March 27, 2007

The Road Trip (The Late Weekend Recap)

As I mentioned yesterday, my grandmother turned 90 this weekend. Her family, church and practically the entire small Ohio town in which she's practically lived all her life decided to throw her a party. Beth, Mia and I went. She wasn't expecting us. She liked the surprise.

As always, check out my flickr site for the entire set

On Friday morning, we loaded up our car with all the stuff needed to make a six-hour journey with a toddler. If you don't have a toddler, I can assure you this is a lot of stuff. And I recommend acquiring the services of a sherpa. Six hours later - after coaxing our mid-sized SUV into tailing my dad's sporty Lexus - we pulled into my grandmother's driveway. Her face registered surprise immediately. After spending a few minutes there, we headed to dinner at a local hot spot. It's basically an ice-cream shop. According to my parents, it looks exactly the same as it did when the two of them hung out there with their friends in high school...over forty years ago. Mia loved it. I did too, once they brought out the hot fudge sundae. Afterwards we headed to the hotel for the evening. Despite our concern, Mia managed to sleep in her portable crib through the night without a peep. She never even does that at home.

On Saturday morning, we headed to my grandmother's favorite breakfast spot, Bob Evans, for breakfast. I'd never set foot in one but breakfast was good (sweet cinnamon pancakes!) and Mia loved it. After doing our best to wear the kid out, we got dressed and went to the 90th birthday party. The party itself was held in Tiny Midwestern Town's First Christian Church. The church has been in existence for over a hundred years. In 1970, my grandfather raised the money and led the designing of a sanctuary for the church. Before he died, I think it became the thing he was most proud of in life. He'd written an elaborate history of the church which was only slightly outdated when he slid into an Alzheimer's haze. I'd been to the church many times as a kid, watching him tend the roses, but it wasn't until his funeral last August that I understood how beautiful it is. It was nice to walk through it again, with my wife and daughter in tow. Just off the main area of the church is a small chapel. It's where my parents got married forty three years ago.

The party itself was wonderful. Literally hundreds of people, many of which I'm somehow related to, came out to wish my grandmother a happy birthday. She was thrilled and enjoyed every second of it. Mia, unfortunately, hadn't napped. We left a little early, safe in the knowledge that we'd see everyone we loved later in the evening at the after party. Around 5:30, we arrived at my grandmother's house. All the relatives I hadn't seen since the funeral were there. We ordered pizza, laughed and told all of the same stories we all tell when we get together. Even though we've heard them dozens of times, they were just as funny.

We left early Sunday morning hoping to arrive home with a little weekend left to us. Mia was wonderful in the car, thanks to another round of post-traumatic stress disorder-inducing Elmo DVDs. Halfway through the drive - somewhere in West Virginia, I believe - we pulled our cars into a road-side rest stop and celebrated my dad's birthday with an impromptu surprise party. It was odd but then so are we.

I have a strange relationship with Tiny Midwestern Town. On one hand, I know I could never live there. The most ethnically diverse restaurant in town is Taco Bell, everyone knows everything about everyone else, and it just feels, above all else, claustrophobic. But then, there's history. My parents grew up and met in that town. My dad and his best friend Walt met in second grade, hung out in that ice cream shoppe every day, and ended up working in the meat department at the local Kroger's all the way through high school. The cakes for my grandmother's birthday party came from the same Kroger's. Walt and his wife were there too. It's a small town. And even though it may be a small town with plenty of dead ends - literally and figuratively - and even though there seems to be one fast food restaurant for every two people who live there, it is, above all else, a community.

When I wrote about my grandfather's funeral last August, I mentioned that my grandmother had thanked me for coming home. This time, it was my aunt. The word home struck me then and now. See, I've never lived there, never spent more than a week straight in town. It most certainly isn't, unlike the saying, where my heart is. But it is where many of my roots are. That said, it feels good to be home. Our home. Where I hang my hat.

I've messily recounted the trip and gotten inarticulately philosophical on your asses. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm lucky to have the family I do. First, Beth and Mia are great traveling companions and really my two all-around favorite people ever. Second, when I'm 90, I hope that I'm happy, healthy and surrounded by family and friends. I guess that's all any of us can ask for.

Posted by Chris at March 27, 2007 6:57 AM

I know exactly what you mean. I have the same type family situation (Colorado though) and the relatives would all refer to me coming home. I NEVER lived there.

I think the whole idea of connectedness and roots is what I like. You captured it well, Chris. I especially liked the paragraph about your grandfather and his church. My grandparents were like that with their church. They loved it like it was a person.

Posted by: DebbieDoesLife at March 27, 2007 7:14 AM

Very touching. And to think I thought I was in for the road trip tale from hell. :D

Posted by: Nanette at March 27, 2007 7:20 AM

I'm glad you had such a nice trip.

Interestingly enough, the tiny little town that you said would smother you sounds perfect to me. At least, it did until you listed the number of fast food restaurants, which makes me suspect that the town is actually too big for my tastes.

Home is where your family is, and where you feel the most comfortable and loved. No matter where that is.

Posted by: Alissa at March 27, 2007 7:51 AM

I totally agree with having your family and friends around you...that is what keeps a person happy (and healthy enough to be 90 and having a great party).

