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Thread: Home is where...

  1. #1
    Airhead GS convert...
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    Home is where...

    June 28th, 2005
    Toledo, Ohio

    Tuesday night, it's late June so I have Jean-Luc for the summer. It's the best time of the year... He's 10 years old, and growing to be more like me every day.

    It's the 4th Tuesday of the month, so a bunch of the local Maumee Valley Mensa (Toledo, Ohio - roughly) group has dinner out, together. We meet, talk, socialize, and enjoy each other's company. Each person talks, no one dominates - and that's how good conversation should be. Vanessa is learning to fly a plane after her recent divorce, one of the guys was in a bad car accident (or maybe it was a good one - he's only sore despite a car that will likely be totaled), another guy had his business trip to Colorado postponed for awhile, and I talk about the Tin Goose and my 1,000 mile day and Arlington National Cemetery. None of us are wallflowers, and I think well of everybody there.

    Supper done, and it's only about 8:00 PM, so I ask Jean-Luc if he'd mind me getting a photo I've been thinking about for a while. He agrees. The Rollei is in the tankbag, ready to go to work....

    Context:
    I don't expect to be living in Northwest Ohio too much longer. I've been looking for work in Michigan, Sharon would love for me to live in Dearborn with her, and I think sooner or later it's inevitable that I'll be a resident of Dearborn, Michigan. So bit by bit, I'm photographing places that are sentimental to me here in Northwest Ohio, realizing that things change over time, and that many of these sites I'll never get around to shooting if I don't do it soon.

    More context:
    Since we're in Toledo's south end, my target is my Grandma & Grandpa's former home near the Toledo Zoo. They both developed cancer at the same time around 1990, with Grandpa dying on the couch of a heart attack while everybody was out grocery shopping with Grandma.

    Grandma lived long enough to attend my wedding in 1991, before she also died at home, about 2:00 in the afternoon just before I would have left her house to go to work. At the time I was a new husband, but often staying at Grandma's with other relatives to spend time with Grandma, to help as needed, run errands, etc.

    Grandma and Grandpa were like second parents to me and my brothers and sisters. When my mom or dad made a bad decision or was out of line, those two went to bat for us. If times were tough, they'd bring special treats over for us. If times were good, they'd share fresh garden produce with us. At Christmas, all kids and grandkids got citrus from Brownsville, Texas where they'd spend their winters. Both had lived through the Great Depression, so their basement larder was kept fully stocked with homemade and store-bought canned goods. We never got toys from them for the Holidays - it was always food, socks, or underwear. Yes, as a kid I thought they were really out of touch, not giving kids toys.... Seemed unnatural and unfair, somehow, perhaps even cheap. How little I knew.... Later on, living in Arizona, Grandma would send me care packages of the Toledo Blade, homemade cookies, and postcards from relatives. I'd read every word. One year I was homesick and they gave me a round-trip airline ticket, Phoenix-Detroit. My dad, Grandma's ex-son-in-law, said many times that Grandma was a saint, that if she didn't make it into heaven none of the rest of us had any chance of doing so. Grandma and Grandpa hosted Holiday dinners, and arranged for me to see my Dad after my parents divorced, when my Mom wouldn't allow him to see me, risking my mother's wrath in the process. I never forgot that example - it was simply the right thing to do, and so they did it.

    The last time I saw my Grandpa alive, we talked for a long time, and he gave me the best gift ever, a simple gift of a few words: he said he sure enjoyed all the long talks we'd shared over the years, and had greatly enjoyed my company. That we never solved a single one of the world's problems, but we sure did try. It seemed an odd comment at the time. Two days later, he died. I realized then that he'd been saying goodbye, and leaving me something wonderful: praise, some kind words, and a "thank you."

    A few months later, my Grandma gave me a similar gift: she told me I was the apple of my Grandpa's eye.

    Saint may be too weak a word.

    No, they didn't change the world in their lifetime, but they sure improved their little corner of it a bunch.

    Continued....

  2. #2
    Airhead GS convert...
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    We ride over to Grandma and Grandpa's house, turning left from four-lane Glendale onto the little tree-lined residential street where my grandparents lived. This subdivision was built in the 1940's; a nice part of town then, and it still is now. I recognize so many of the houses, from walking and bicycling and visiting there time and again long ago. Down the road is the YMCA, a block over is the rail line, and to the south is the Anthony Wayne Trail, formerly the canal bed of the Miami & Erie Canal. I see the Postal Service has removed a couple mailboxes, there's a new fence here and one missing there, and about half the homes have been painted or sided since I was last here.

    I park the BMW across from the street from Grandma's old house. The grass is longer than I'd have let it get in my Grandparent's final days when I was cutting it, and the big tree out front is gone, as is the small tree in the front yard itself. The shrubs are different too, the living room has a bay window now, and the garage has been upgraded with new doors. I get out my Rollei and my light meter, set the controls, compose, focus and shoot - twice. I believe in careful metering and just a few careful shots - that's the quickest and cheapest way, and when I get it right I feel 10' tall....

