Saturday, June 29, 2013

So I went to Ohio. And I fell in love with it. What I anticipated as being a fun quick visit to my college best friend turned into maybe the best week I've ever had in my life, and it didn't happen slowly. It happened instantly. By the end of my first night in Ohio, I had a life there. I could have moved into Columbus comfortably, happily, if I didn't have a job, a house, and people waiting for me back home in LA. Sometimes I'm pulled in every direction by every life I'm not living. Ohio pulled hard, showed me myself anew, gave me something I didn't realized I'd been missing. I will never be satisfied with the way I write this, because I don't feel like there is any way to write this quickly without distance.

There was Mouton and pugs and cuddle puddles and hand holding and street art and ice cream and local boutiques and diners and random concerts to hear the music of bands I've never heard of. This is going to be a long post, but this post maybe means more to me than any post I've written.
Where JDR and I had sushi.
What I woke up to most mornings.
JDR's split level.
The best ice cream of all time.
Where JDR and I ate the biggest burger.
My last night in Columbus.
Where I bought my Ohio shirt, which I will wear every day until I don't miss
Ohio this badly.

It's hard for me to put any of this into a narrative, because it's more a feeling than an arrangement. I'll try to separate out the major moments, the days that woke me up smiling and cradled me in warm light until bed time. As hard as I'm going to try to put ghosts into this story, there just aren't any. First, finding my long lost relatives:

My grandma lived with us from the time I was six until she died when I was 17. She decided one year to make us all a family tree, a binder full of information tracing our relatives back as far as possible. I remember helping her type up lists of births and deaths, names of people I'd never met, would never meet. I remember going to Ellis Island with my parents to dig up as much information as possible to bring home to my grandma who spent at least a year sorting, compiling, and researching. Because my grandma was born in 1925 in a small town in Ohio and her parents both died when she was six years old. Her father died of pneumonia and her mother died six months later after being thrown from a car in an accident witnessed from the back seat by my six year old grandma and her then five year old sister Netty. My grandma had six siblings, but two of them died as young children, leaving just my grandma, her three older brothers, and her one younger sister. After my grandma was orphaned, a family adopted her sister Netty because Netty was young enough not to remember her parents, young enough to bond with a new family. Her brothers were older, out on their own. My grandma was left the only true orphan, bounced around between the homes of people who never cared to treat her right. I think this is why she made us a family tree. To piece together everything that was ripped from her. To trace her abandonment. To reconcile. To feel for once like she did have a family, a big family, ancestors, to erase the memory of being left alone at the onset of the Great Depression in the farm town of Logan, Ohio.

When I was 20 or 21, I made a list of 25 things I wanted to do before I turned 25. The one I knew would be the hardest to accomplish was "visit the place where my grandma was born." Because why would I ever go to Ohio? And where would I stay? And how would I find anything I was looking for? 

But last week, I found myself in Columbus, and the day before I turned 25, I got in a car with two incredible people and drove to Logan and found the place where my grandma was born. Fortunately she had written down an address in the family tree that gave me a jumping off point. The address was for the daughter of my grandma's brother. There was no phone number. While talking to my mom over the phone the night before my adventure, I asked her to read through the family tree for me for information that would help me find something, anything my grandma might know in Ohio. All we had was the address, the name of the cemetery where my grandma's parents were buried, and a story about how my grandma used to love to visit a place called Old Man's Cave. So we drove to Lancaster and I knocked on the door of the house I hoped was still owned by my grandma's niece. She answered, I verified her identity, told her my name, and immediately it was as if she'd been expecting me. She knew exactly who I was. A woman I'd never met, never spoken to in my life, whose house I showed up at unannounced on a Sunday afternoon seven years after my grandma passed away. She took us in, talked to us, told us stories, showed us their new litter of kittens, introduced me to her husband, her daughters. My relatives. All in a beautiful home in rural Ohio.
My long lost relatives.
My grandparents on what we think was their wedding day.
Looking through photos.