Posted by: daisy at March 27, 2007 8:36 AM

I grew up in a very small town. As I grew I watched the town destroyed by developers who raped the wonderful villages on Cape Cod with Condo's, time shares and the "beautiful people's mansions, that they only live in for two weeks in the summer. (Yes, I know I sound bitter)
As a child we all knew each other, had each other's backs in times of trouble and enjoyed the triumphs, but by the time I was 17 I knew the place I'd loved was gone.
I left and moved to the mountains of New Hampshire to a small town that, so far, has not been destroyed by rapid growth.
Small towns have their own charm, and maybe part of that is the love of family and friends.

Posted by: Maribeth at March 27, 2007 8:55 AM

You're grandma looks awesome! Happy belated birthday to her.
I live out in the sticks and love it. Don't have to lock my doors. Both the UPS and the mailman know to leave packages in the kitchen. And all the neighbors know and watch out for each other. Love it.

Posted by: Traci at March 27, 2007 9:09 AM

I grew up in a small town like that in the New York Mohawk Valley. None of my family is left there now and the last time I was back was 20 years ago. It hadn't changed that much then except that my house had been torn down to make room for a freeway.

I wonder if it has a Taco Bell?

Posted by: ann adams at March 27, 2007 9:09 AM

My dad grew up in a small town in Ohio, his sister and all my cousins live just outside this town. How close were you to Youngstown?
I'm always trying to find a connection.

Posted by: Steff at March 27, 2007 9:10 AM

Sounds like a wonderful trip. :)

Posted by: Zandria at March 27, 2007 9:13 AM

I'm sure your grandmother was thrilled with so much attention lavished upon her for her birthday. And what a wonderful surprise for her to see not only you and Beth, but Mia! And I am absolutely captivated by that cross made out of nails! It's just beautiful, and what a wonderful, creative idea they had!

Posted by: coolchick at March 27, 2007 9:54 AM

sounds like you and tiny midwestern town will always have some sort of relationship...but you most certainly will NEVER hang your hat there!

(kinda like where my mom lives. there's history for me there but i could not ever actually live there)

Posted by: ali at March 27, 2007 11:45 AM

The sanctuary is beautiful! I know what you mean by home and family. You're so lucky to have a place where your history is firmly planted. I envy that.

Posted by: Mammaloves at March 27, 2007 12:29 PM

Is it wrong that I kind of wanted to go hug your grandma when I looked at the photos? My grandparents are both 91, and I think it's absolutely amazing to still know them -- probably because, as you said, they too are surrounded by family and friends, happy and healthy.

Posted by: sandra at March 27, 2007 12:49 PM

I grew up in a small Ohio town, probably not much different from yours. Going back has always been a little strange and awkward because I seem to be one of the few who actually left...I see the same people sitting on the same stools in the same bars, etc., etc., everytime I go home. It's nice that everyone is known and you have that feeling of community, but ... I just couldn't have done it at the time and I'm still not ready to go back to it now.

Beth's boots in those pictures were either made for walkin' or head stompin'. Effective in either case, I bet.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at March 27, 2007 1:56 PM

So true Chris... home is where your favorite people are. You are so blessed!

Posted by: Felicia at March 27, 2007 3:53 PM

"Mia managed to sleep in her portable crib through the night without a peep. She never even does that at home."

All ya gotta do is take her for a 400 mile ride everyday and she will sleep like an angel every night ;)

As for the rest of I think you did just fine. It was quite the pretty picture you drew, of both the good and even not so good. What I guess I mean is... complete.

Posted by: JayMonster at March 27, 2007 7:27 PM

I can probably relate to your parents more than you on this one as I grew up in a town much smaller than the town they grew up in. Even though I couldn't wait to leave and I can't imagine ever living there, it will always be home to me. I have many fond memories of growing up there, and I hope my future children feel the same about my hometown as you do about your parents'.

Posted by: Beth in StL at March 27, 2007 7:49 PM

Sounds like it was a nice trip down memory lane. I think it always feels kind of strange to go home. It never quite feels like I remember it feeling.

Posted by: angela at March 27, 2007 9:00 PM

Sounds like you had a great time. I'm happy for you about the trip going well and Mia being the perfect traveller. And you were not inarticulately philosophical. I know what you mean...

Posted by: Dee at March 27, 2007 10:25 PM

What a wonderful post, Chris. I am so glad that you got share her 90th with her.

Where in WV did yah stop? I am from there, just curious. You can bet no one there thought you were strange. LOL


Posted by: Jen at March 28, 2007 12:05 AM

Happy birthday Dad and Grandma!

Sometimes having roots ain't so bad, huh?

Posted by: Sphincter at March 28, 2007 12:07 AM

This makes me miss my family. I really wish I had a bigger family.
I'm the same, my family is very much a stay in one place type of family. And I feel like Peterborough is my home and always will be, it's where my Grandparents met, married and have lived all my life, they've owned businesses, my mum and dad met and married there, their's so much history, and everyone knows everyone.

Posted by: Toni Marie at March 28, 2007 10:06 AM

Sounds a lot like the small Ohio town I'm living in now. I moved here about 15 months ago from the suburbs just north of Detroit, and to tell you the truth, I wouldn't go back if you paid me! Even though it's been a bit of a culture shock for my kids, going from a high school of almost 2000, to one with 262 kids total, it's been amazing and we all have grown to love it here.

Posted by: AndreaDetroit at March 28, 2007 10:47 AM