    And then across the street, two front doors open. Two mature women come out, one from Grandma's house and one from the house next door. I don't know either one, but the first one to speak is the woman from next door. She's yelling at me, telling me I can't take a photo, that I'd better not be taking a picture of her house, and that I'd better leave right now! I tell her I can explain; she says she doesn't want to hear it, that I'd better leave, now! Then she goes inside and slams the door.

    Well, that certainly didn't go well... You win some, you lose some. I turn to Jean-Luc; he's got a weird smirk on his face, sort of a nervous grin. I'm not sure if he's laughing at the angry woman or me, but he doesn't say a word.

    The lady from Grandma's house is standing there looking at me, too. I suppose I'm about to get chewed out again, so it's best to get it over with quickly. I'm not breaking any laws, and I already have the images I came for, so I've nothing to lose. Everybody seems to be waiting to see what I'll do next. One down, one to go.

    I approach and say hello, and introduce myself, extending my hand. My ID badge is visible from work (oops), and my son is in tow. Despite the motorcycle and the riding gear, I probably don't look very menacing. I explain what I'm doing, that my Grandparents lived here before her from the 1940's to the 1990's, that the house holds a sentimental spot in my heart, and that I took some photos of her home because I'm probably going to be moving north to Dearborn sometime soon, and time passes, and things change, and before you know it everything you know and thought was permanent has changed, bit by bit, and you didn't pay any attention at all and one day it's simply gone.... My kindergarten school was torn down a year ago, a favorite bridge two years ago, a nearby air museum burned to the ground a while back.

    There's a pause, then she asks my Grandparents' name. I tell her, she relaxes, explains she's seen that name on some paperwork, and tells me hers. Formal introductions are done.

    We start to talk about her home, and about the time I spent there as a kid. I ask about changes I can see on the outside, and she explains that she's the second owner since my grandparents died. I tell her my Grandparents were the second owners of the house, that it was built in the 1940's by a doctor who outgrew it by having children, so that makes her the fourth owner.

    As we talk, she becomes more and more comfortable with my visit.

    I ask about special touches in the house, too. Have they survived? I especially loved the breakfast nook, remembering breakfasts and lunches looking out at robins hunting worms and rabbits nibbling on Grandma's garden. A photo taken by my Denver sister the morning of my wedding shows me and my Grandmother, sitting there in the breakfast nook, me in my housecoat and Grandma in hers.... She agrees, says she loves that view, loves that the house has so many windows and views, and that the darned rabbits are still a problem, eating her lilacs.

    Is the retractable cutting board still there, next to the kitchen sink? She tells me it is, and I breathe a sigh of relief. I tell her that Grandma used to pull up a stool for me at that table when I was a small child, that that was the kid's table if there was just one grandchild in the house. Funny the things you get attached to, and remember.

    She agrees, and say that what she likes is the cubbyhole for the telephone. I'd forgotten about that - the little cubbyhole with the arched top, mimicking the arched doorways and the rounded ceilings, there in the wall between the dining room and kitchen.


    She explains what the house means to her. She's not 20, or even 30, probably not even 40 - that's all I'll share. But that house is the first house she's owned. After a divorce, she was recovering emotionally and financially, and eventually decided that she could afford a home of her own. She's been living there for about the past 3 years. She was the first person to look at this listing, fell in love with it, bought it, and has been happy there ever since. It's the perfect size for her, she's proud that it's hers, and owning it just makes her feel good. It's been a part of her healing.

    She asks me about the bookcases built into the foyer. I explain that Grandpa built them in the mid-1970, that woodworking was a hobby of his, one he enjoyed a lot after retirement. It's not a skill I have.... I explain further that Grandpa had bookshelves because he had books. He was a librarian and reader at heart, but not a censor. He encouraged all the grandkids to read, and any book in his collection was open to us. He seemed to feel it was better to have kids read anything, instead of reading nothing. So at a young age, I read of poetry, science, of ancient Greek ruins, of train wrecks and shipwrecks and philosophy, Mad Magazine and Playboy and "The Sensuous Man".

    Truth be told, having "adult" literature available meant that the subject matter was no longer taboo, and if anything it became less interesting, not more. Like I said, Grandpa was a retired train engineer, librarian, philosopher, libertarian... but never a censor.

    Continued...

  3. #3
    Airhead GS convert...
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    He also liked persimmon trees, while Grandma hated them. The current owner of the house tells me she's not too impressed with persimmons either, that they're nasty little fruits that make a mess of her yard. I laugh, telling her how my Grandma swore between tears on Grandpa's deathbed that if he was really dead, the first thing she was going to do was "...chop down that Goddamn persimmon tree..."

    The current owner shows me the backyard, and that "Goddamn persimmon tree" is now at least thirty feet tall. I don't know who had the last laugh here, but I end up hoping there's room for humor in the afterlife... I remember the year it was planted, and I'm a little embarrassed at being older than such a big tree.

