My friend Rich is visiting Columbus from Rhode Island, and it’s been a fine visit. He last saw us in 2007, and at that time Susie hadn’t quite turned 10, Steph only had one heart surgery behind her, and Steph and I were still married. Besides reconnecting and bringing each other up to date on our lives, jobs, and situations, yesterday he drove Susie and me to Southeastern Ohio.
The title of this post is, of course, from the refrain of the Simon and Garfunkel song “My Little Town” (1975). The dead and dying were the reason for our trip to Marietta (and Caldwell) this time. During the time that I lived in Marietta, until I was 19 years of age, I was “twitching like a finger on the trigger of a gun” to get out. I periodically have to visit Marietta to realize why I left and why I never seriously entertain notions of returning.
Rich, Susie, and I paid our respects at one of the crash sites of the Navy’s rigid airship Shenandoah (ZR-1), which crashed in Ava, Ohio in 1925. (I say “one of the crash sites” because debris fell over a 12-mile stretch between Ava and Sharon.) Finding the crash site was an ordeal, and Rich’s car’s suspension suffered a bit as we bumped, spun, and climbed over the pothole-ridden and rock-strewn road off State Route 821 that led to the flagpole and stone that marked where the bulk of the wreckage fell to earth.
|Crash site 1 of the USS Shenandoah, in the thrill-a-minute metropolis of Ava, Ohio.|
After lunch, our next stop was Olive Cemetery, final resting place of six generations of McKees (my mother’s side of the family), from 1815 (death of David McKee, a founding pioneer of Noble County) to my mother, who died in 2008. There was the usual mad scramble to find McKees’ graves, because the Noble County recorder’s office had never returned my email about specific burial plot numbers. I visited my grandmother’s grave quite a few times when I was growing up, but the visits to Noble County ceased once my dad and mother divorced. Rich and I took Susie there when she was about two.
Now, at 13, she was appalled by the gallows humor Rich and I exchanged about our various reprobate family members, especially the classification idiotcousin he wants to put on his genealogical charts, and all the bad jokes he and I exchanged about the suicide of my great grandfather, Aaron McKee. (Aaron took his own life in March 1906 by cutting his throat with a straight razor.)
|Typescript of the diary of Fulton Caldwell, a prominent Noble County banker. The entry for Saturday, March 3 describes the suicide of my great-grandfather.
This was the first time I had visited my mother’s grave. Her death year remains blank on the tombstone, and I made a mental note to contact the funeral home to see how much it costs to fill in the death year. On Facebook, one of my friends said I should fill it in, so her classmates won’t think she faked her death.
We reached Marietta by mid-afternoon under a hot sun, and made our way to Mound Cemetery, where my dad lies buried among at least 24 Revolutionary War soldiers. I was appalled at the lack of maintenance around the graves. Marietta prides itself so much (rightfully, he wrote, grudgingly) on its heritage and history, and yet tombstones flush to the ground are overgrown with weeds, older tombstones are crumbling, and there were several graves of family friends I would not have found if I hadn’t been there before.
In addition to my father and stepmother’s grave, we paid our respects at the burial spot of Rufus Putnam (1738-1824), one of the founders of Marietta, and climbed Conus, the ceremonial mound in the center. I amused Susie by showing her a tombstone a classmate had always told me about. This classmate was the son of a funeral director, and he swore to me, on a stack of Playboys, that they used a bizarre burial method with this particular monument. (In my pre-adolescent days, swearing on a stack of Playboys was as serious as it got. Anyone could swear on a stack of Bibles, but a stack of Playboys was the big leagues.)
My friend Tom took us to the 28th Annual Broughton’s Ice Cream for America Social at the Washington County Fairgrounds, and with the mercury climbing well into the 90s, this required very little persuasion. I am not as big a lover of ice cream as Susie is, but I did partake of sherbet, ice cream, and punch. Here is a story from today’s Marietta Times describing the event itself. The red-letter event at the social was meeting a Facebook friend in person for the first time. She recognized me first, from my Facebook picture. I am not good at facial recognition to start with, and she usually puts pictures of her kids or cartoon characters as her profile picture, so I was happy when she called out my name. She graduated from Marietta High School several years after I did, and is a graphic artist in Williamstown, W.Va., just across the Ohio.
Susie was intrigued by the tour of Marietta’s west side, especially the fact that a working train track runs down the middle of Harmar Street. The west side was a neighborhood I almost always avoided–it was “the wrong side of the tracks,” or, in Marietta’s case, of the Muskingum River. Since I was a bit of a behavior problem in elementary school, I bounced around most of the public schools in Marietta between kindergarten and sixth grade. I ended sixth grade at Harmar School. How was my experience there? Let’s just say that if Ted Kaczynski had mailed one of his parcels there, I would be generously adding to his commissary fund whenever I could.