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Posts Tagged ‘pilgrimage’

In 1983, I was a sophomore living in the dorms at Kent State University.

Some time that year, we got the diagnosis that my father had colon cancer. Now that I come to write about it, I realize I don’t have many details. He had surgery to remove part of the colon and when they opened him up, they found that the cancer had metastasized to the liver.

My parents were living in Sylvania, Ohio at the time.

Some time in 1984 or ’85. Our good family friends in Southfield, Michigan, lent me a giant, dark-green Ford so that I could commute back and forth from Kent to Toledo while my father was dying. I spent the summer drunk, screwing a number of non-boyfriends, dancing to reggae bands upstairs at Mother’s Junction (above Ray’s), and going to see the Numbers Band at JB’s down.

I can’t remember what job I held. I do remember the heart-wrenching misery of driving to Toledo every Friday night and returning every Sunday. The long dark road, I-80, where deer/car collisions were a regular occurrence and the tail-end of the Appalachian range flattened completely by the time you’d reach Northwest Ohio. Some damn ugly land. I remember how everything in me screamed not to go. If I didn’t go home, would he not die?

Richfield, Ohio, Kita Lyons’ property. I had written in my book that this is July 13, 1985, 2 days shy of my 23rd birthday. One of the necklaces I’m wearing belonged to my Tante Nelli, but she died in May 1986. I wonder if she gave me some jewelry earlier than I remember.

My father died in August 1985.

I decided to make my pilgrimage the following year. My mother bought me a used, silver Toyota Corolla/Tercel, a model that they made for only a short time. I think it cost 4 thousand bucks. I have no memory of how many miles it had on it. I do remember going to someone’s house to check out the car, how their driveway looked, dark black asphalt. I would pay my mother back from my aunt’s estate when I received that money. My father’s only living sister, Nelli Landau. She died 9 months after him. I know it was a broken heart, for she loved my father and had no husband or children of her own.

I decided first to drive east. I would be staying mostly in youth hostels, but also had a few connections to stay with people I’d never met. Friends of friends. I miss that spirit. I miss it.

I am not sure any more all of the places I stopped. Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where I stayed in a governor’s mansion because my friend’s friends were the caretakers. The wife was a New England blue blood, going back several generations. She was a fiber artist, had a studio set up in the house.

They steamed mussels we picked up fresh from a little fish shack in town. I’d never eaten mussels before. I learned what a Widow’s Walk is. I toured the rose arbor in the back yard. The wife’s name was Sydney. This is how people name their children in New England.

One night, we drove past oceanfront mansions, stopped on the damp ocean beach, got high, and watched the sunset.

I next stopped in Cherryville, Maine, the famed place of an annual blueberry harvest which gathers hippies, loafers, stoners, and other back-to-nature types for seasonal farm work. Now I realize that there must be real migrant workers who go there, not just the educated white children of middle class families.

The hostel was really an old hippie commune. My first of so many things, again. I used an ATM machine in the quaint town. I got poison ivy (sumac?) on my legs. I stood in a circle with a couple dozen other people, stoned, holding hands, swaying, singing om om om. I learned what a Clivus is and determined that some day I would have one.

Maine, Bar Harbor, a little boat trip around some of the islands where I saw seals and puffins. The first time I heard the word shoal. Acadia where I walked on some barnacled rocks for a few hours, did nothing else, and left. I met a guy at the youth hostel. I remember eating a meal, walking around the town. Saying Bah Haba like the locals over and over, laughing, tschoke shops, lobster everything everywhere. I gave him a ride to the Greyhound station in Boston. A kiss in the rain. I didn’t even like him, but he was friendly. Dark hair, not too tall.

One very clear memory is of driving on the interstate in Massachusetts and the giant granite rocks on either side, with their trees and lichen, roots, gray and yellow stains. I think of it still when we go to Boston on I-90. I remember.

I started this post thinking about every car I’ve ever owned because my 2000 Toyota mini-van is up near 160K miles and creaky.

