Saturday, May 27, 2006

Back to Ohio: Part 3

Akron, Ohio is a place I can always write about. The city and its western suburban neighborhoods still enter my dreams and stay with me with a resonating chord of permanence. It is in my DNA. It is my childhood home and the place I returned for so many years to see my father, my grandfather and many friends and family after my parents divorced in 1974 (and when we moved to New Hampshire permanently). There is the place of a seemingly idyllic childhood, unmarred by divorce or the trials of adolescence, where everything is always green and lush and ripe with possibility.

Recently, on two separate trips to Kentucky since mid-April (more about Kentucky trip below) we found ourselves in Akron again. It makes the shortest trip from New Hampshire to Kentucky to go to Akron or near it and get on I-71 down to Cincinnati. On the map it looks like the longest route but to drop down from Erie or through Pennsylvania and into West Virginia and the eastern Kentucky mountains is supposedly longer, more circuitous, but likely more scenic.

So on our second trip, this time without our children, we decided to stay one night in Akron on the way down to Kentucky and one on the way back (we'll reserve the more scenic route for another time). The first night came at the end of a long day across New York state and we only had time to hit our favorite antique mall (Medina Antique Mall), find a few treasures that I collect (mostly family-related from the rubber and pottery industries), and grab a burger meal at Swenson's (I'm proud to say that NEW YORK TIMES writer and Akron native R.W. Apple, Jr. agrees with me that they make the best burgers in America!). The next morning we bisected Ohio on the diagonal made by I-71 right through its center at Columbus and were easily to our central Kentucky destination within six hours.

On our return to New Hampshire we had a more leisurely day. We arrived back in Akron mid-afternoon, grabbed another Swenson's meal (the ultimate drive-in experience; you have to understand that cravings for Swenson cheeseburgers have at times been so severe that irrational thought kicks into the idea of a whirlwind weekend drive to Akron and back just to satisfy it), and settled into our hotel. We went to see my father's gravesite and planted a geranium, we drove past our old house and explored other neighborhoods.

I had intended to take a picture of 2024 Ayers Avenue. Everytime I see the place it gets smaller and the Japanese maple tree in front of the house, as old as I am, gets larger. The yard has shrunk, the house is less deep (it is likely about 20 x 15 when it felt like twice that growing up), and the neighborhood has diminished from an entire universe to a mere jumble of streets. This time the house looked sad: if houses can have emotion this one does. The grass was long and going to seed. There was no sign of life in front or back. The backyard, once abundant with my mother's effortless landscaping, was as it was when my parents purchased the place in the summer of 1962--a fenceless empty spot, dreary and desolate (it too is probably only a 20 x 15 patch of grass and space but as a child it was an entire limitless prairie).

I have never been tempted to knock on the door or ask to go in. The neighborhood has changed several times in the 32 years since we lived there. The last neighbors whom we knew died or moved away years ago. The street has likely had at least two generations of homeowners since 1974.

I realized on this last trip how remote those years now seem. The places we love often remain but are never the same without us in them, without those we love with us, too. Akron seems an empty place now that my father is gone, my grandparents have gone, and all of my childhood friends or their parents have left for another part of the world. How can a place where we have been so intimately familiar go on without us? Perhaps our memories are the only ghosts that haunt a place: residual emotions of the soul or actions in dreams that play themselves out in the memory of a place.

Once that small Colonial Revival house on its small lot in its quiet neighborhood was the center of an entire universe: where cicadas shrilled and mourning doves sobbed on the powerlines. Where approaching trains wailed their plaintive and lonely cries both coming and going, passing through on their way somewhere else. Where fire flies glimmered and hovered above our lawns on humid nights, as many as stars. Where we built whole towns of Lincoln Logs on the rug or found hidden pathways connecting suburban yards. Where five of us--father, mother, sister, and two brothers--lived our lives together for a brief blip in time, hovering on the edge of an uncharted place with all of its perilous chasms and beautiful valleys. Our world was a safe and secure place where the world beyond was vast and somehow far removed. Where in that once limitless and forever time, now only a moment, we all seemed happy. Is it too much to say that we might have been?

The Sun Shines Bright on My Old Kentucky Home

Take Me Home Country Roads

Right now there are no words so I will let the photographs do the talking until I can. When something becomes so fused within and feels so right, it can also be difficult to describe or process.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Penn's Store, Gravel Switch, Kentucky

Porch Pickin' at Penn's Store

Historic Beaumont Inn, Harrodsburg, Kentucky

Sunday, May 14, 2006

November In My Soul

November in My Soul

"Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul," said Ishmael in Moby-Dick, "then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball." I know what he means. There is a restless nature to melancholy and as much as I love the rain, in the Northeast we should probably start looking into cubits and ark-building. I don't remember the last day the sun was out. And this is a driving rain that leaves everything raw but very green. A State of Emergency was declared today and many schools have closed for tomorrow.