    The current owner then tells Jean-Luc to listen to my stories carefully, that my words are special memories that he should try to put away somewhere for later. She tells me I should be writing all this stuff down, for him. I suddenly feel both transparent and naked, somehow recognized despite my layer of moto-gear and two-day beard... Where the heck did that come from? I stammer that my little sister is really the writer of the family, actually gets checks for it now and again, and that she's been doing exactly that, but hasn't gotten far, that time is an issue....

    Then I explain that I actually do write sometimes. She asks what and where, so I share, give her some info and websites, and give her a copy of a post I'd written (with photos), about the Ohio Oilman out near Elmore. I write down my email address, and our time together is about up. She'd offered earlier that she'd invite us in if the house weren't so messy, so I explain that if the time comes when she'd be comfortable showing me around inside, I'd enjoy that. She has my contact info.

    She sort of apologizes for her neighbor being so grumpy, but there's no need... I realize that some folks are just born angry and paranoid. She thanks me profusely for stopping by, says she's so glad she came out to talk with me, that she loved hearing some of the history of her home, and then our visit is done.

    Jean-Luc and I head over to the GS, suiting up, talking as we go. He asks why the first woman was so angry, and in a whisper I teach him a new phrase he's unlikely to learn in English Comp 101: "She's got a bug up her ass." He laughs, and says "What..? A bug up her what..???? What did you just say, Dad?" I repeat it, explaining further that maybe it's worse than that, maybe it's a corncob, because she's extra-grumpy. Poor Jean-Luc is near tears from laughing, and asks "A corncob, Dad? Why a corncob?" I reply that I don't know, but some people sure do seem to have one up there, that it's probably why they're grumpy. He just says "A corncob - ewwwwww.....!" I thumb the starter, tell him "Climb on", he does, and we're off.

    He's still snickering as we take the Anthony Wayne Trail to Maume, Ohio; fuel up in Perrysburg, and head out into the country. Past the city limits, we watch lightning bugs flicker like temporary stars above the farmfields, looking for love. Now and then we meet one with our faceshields, and the remains glow on the visor for a few seconds like a shooting star before fading to black. The air is cool as long as we keep moving, the fields smell moist and green, and all's right with the world. It's summer, the best time of year.

    Seems I've traveled several decades tonight, but I feel surprisingly refreshed and light considering how far I've come.... Somehow the BMW has functioned as both time machine and transportation. Don't ask me how, because I'm not smart enough to know, regardless of what club I belong to or what books I've read or what plaque I have hanging on my wall.

    I also don't know how to end this, to create closure on paper with just words for two people I loved so much, and for so long. All I can say is that once upon a time, in a little two-bedroom home in a nicer section of Toledo's south end, lived two people who brought a lot of joy into other people's lives, and that I became attached to both the people and the home they made there. And now, years later, that same house is bringing new joy to its new owner. I hope the little house continue to do so for a long time to come.....

    Just an introspective little motorcycle ride on a hot summer night in the middle of the week, when I really can't take a long motorcycle ride, and so I have to make do and appreciate what I have. In many ways I'm rich, and I know it. I sometimes lack money, but I never lack the most important things.

    And for those who wonder how I can write about people long gone, the answer is easy: I close my eyes and they're still here. In many ways, those two have never left the scene.

  4. #4
    Registered User dancogan's Avatar
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    Poetic, simply poetic. Thanks for sharing such beautiful thoughts and beautiful writing.

    Dan

  5. #5
    Braz J Brase's Avatar
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    Beautiful, Doug. The picture you drew, in my mind, looks exactly like my Grandparent's house. Except the goddamned tree in the back yard was an apricot. I lived my first four or five years there while Dad fought Germans.

    Thanks,
    John

  6. #6
    07 R1200GS Rich's Avatar
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    Very nice, Doug

    Reading your story brings back memories of my own grandparents who were also very special to me. Thanks for sharing.

  7. #7
    Airhead GS convert...
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    All,

    Thanks! Glad you enjoyed.

  8. #8
    Focused kbasa's Avatar
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    You still stuck in the snow, Doug?
    Dave Swider
    Marin County, CA

    Some bikes. Some with motors, some without.

  9. #9
    Ride like the wind!
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    Thanks

    Thanks for sharing your memories.

    And do write them down, if only for your son. I'm not that old, but have lived long enough (and you may have too) to see how the family tree grows and moves while other parts die away. The bits we no longer see still have importance.

    I used my own time machine to ride to my uncle's 90th birthday at Memorial Day. He and his wife both going strong; made a great excuse for a reunion ride.

    Thanks again.

  10. #10
    rocketman
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    Bravo! and well said. Your words not only moved me but brought me along thru the whole experience. You were lucky to have been able to know your grandparents, for many that is an experience that is sadly missing, and one to treasured by those who were as lucky as you, but obviously, you know that!

    Again, Bravo!

    RM

  11. #11
    ian408
    Guest
    It was like I was there.

    Thank you for sharing a small slice of your life. And if your new friend
    is reading, good on you for allowing a bit of history to pass between
    you both.

    And for Jean-Luc, these are special times. Enjoy them, cherish them and
    then pass them along to your family.

    Ian

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