Let’s call this Installment One of Old Girl, the story of the first half of my cross-country trip after the death of my father.

♦ ♦ ♦

Hey, I’m not saying I like this, but I went to see them live a lot back in the day. The first video is kinda shaky to start, still good to see them looking good and playing after all these years.

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Oops. I’m being anal retentive, but I meant Right in Time as far as the Lucinda Williams song that I cited in the last Thankful Thursday.

Also, I think I exaggerated the whole thing about day light and sundown in the Ohio v. New England thing. Embellished maybe? I do think the sun is almost the same between the 2 places, but certainly not quite. Here’s another tidbit to add to my defense: a friend who moved from Connecticut to the Pioneer Valley said she’d never seen clouds sit like they do in the Valley, just hang and hover all day. Maybe the sun thing is a similar phenomenon.

That’s all. Off to see my friend, walk on campus to see what they have done to the May 4 Memorial, and to see some black squirrels.*

*I looked for links to Kent State’s website on the topic, but thought the better of linking. I encourage you to do your own information-gathering on that incredible time in America.

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This is a date I never forget.

I went to Kent State University, several years after May 4. Kent was my home for 19 years, from 1981 to 2000. If there was a person who belonged to Kent, I did, not as much as the fac brats and natives, but close.

I belonged to Kent and Kent belonged to me.

Kent’s charms were well-known to me. I had a favorite bar (or two), a massive number of connections to people high and low. I did my time there, all of it. Drugs and boys, smoking, walking barefoot on the sidewalks in the rain, music and bars, art openings, poetry readings, Brady’s, film-making, Filmworks, parties where the porches nearly collapsed from the weight of people on them, professors, Kent Fest, May 4 Rally Day, Halloween.

Swimming naked at the quarry all summer long and getting a “quarry buzz” (we still don’t know what was in the water that gave us this). I got my first dog at a house in Brady Lake, with a “free puppy” sign; really trashy, the bitch mom was tied up and god knows how many litters they kept letting her have. Four puppies ran toward me and I chose the one who “got there first.” She was the best dog in the world, too, Kent born and bred. Towner’s Woods was ours. Mountain biking behind the railroad tracks where there is now a huge McMansion development.

I moved on to home-ownership, a house I used to walk by and dream about living in “if it ever goes up for sale, I hope it will be mine.” Dreams were manifest.

I got sober in Mogadore, right near Akron, OH, home of Dr. Bob. Let me tell you, those were some hardcore Big Book Thumpers. Had my home group two blocks from my house.

I ran a successful local business, got married. People I loved died when I lived in Kent.

My babies were born in that house, 1920s Craftsman-style, built-in oak bookshelves and flooring, high ceilings on the first floor, fireplace, solarium, glass door knobs, pulleys on the windows, plaster-and-lath construction, butterfly hinges. Not like this 1965-ranch I live in with hollow doors, low ceilings and not a lick of heart, imagination, or love.

I wrote this poem a couple of years ago when I visited Kent after several years of being away. It’s really more of a summer poem, but today is May 4 and all, so why not?

Pilgrimage

for Maj, Sheila, and Megan

Along I-86 in New York, I see more deer carcasses beside the road
than on the interstate in Massachusetts.

Roadkill in varying states of decay
all the way to Ohio.

I am a pilgrim and a stranger and I have forgotten the names of the streets that bore me

If I could dig my fingers deep into the flesh of a soft fruit,
I would find what I came for

I came to your door but you weren’t home

I was so shaken that I couldn’t leave a note, my hand uncooperative in the sharp July heat

I tried for a word or something more fundamental
like a rock or feather

But I left without a trace

Still, there are trails and cross-hatchings that mark my way

And in that place, before the life I know now,
you are the family that held me

My life is full enough, but I am grateful for how you shaped me

I carry it always, only maybe sometimes I forget the names of the streets

July 31, 2009

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