that we were in for a tough road, but we had faced adversity before and were confident that we would make it through this challenge together. Having a special needs son and a daughter about to start ninth grade, we also knew that we were going to need help. We immediately started to search for teaching opportunities back home – in and around Wheeling.

Fortunately, there was a job opening for an English teacher in Wheeling – cue the Welcome Back Kotter theme song! I applied for the position and after a few tense weeks of waiting, I was offered the job at Wheeling Park High School. We moved back home to Wheeling in August of 2015.

My wonderful wife, a tenacious fighter, just could not beat her cancer and we lost her in April 2016. She was surrounded by friends and family and passed peacefully. I honestly do not know how I could have made it if I was anywhere else. Wheeling, home, and my friends and family here comforted me and my family and the friendly, familiar places gave and continue to give me solace and peace. I bought a motorcycle and would often long peaceful rides through the picturesque scenery in and around Wheeling to clear my mind and take a much-needed, therapeutic break.

Defining Home

After sharing my brief personal history and experiences of “home,” I discuss with my students that somewhat elusive definition of the word “home.” It is something that I find particularly intriguing. “Home” is more of a concept, or feeling, or a construct rather than a specific, tangible thing. I ask for my students to share their definitions of “home” and the answers, for the most part, are varied, heartfelt, and wonderful.

“It is where I can be myself.”

“It’s where I am accepted as I am.”

“Home is where I am most comfortable.”

“Home is where I can be just me.”

I remember several times feeling the heartache of Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” lyrics when I lived elsewhere and I not only longed or wished to be back home, but truly needed to be. I remember visiting Wheeling in the 1990s and understanding Springsteen’s “My Hometown” as I saw Wheeling struggle to reinvent itself, but still recognizing that my hometown was a part of who I am. “Country Roads” because it actually mentions West Virginia and speaks of home being the place one belongs, is especially apropos. And in my family’s greatest hour of need, one of Robert Frost’s definitions of home, from his poem “The Death of the Hired Man,” seemed particularly fitting: “Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”

I close my lesson by sharing that I am truly thankful that Wheeling was, is, and will continue to be my definition of home. I tell my students that I have lived in many places, traveled all over the country and to Europe, and could live almost anywhere, but I chose Wheeling. I encourage them to see other places, but advise them that regardless of where they visit, live, or settle down, Wheeling will continue to be a part of who they are. It is where I feel most comfortable, where I feel most like myself, it is my safe haven, and Wheeling is my home.

How do you define home? Comment below to share your thoughts and check back tomorrow to read more about how Michael’s students at Wheeling Park High School have defined home for themselves.

Michael Romick returned to Wheeling in 2015 after living in Cleveland, St. Louis, Columbus, and Charlottesville. Following a successful corporate career in retail, Michael fulfilled a dream to become a teacher and has been teaching high school for over a decade and a half and has been an adjunct college professor for three different universities. A lifelong reader and learner, Michael earned his Doctorate Degree in Education in 2020 from Liberty University, his Master’s Degree in English from Northwestern State University, and his Bachelors in English Education from Missouri Baptist University. Of all the places Michael has lived, Wheeling has always been home.