Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Back to Ohio

"Hey, ho, way to go, Ohio." Chrissie Hynde, THE PRETENDERS (Yep, Chrissie grew up just a few streets away from me on Sand Run Road--she was a bit older and more hip than I and had fled for London by the time we moved to New Hampshire.)

It is hard to describe this feeling, coming back to terra madre, driving past the old house, seeing the fireflies on the dewy suburban lawns, watching a perfectly coiffed suburban Barbie doll (with bobbed blonde hair) rounding the corner behind her terrier, way too thin and way too tall and way too perfect, following after her naturally blonde bobbed daughter whom I first noticed playing in their manicured yard. I couldn't figure out if this woman was wearing Lily Pulitzer or the latest Talbots but I realized right there that I could never "go back" to home, to Ohio, in the sense of my childhood. The hardest part of this brief 60 hour visit (we leave Friday morning)--and there are many good parts, too--is knowing I can no longer drive down Mull Avenue to see my father or meet him nearby at his favorite restaurant. I can no longer drive down Melbourne and visit with the Tompkins, my second family during childhood and beyond. My father died in October 2002, just a few days before my 40th birthday. I was here with him, as were my brothers, and again the following October for a special memorial recital in his honor to dedicate a musical endowment we created in his name. I haven't been here since. (I haven't seen the Tompkins either since they moved to South Carolina in 1999.)

In many ways this is a city of ghosts. Memories drift in and out of streets and houses and other places I recall. Family houses remain, including one that is a museum (and that I can't wait to visit tomorrow to see their pantries again--more on that, well, after tomorrow), but the family is gone. I have an aunt, my father's sister, but she only wants to visit by phone and I only want to run into her house and embrace her and say "you see, Aunt Mary, you are family and you are in a house that I remember and I love that you are still here" but I can't. Even she can not go back and it was in her childhood and young marriage that Akron was in its hey-dey.

Downtown Akron is coming back in some ways--a new minor league baseball stadium, some fabulous restaurants here and there and in the suburbs, too. Of course, I say suburbs but you can drive from the well-kept green lawns and secure houses of Fairlawn Heights, east to downtown on Market Street, past increasingly more depressed neighborhoods, into downtown Akron in a matter of ten minutes in good traffic.

So to feel somewhat close to my roots again, I can always go to Stan Hywet Hall, a vast Tudor mansion complete with furnishings and family items intact that my greatgrandparents built in 1916. In 1957 the house was turned over to a foundation by their six children, one of whom was my grandfather (my grandparents house was down the road--it was sold in 1983 after my Grandpa died--another place of great memory). So they handed over the house lock, stock and barrel because they didn't want to have to tear it down or distribute its contents among the family. Even though I never lived in this house, it holds family memories and photographs, and my own memories from visits, reunions and internships in the past. It also instilled a lifelong appreciation of everything English and old and a love of historic architecture. Even the Gate Lodge, where my great-aunt Irene had life tenancy until her death at 108 (she nearly lived in parts of three centuries, born in 1890 and died in 1999, a month shy of her 109th birthday), is now a historical site of national importance: it is the place where my great-aunt Henrietta introduced Dr. Bob and Dr. Bill together and thus Alcoholics Anonymous began.

Tomorrow I will revisit Stan Hywet's pantries and learn more about the "behind stairs" domestic life. I will read letters and notes from my greatgrandmother to her servants and I will think that yes, here I am nearly one hundred years later, a child of divorced parents (one deceased and one married for the third time), three children of my own, a husband, and a strange kind of domestic insanity.

I think of the old days--my childhood and those years before that are really sepia-toned impressions of another life--and I become nostalgic for something that probably never was. So I must learn to enjoy the here and now, whether I'm in Akron in 2005 as a 42 year old middle-aged premenopausal woman or as a 10 year old who has no clue about what is to come or what has been.

"Oh Earth, you're too wonderful for anyone to realize you!" cries the young Emily Webb who returns to life to relive her 12th birthday in the Thornton Wilder play, OUR TOWN. "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? --
every, every minute?"

"No," answers the omniscient Stage Manager who then pauses. "The saints and poets, maybe they do some."

Emily answers, "I'm ready to go back."

But I ask, to where, to what? Right now at this very minute my mother is finishing the last packing up of the farmhouse in Jaffrey, the other place I have always thought of as home. She is moving up the road a ways into a newer house and we bought the farm with hopes of moving there ourselves one day. But our lives have evolved in the past several years and we just got an estimate that it will take around $250,000 just to stabilize the house, put on a new roof, new septic, new electrical (or we can't get insurance nor rent to tenants, which had been the plan for two years), new heating system, and carpenters to patch things up after the electrical work. So it is all in limbo now--our plans, which house, what place.

I am not a gypsy and need a nest I can count on. "Our forever house," to quote the wisdom of a nine year old boy, a friend of my son, and son of my friend, who wanted his dead pet mouse dug up and brought to his new and seemingly permanent home. That is just what I need right now--a forever house.


Mike Wise said...

Catherine, sorry we missed you when you were in town....

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