Time Travel Tuesday

Tow path

“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.

Room

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.

**************

Canal

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.

Dam

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.

Egg

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.

 

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Donna B. Randolph

Fiction, written after reading the morning news, thinking about how little the obituary really tells about us…

 

Earnstville: Donna Beth Randolph, 72, passed away Wednesday, August 27, at Renaissance Hospice.
[She fooled the doctors several times; when they found the cancer, they told her they would try some things but gave her no big chances. Well, she said, she wasn’t going to die a cancer patient. She was going to be Donna Beth Randolph till the day she died.

So she kept up her reading, going to the library on Wednesdays, and she met the girls for lunch every Friday–even when she didn’t feel like eating. She wrote to the kids and grandkids every Sunday, and talked with them on the phone once a month.

She painted her bedroom yellow because she loved its sunny lightness. Jeffrey had always liked a darker room to sleep in, but he was gone, and really, she figured, would there be another chance?
Against all wisdom, she accepted the little terrier, Mitzi, who cowered in the corner of Bethany’s old Caddy. A rescue dog, Bethany said, it had been beaten and abused.

“I can’t,“ she said to Bethany. “You know I’m sick.”

At the sound of Donna’s voice, the little dog slithered over to the open door and licked her hand, a feeble, hopeful lick. And Donna sighed and picked it up.

“I guess I’ll call her Mitzi,” she told Bethany. “She looks like a Mitzi.” After a pause, she asked, hopefully, “It IS a girl, isn’t it?”
That was the first bout. Before she knew it, a year had passed. Mitzi—who was indeed a ‘girl’– had grown sleek and sassy, and Donna felt pretty good for someone with a death sentence hovering around her. She went to the doctor, and he told her something wonderful: the cancer hadn’t gone, he said, but it seemed almost to be at rest. It wasn’t growing the way they usually saw it grow, invade, conquer.
She had two good years then; she traveled all over the country, visiting the kids and grandkids. Mindi’s late in life twins took a special shine to Mitzi, and Mindi had promised that, when Gran died, the dog could come home with them. That put Donna’s mind at rest.
The cancer came back, but again, she wasn’t going to make it her focus. Kind of like a spoiled child, she thought, when it got no attention, it went and hid in a corner, pouting. Another year of treatments; another reprieve–three years this time.
But the last time it came back, she knew it wasn’t messing around, and she made her peace; and it settled in, making up in voraciousness for its lack of growth in other visits.]

She was born November 7, 1941, to Bart and Mira (Lincoln) Tophers in Buffalo, New York.
[Mira was old to be a mother for the first time, old at 34; the nurse clucked over her, tsk-tsk-ing. Mira was scared half to death, and when labor dragged on for 36 excruciating hours, she was pretty well convinced she was going to die of it. But then Donna Beth was finally born, at 12:41 AM, and the nurse whisked her away, hidden in a blanket, to be cleaned and checked over.

Bart brought the little, mewling bundle back in; he proudly laid the baby in Mira’s tired arms. Mira lifted the blanket and gasped. The baby’s head was cone-shaped; her skin was chapped and angry looking. Mira began to cry. ‘An ugly baby!’ she thought. ‘My Donna Beth is an ugly baby!’

But two days later, the baby’s head had settled into roundness and her skin smelled sweet, and Mira was thoroughly smitten.]

Donna Beth was a beloved wife and mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
[Jeffrey, Sr., always treated her with the honor and respect with which he’d courted her. He was not a man for saying, “I love you,” at the drop of a hat; he told her that the day he married her, when each of the kids were born, and the day he had the first huge heart attack. But she knew. He always came home after work; she was his favorite bowling partner; and he often mentioned how sorry he felt for other men, whose wives were lazy or mean.
The kids, too, were always so sweet to her; she felt their love even though they were not a huggy, smoochy family. Jeffrey Jr was the oldest; from the time he was four he always held the door for her and wanted to carry the groceries. Mindi, who was big-eyed and solemn, never gave her a moment’s worry.

Donna Beth kept waiting for those rebellious years, but they never came. They were both kids who liked to read and study; they did well in school, had nice friends, and were helpful at home.
How did I get so lucky? Donna Beth often wondered, after they’d finished their schooling and made their solid marriages and still kept her in their lives, respected and loved by her daughter-in-law and son-in-law, too.
Donna Beth loosened up just a little with the grandkids. What a treat grandkids were; they loved her silly games and old songs, and they were constantly giving her wet baby kisses, sending her X-s and O-s in the mail. She loved her children; but until her grandchildren, she had never known pure, unadulterated joy.]