My grandma's niece gave me the phone number and address for Netty, my grandma's little sister. I had no idea Netty was still alive. Her adoptive parents kept her from my grandma and her brothers when she was young, so she and my grandma drifted apart. Netty and her husband, who my mother tells me added to the distance between my grandma and her sister, adopted two children who no longer speak to each other. The address I had after visiting Lancaster was for a 100 acre property in Logan, formally owned by the family who adopted Netty, currently owned by Netty's adopted daughter. It took me several hours to decide whether or not I even wanted to visit the woman who abandoned my grandma, who reinforced my grandma's perpetual feeling that she was and forever would be an outcast. Something my grandma identified in me, much to my dismay, when I was a young kid and had no friends and couldn't seem to figure out how to behave in a way that made anyone want to spend time with me. Today, this thing my grandma recognized in me makes me feel closer to her than anything. 

While I was wrestling with my decision, we stopped for lunch at a BBQ restaurant a quarter of a mile from Netty's supposed front door. Ate delicious food. Talked about the ethics of searching for a tumultuous past that isn't even your own. 

Then we drove through Hocking County, down to Old Man's Cave. My mom said she'd been there once, too, as a kid. My grandma used to visit it all the time. This is how I managed to figure out that my grandma's farm was somewhere south of Logan between highway 664, which runs through Old Man's Cave, and highway 93, which runs next to Ilseboro Cemetery, my great grandparents' final resting place. When we arrived at Old Man's Cave, I couldn't believe my grandma grew up near something so epically beautiful and that I'd never known that place. I grew up hearing the names of these places: Hocking Country, Logan, Lancaster, Grant Hospital. I heard them so many times that they became to me images of imaginary places inhabited by my little girl grandma. They became a place I couldn't possibly visit, like Neverland or Middle Earth. But on Sunday, I did visit. It felt like a fairy tale. I couldn't stop making excited noises. I ran into the water pooled below the waterfall, swam, splashed, then stood in the pouring rain staring up into the trees that must have witnessed my grandma doing the same thing almost 100 years ago. 
Sun Warrior
Because I don't know what farm belonged to my grandma, I said after every
one we passed, "that was my grandma's farm!"
AP photographing AS photographing AP
AS and kids rock jumping.

I'm a little soggy from swimming.

We headed to Ilseboro Road in search of Ilseboro Cemetery. We pulled over so I could ask strangers if they knew where it was located. Eventually we found it and I sent JDR and AS on a mission to find a gravestone with the name Rheinscheld. And in a small cemetery of maybe 75-100 stones, they found it.

I left two stones. One for me, one for my grandma in me, to tell them they had visitors, that someone remembers them, that one person made from a whole bunch of other people remembers them. 

The surrounding area was gorgeous. I remembered [and later confirmed] that my great grandmother died on this road, right near the cemetery, right near her farm.
shadow adventurers

A few hours after leaving Lancaster, I decided I did want to see my grandma's sister after all, because maybe she knows where she used to live when she was five, when she lost her parents, when my grandma was given up by an entire family. So we drove back to town. I called the number I had, which turned out to be the cell phone of Netty's adopted daughter's husband. I explained myself. He kindly passed the phone to his wife who invited us over despite claiming she was a mess from having worked in the yard all day. Ten minutes later, I was standing face to face with my grandma. I mean, not my grandma, but an approximation. Details about my grandma, her mouth, her nose, her eyes, on a different woman with the same skeleton, the same skin, the same blood. And fortunately AS was there to document everything for me.
The old barn on the Barker 100 acre property. K & D drove us around the land
in their truck to see the wildlife.

Each family member I found was overjoyed to see me, but nowhere near as overjoyed as I was to see them. To find family I didn't know existed. To find my grandma in my arms after 7 years. To hear her voice and to know that all those little things about her came from this place in Ohio that I finally know. The way she said "Tuesday." The way she shook her hands in the air a little when she was excited or happy. It took me 25 years to get to the place my grandma was born, but when I got there I found so many parts of myself that had been there all along.

My 25th birthday was the next day, and it was a joyful mixture of the tastiest brunch, air conditioning, lake swimming, the kind of comfort I can only get in a few places [Ohio, Alabama, Colorado, California], dinner at a restaurant called The Pearl with one of the most important people to ever come into my life, oysters, drinks till the middle of the night with my new community of friends. 

There was also the Pride parade, JDR's inspection for her brand new home, neighborhood wandering, long distance friendship reconciliation, 90's rap music, evening strolls through the park, late night games of Apples to Apples, warm rainstorms, a new vocabulary for me to learn.

Oh and these kids, obviously.

Ohio 'til I die

[It's 4am here in Alabama. A more timely update is forthcoming. I promise.]