My children just need for us to clear out the living room and put in a wrestling ring. They are like caged animals! Two boys with energy to burn and two cranky parents and one teenage girl does not necessarily add up to a good combination over time. But despite the rain, it was a great Mother's day: breakfast-in-bed and an early dinner, all prepared by my husband and children. And I puttered all day which is a soothing balm for me--laundry and putter, laundry and putter. None of us got out of our pajamas.

Tomorrow I am giving a talk on the 'interior' life of Emily Dickinson at a nearby library. My friend Rosemary (a one-time professional baker and whose pantries will be in my book) is organizing it and has prepared lots of tea fare, including Emily's 'black cake' and gingerbread. Everyone is supposed to read their favorite Emily poem. Today this weather made me think about her largely indoor existence. She would have loved the rain, I expect. And tomorrow afternoon will be a fitting time to discuss her poetry 120 years after her death while we sip tea and warm ourselves with good companionship. There could be five people. There could be fifty.

I will likely post my talk on this blog in a few days, if anyone is interested.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Pottery Shawl


Last week I received the most extraordinary gift from a friend whom I have never met. Derald had e-mailed me several days before, having read an old blog entry--or perhaps my profile--where I mention knitting. He let me know that he was also a knitter and that he had just tried a certain kind of stitch in a yarn in "my color" which he had 'attached'. So I emailed Derald back and said that his photo had not come through with the email. It was all quite cryptic and I just assumed I had missed the photograph. Several days ago I received a small soft parcel in the mail with a familiar name in the return address.

"Ah, ha!" I thought. So THIS is the attachment! I eagerly opened it and soon unfolded the most beautiful lacy mohair shawl in a teal green blend. Not only is it a great color on me but it is evocative of the same color as the green in the "Country Fare" pattern by Zanesville Pottery that we both collect.

In fact, that is how we met. A few years ago I was trolling the Internet for any information I could find on this pottery pattern made by Zanesville Pottery in Ohio, under the direction of John B. Taylor (from the 1940s-1960s--later Taylor would sell his pattern to Louisville Stoneware but it wasn't the same product or glazing). This pottery is dark brown glazed with a lovely complimentary turquoise green. It is a distinctive green (see my beginning blog on collecting this pattern at, I started this blog a year ago this weekend!) and its pairing with the brown often results in distinctive glops of glazing. It was a prolific pattern and is now quite collectible. I have been a collector for years, inspired by the small mug and creamer in that pattern at my grandparents' farm--apparently their only pieces. In past years I have been one of eBay's greatest buyers but it all likely pales to Derald's extensive collection.

Derald and I connected in cyberspace because of our love of this pottery. When I Googled this pottery there was very little mention of it but Derald had created a site devoted to it, as well as Provincial "Oomph" and other ancestry, including "Red Wing" (all close "but no cigar"). Last year Derald announced he would be giving this site up and I wanted to try and carry the torch for fellow pottery lovers but I've been sidetracked by the pantry book and other things. Derald even put me in touch with a woman in Pennsylvania who wanted to sell her collection prior to a move--and Ann and I have become friends (we even drove down her way to pick up the pottery in person). Because I live in the east and Derald lives in the midwest, we have never met in person. We have never even spoken on the phone. But we share a bond and a hobby.

When I opened the scarf and tried it on, I was consumed with such a good feeling. I don't believe I have ever received such a special gift. As I also knit, and always for others, I have never received another's handiwork. In our knitting group at church we knit "prayer shawls" for those who are convalescing or who are grieving. The idea is that each stitch, each thread, is imbued with thoughts and good feelings and even love for someone we may not even know--a prayer, a blessing, a meditation. Knitting is like that: each stitch brings one in the moment, taking our thoughts to our hands, away from our brains and our worries. It is soothing and therapeutic, as much for the knitter as for the recipient.

Derald and I may never meet in person, although I hope so. But his gift to me will hopefully always be with me and when I wear it (which has been all week in this cool, wet spring we are having), I will think of the time and care he spent making it while reminded of the pottery which connected us in the first place.

I will forever be amazed by how two people--or hobbies or interests or research--can meet or connect without speaking or without leaving the comfort of one's home or laptop. The Internet and the great limitless void of cyberspace, while one can argue its evils, is a fantastic realm. Derald's scarf (so lovely that my very fashion-conscious daughter wanted to wear it that very day) is a reminder of the goodness in the world. It is a tangible token of the intangibility of an Internet friendship. It is as if I went to an intergalactic wishing machine--like the Robinson family discovered in LOST IN SPACE, my favorite television series of childhood--and thought about something wonderful, and there it was, transported from another world. I am touched and warmed by the gesture that someone would take the time to make something so beautiful and practical and symbolic at the same time. I am a fortunate person in many ways but I have never received such a gift: a shawl woven from thoughts of pottery and good wishes for a friend in a galaxy far, far away. Thank you, Derald. I hope we will meet one day, either in this world or the next.