She is survived by her son, Jeffrey Randolph, Jr.; Daughter, Mindi (Leonard Coggins) [Mindi decided not to change her name when she married Leonard, a professor with a big hearty laugh. Donna Beth was a little shocked at first, and worried that, when kids came along, they’d have those horrible hyphenated names.

But Mindi had no problem with the children having Leonard’s name. “I had Dad’s, after all,” she said. “All of our names started with a man; they may as well come from a man who loves you dearly.”

After a while, Donna Beth kind of secretly loved it that Mindi had that little independent streak. Leonard was always big and hearty; Mindi was always calm and composed. They had, Donna Beth could tell, a good life.]; grandchildren, Sandy Smith; Leonard Coggins, Jr.; and Jimmy and Julie Coggins; six great-grandchildren; and her beloved dog, Mitzi.

In addition to her parents, Donna is preceded in death by her husband, Jeffrey Randolph, Sr., whom she married in June, 1962 [Married before she even turned 21! What did she know about marriage, except that girls were supposed to find a good man and do it?

Jeffrey was a serious, good looking man, 25 to her 20. Her parents thought he would take good care of her. She did not love him the day she married him; but she came to, over the years. Respect and, truth be told, a little fear, grew into gentle passion and liking, slowly flamed into a full-blown, lifelong love affair. The day came when she realized she could not imagine life without him.
He was a kind and creative father; he built doll houses and played baseball, went in swimming, and taught the kids to drive. Every Sunday night, Jeffrey took Jeff Jr and Mindi out for ice cream, giving Donna an hour of peace and quiet.

He was not a man for big dramatic splashes, not Jeffrey. But by the time he died, in 2005, of heart troubles, Donna knew she had been well and truly loved]; brother Joseph Tophers, [Oh, Joey! Just the thought of him, his splashy smile, his contagious laugh,–well, she still got tears, right up until the end.

Joey was born when Bart and Mira were 40; Donna was already six, and she treated him like a little dollbaby. Joey was always yelling at her, “I can do it! I can do it myself!” And that’s what he was doing when he died, doing it himself, driving his buddy Bob’s motorcycle, which he had no right to be on.

He was drunk, for one; he’d never in his life driven a motorcycle, for another. And he was grandstanding for Hattie Ketcher, with whom he was desperately smitten; he zoomed by her, turned his whole body to wave and veered at a very high speed into the viaduct.

The sergeant who investigated said he had never seen–best unsaid. Never mind. But…Joey. The pure laughter, the liquid electricity of him.]; grandson, Stephen Randolph; and daughter-in-law, Jenny Randolph [Babies don’t die in childbirth anymore; isn’t that what we believe? And mommies don’t die from complications of a difficult birth. We thought.

Worse than your own pain is having to see your son suffer. He was a wonderful dad to Sandy. He nurtured that girl right up until the day she married Wally Smith, handed her over with tears in his eyes. Welcomed her little Bobby into the world the year after. Told them both they could stay as long as they liked after Wally took a long, one-way walk.

That was the year Bobby was four; they stayed with Jeffrey until Bobby was ten. Sandy got a teaching job and saved up and bought a house. Jeffrey was sure lonely after that, but he was proud, too, that Sandy had built a life for herself.

It looks like Jeffrey might finally be seeing someone, that Spilker girl he went to high school with. Her husband had been no better than he needed to be. She thought she’d died and gone to heaven when Jeffrey called her up.]

Memorial service will be Friday, September 5, from 6 PM until 9 PM at the Laurel Lake Inn, 2093 Independence Drive, Earnstville. Mrs. Randolph requested cremation. The family will choose a later date to inter her ashes.

[She had turned her back on church the day the pastor told her mother Joey’s death was meant to be. Meant to be? Meant to be WHAT? That was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard.

She knew there was a God. She saw God in the kindness around her, in her children’s grief over their father’s death, in the fluid, expansive joy her grandchildren showered on her when she visited, in the trusting, tail-wagging enthusiasm with which her little dog greeted her every time she returned home. She never went back to church, but she prayed every day.

In her last years, she started to think the feminists were right–maybe God really was a She, a great big loving Mother. “Why not?” she thought. But she didn’t talk to anyone about that idea; she kept it close by, and it comforted her.
Her dear friend Bethany’s family owned the Laurel Lake, and one day they talked, her and Bethany, and decided between them the service would be at the Inn. There were a couple of songs Donna liked, and three of her friends would speak, and of course the kids might want to share some memories.

Really, just comfort for those she loved, that was all Donna wanted to think there’d be. She herself wouldn’t be in need of any attention by the time that day rolled around.]

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to the public library–or to a charity dear to you–in Donna’s name.