Ohio and Family
By Christi R. Suzanne
I went back to Ohio, my birth state, a few years ago. I did not grow up there, spent about a year and a half in Cleveland, years that I don’t remember. My parents took me to visit the small town where they grew up, Napoleon, every other summer until I was in high school. My parent’s parent’s still live there, in that small town, and most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins still live there, a place they grew up.
Somehow, somewhere along the way Ohio rooted itself inside of me. Every so often I feel a nostalgic longing for the mysterious Maumee River or taking a trip to Bob Evan’s or the drive to Toledo for a look at the “famous” Packo’s restaurant that Klinger, from MASH, used to talk about. It was more of an atmospheric thing, the longing. I had trouble eating out when we went to those types of restaurants; I’m vegetarian.
Anyway on my last trip back, I did not feel anxious when flying. Usually the night before a trip I can’t sleep and in the morning my stomach is in knots. I usually have to take some kind of antacid just to get through the morning. I woke up at 5:45 a.m. and went to the corner store to get a bottle of water and then to the bus stop to await the bus.
Most of the people on the bus that early in the morning are quiet, they don’t want to talk and they mind their own business. These people are like worn out paperback books, it has been read so many times, you already know the ending, but you keep reading anyway. They know what to expect on their bus route each morning. These people are going to the industrial part of town.
It’s a contrast to the bus I take thirty minutes later to work. Even though these people are taking the same bus route they usually take, they somehow seem more refreshed like best selling novels that people just can’t put down and probably won’t read again. These people are going downtown.
This last time was the first time I did not fly back to Ohio with my parents. In any case, I met up with my dad in Detroit. When the rental car guy dropped it off in front of us I laughed. It was a silver Dodge Magnum- kind of one of those “Ghetto fab” cars that Fiddy Cent would drive, maybe a futuristic station wagon? My very White dad said, “Alright- we got the big dawg car!” This phrase, “big dawg”, will be said more than a hundred times over the course of our four-day trip.
During the long drive into Napoleon my dad told me about the history of the land. The Roesch De Boeuf was so named because the native Indians used to go out to the rock that looked like a slab of beef for meetings. It was a famous meeting sight for settlers too. I wondered if the rock really did look like a slab of beef. We did not get out of the “big dawg” car until the dam. Dad said he always stops at the dam before getting into town. While he went to the bathroom I went to the railing where I could look across the Maumee Dam.
There were two fishermen in the middle of the river standing on large rocks. I took a picture with my digital camera. My Dad walked up and I showed him the huge spiders crawling along the railing, and he said they were Daddy Long Legs. He also said they were one of the most poisonous spiders around, but since they can’t open their mouths wide enough to bite a human no one realizes how dangerous they are. I half believed him and told him that he was crazy. He kept saying he was serious and called me Chris. He’s the only one that can call me that, with the exception of my mom and sister who only call me that on occasion. No one else calls me Chris. I have nicknames like Suzette, Suzie, Mood, or Moog.
I take a few more pictures of the dam and catch the sun as it is setting over the Maumee. Ohio feels different this time, less nostalgic, less elusive. I remember the river, never took notice of its name, this time I am more aware of my surroundings and the history linked to it.
It must be that I am older, but I notice a lot of things in Napoleon that I never cared to notice before. That phrase, as you grow older you become wiser, or something like that, comes to mind. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I definitely look at things differently. The trip to Ohio has become a kind of history lesson, the history of my family. My dad has a kind of twinkle in his eye that I don’t think he can see, but stories about his childhood, swimming in the river and getting leeches all over, or working at the chicken hatchery, are things that resurface once we are there.
We arrived at my Grandpa Bob and Grandma Betty’s house. That’s where I stayed the first couple of nights. That night we hang out on the Davenport and talk. My grandfather is a relatively quiet man, but every once in awhile he would chime in with something clever. We started a little call and response sort of thing for entertainment, it went like this, and “I’m five foot four, say no more, if you say more, you’re on the floor.” Then I repeat it and change it a little and then my grandfather does the same. He would say the first line and I would say the next. Clever. He’s not senile either. All of my living grandparents are doing quite well and are quite spry for being in their 80’s.
The next day we go to lunch with my Grandma Jessie. Mary’s Place, in Portland, where I live, there is a famous strip club called Mary’s Place, I find it, ironic, at best, was just around my grandma’s apartment. The restaurant looked like a small trailer turned into a restaurant and it was on the South side of the river. According to my grandmother this is not a good place for her to live. It’s harder to get to and the bridge has been under construction so it takes longer to get to her place from the main part of town. The place has a comforting feeling. I look at the menu and take note that the only thing I can get is a grilled cheese since I’m vegetarian. My grandmother orders some apple pie, and my parents order sandwiches. Then, my grandma sees Millie and Leo and a bunch of other senior friends.
My grandmother asks Leo, ”What’d ya get?”
“A Whamburger,” pause, ”with just onions.”
“Oh,” My grandmother’s mouth puckers into an o shape.
“I ordered it with onions and that’s just what I got.”
My grandmother smiles politely and nods her head. I think to myself. That’s what it’s all about here. You order something the way you want it and that’s just what you’re going to get. I’m part of this family and that’s just what I am. I’ve got a small town heart even though I grew up in a big city. I don’t even realize it most of the time. I can see that it creeps in every once in awhile. When I call the vacuum cleaner the sweeper, or soda, pop. I am who I am. Five foot four, say no more.