“I remember,” I think as I leave Columbus behind me, heading north on US 23.
I am passing places I haven’t thought about in years, not since we lived in Ada and Mark was in law school. There’s the exit for Route 30; I drove that road in all kinds of weather to get to my first college job in Ohio. I discovered the treachery of black ice on that pavement when I found myself, on a crisp winter’s day, doing high speed doughnuts in the middle of the road.
Fortunately there was no traffic; fortunately the car righted itself before leaving the blacktop. I was able to correct, to maneuver, to get the wheels pointed in the right direction, and to head home. I drove much more slowly. I did not trust that any inch of pavement, that day, was not glazed with invisible ice.
Now, almost twenty years later, on a hot summer day, my stomach clenches with the same muscular fear. Things forgotten are not necessarily things disappeared.
I remember our first trip from Ada to Mount Vernon, the town we lived in and loved for ten years. We took Route 229—I pass the turn, and I remember how strange Mount Vernon seemed: a mystery that would unravel for us slowly, revealing good and bad decisions, creating the possibilities of lifelong friendships, sculpting memories and revelations. Mount Vernon was joy and sorrow, relationship and change. Mount Vernon was knowledge gained in wonderful and challenging ways.
As my tires hum past the turns that would take me there, the emotions that Mount Vernon engendered course rapidly. I am left breathless. I pop a cough drop and take a deep inhale.
I pass the Marion exit, and I can hear the voice of one of my favorite students; I think about the night my class was displaced and had to take the final in an unfamiliar room in a completely different building. I remember how, thanks mostly to a student who had the ability to see the positive in any situation, the class took the challenge with good humor and affection. I remember how they all stayed after the exam was done, unwilling to leave the community the class had created. How they left, finally, after giving hugs, sharing email addresses, and thanking each other for the experience.
And then the landscape changes to one of places visited, not inhabited, and then, finally, to new vistas.
I arrive in Grand Rapids—the Ohio one, not the Michigan one—an hour earlier than expected, but Ron, the host at the B and B, cheerfully opens the door. He gives me keys and shows me my room, tells me about local restaurants, recommends a walk on the towpath. We set a time for breakfast, and he goes back upstairs, to the apartment he shares with his wife, Kathy.
And I explore.
The building is an old flour mill, converted, Ron says, to apartments in 1953 or so. The indestructible floors—tiny slats of wood tightly spliced—were once bowling alleys. They are smooth and soft and gentle to bare feet.
Two of my bedroom walls, the outer walls, are warm brick. The ceiling and the other walls are softly polished wood. The iron bedstead is covered with a quilt, and there’s a hand-stitched sampler on the wall. It’s dated 1883.
Everything is gleaming clean, and the bathroom boasts all the conveniences of 2018.
I set out tomorrow’s clothes and walk next door to the pizzeria. I take my dinner to the back patio and sit in the cool breeze, munching and eating.
After dinner I take Ron’s advice and walk the towpath. It’s right behind the mill, between the canal and the Maumee River. And it’s easy to see why a canal was needed; the Maumee is shallow and pocked with little islands. The water runs quickly and erratically.
I pass a trio crouched on the grassy berm, taking cell phone photos. Look! they say, and I step off the path to see what we think is a goose egg, nestled next to a feather. Doesn’t it look like someone placed it here? asks one of the photographers. Is this an example of bad goose parenting—we look at the geese waddling rapidly down to the canal—or of human artistry?
Is that egg from Kroger?
Nestled next to the egg is a long, glossy goose feather, mostly black with touches of grey at the tips. We ponder; I walk on.
Everyone I pass smiles and greets me. The picnic pavilions have potted flowers on the sturdy metal filigree tables.
I walk until the pathway ends at a pretty little town park. A family of five, all of them in cut off jeans, white tees, and flipflops, are splashing in the river, just below a fast moving waterfall.
It would have been tough for boats to navigate this stretch of river, but the canals, when they came, opened up possibilities.
I pass a tiny dark-haired woman holding the hand of a dancing, dark-eyed child. She is speaking rapidly into a flip phone, talking in a language I don’t understand, but she catches my eye and smiles warmly.
I walk by the egg still nestled in the grass and circle back to take a shot of my own. The goose feather is gone.
The sky darkens with clouds and I hurry back to my cozy room, thinking about Ohio canals.
I pull up the Ohio History Central webpage (http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Ohio_and_Erie_Canal) and refresh my memory; it’s been a long time—fifteen years or so—since I worked as a historical interpreter at the little canal town of Roscoe Village. Ohio History Central reminds me that the Ohio canals started functioning in 1830, and that all parts were up and transporting by 1842.
Travel was slow—my three-hour drive, earlier that day, would have been an eighty-hour trip for a canal boat traveler. But it was cheap at $1.70 a passenger. And the canal boats thrust open the frontier; they brought goods that made frontier life possible. They pushed westward expansion.
The canals weren’t perfect; their usefulness wavered with floods and drought, and winters brought ice that caused damage. Canal maintenance was guaranteed employment.
And then the railroads came, faster and farther and carrying greater loads. The canals lasted until the late 1800’s, and then most of them subsided into pretty memories—although, the website tells, there’s a little stretch right near my new home town that still remains in use.
I put my laptop on the dresser and stretch out on the bed with my book, and I think about the unhurried ride people took on canal boats, the hoggee—the young boy, who received, maybe, $20 a month for his efforts,– and his donkeys walking the towpath, pulling the flat-bottomed boat along. Watching for obstructions or challenges.
A different life, a more strenuous, muscular life, but, in some ways, a life that included more fluid time to enjoy what’s passing by.
I fall asleep suspended in time, feeling the history of 150 years ago, feeling my family history, the story of the journey that brought us to where we are now. On Wednesday, I will drive to Bowling Green, to a little coffee shop/used book store, and meet my friend Terri. Forty-five years ago, in a different state entirely, Terri and I punched out a weekly column (“Dunkirk High Highlights”) on one of our portable Olympia typewriters. We corrected the mistakes with White-out and ballpoint pen, folded the parchmenty pages into a business sized envelope, and one of us walked it down to the Evening Observer, to run in the Saturday edition.
That June we graduated and went in separate directions, and then life’s current (and the wonders of Facebook) brought us back together decades later. Now we collaborate on writing projects again, but they are grant apps and blogposts for the domestic violence organization Terri directs.
Our visit will be a kind of time travel, too.
Maybe, I think drowsily, maybe I’ll take the back roads tomorrow, drive home through Marion to Mount Gilead to Mount Vernon, run the tires of THIS car on the roads my old Vibe knew by heart. It would be good to drive that country, to re-open those memories.
The bed is cozy, the ceiling-fan whirs, and I fall into a wonderful deep sleep.
By dinnertime the next day, I am back at home. Lunch was wonderful. The trip was a re-opening, my senses aware, again, of the forces and decisions that brought history to this turning point…global and national decisions, personal and family decisions.
Sometimes it feels like, as I walk forward, the past slips off my back like a poorly tied cape—something I leave behind, cast-off and forlorn and un-needed. And then a day like yesterday comes, and I am immersed in memory and history, and I remember. The present is just a point on the continuum.
The times and the memories do not disappear; they ebb and flow through us. They create us and they bruise us and they uphold us. I cannot hold them, always, in the forefront, but I need to keep them accessible.
I need my time travel Tuesdays, occasionally, to remind me of my past.