A week ago we were in North Olmsted, Ohio, once again vacationing with family and friends. Despite the costs and some of the emotional baggage that must be sorted through with each trip we make back east, the reward is watching Sophie and Jacob developing a bond with their cousins that will hopefully last their entire lives. Simple acts like driving to the grocery store can create instant memories as laughter fills the confined space of an automobile from something as crude as well timed fart or being the first person to spot a yellow car in a game of tweeter.
Have you ever played tweeter? It’s the less violent cousin to the timeless game of punch bug. Punch bug, as you know, is the contest in which participants keep an eye out for Volkswagon Beetles and literally punch the person closest to them if they’re the first to see one. The game is cute when you’re five; it loses its charm once your older brother is in high school and is much stronger than you. Tweeter, on the other hand, is a nonviolent (i.e. less painful) alternative that only escalates into shouting, laughter, and the occasional well timed fart.
While visiting my in-laws, I enjoy taking walks around the quiet, tree filled neighborhoods where they live. The buzzing of cicadas, the chirping of morning birds, the stickiness of Ohio humidity in the summer, even the rushing sound of passing cars instantly toss me back twenty years to my youth, growing up in North Olmsted. Last Friday, I took one of these walks, heading out early in the morning with my iPod and tired eyes. the music just loud enough to keep me moving, but not drown out the natural sounds of a suburban morning. On this day I passed by Butternut Ridge Cemetery, a historic landmark in North Olmsted. Located just around the corner from Julie’s parents house, it is the oldest cemetery in the city, established in 1835, and I realized that in my 40 years of live, including 23 in which I lived in North Olmsted, I had never taken any time to walk through the cemetery. On this day, a large, tree trunk shaped headstone drew me in and I stepped past the wooden fence that borders the sacred ground.
That gravestone belonged to the Reverend Rice, his wife, and his many children who all died at young ages. What sort of tragedy must have swept through the Rice home to claim the lives of so many so quickly? A fire? Scarlet Fever? I suppose this man had his faith to help him through the troubled times, but I’m sure that in the quiet of his own room that his faith was tested, no matter how strong a man he was. How could it not?
Moving slowly through the cemetery I read the names of the important people who established North Olmsted back in the 1800’s. Stearns, Kennedy, Fitch. While the beautifully kept markers of the burial sites indicated that these were powerful, influential names, they were still just men and women, buried in the dirt.
The shadow of an imminent summer downpour cast over me and I made my way to leave. However, I was compelled to stop again when I came across more recent gravestones, a couple dating back to last fall. It surprised me that the dead were still being laid to rest in this small cemetery. I would have thought that this small plot of land was full, having taken in as many as possible. Some morbid curiosity kept me exploring, wondering if I might come across a name or two that I might recognize, interested in how that would make me feel. My iPod, as if in tune with my somber mood, began playing Death Cab For Cutie’s hauntingly beautiful, “Your Heart Is An Empty Room.”
It didn’t take long before I was standing over the headstone of the man who’d been my dad’s mentor at North Olmsted High School. Mr. K was the head band director when my dad joined the staff as an assistant. For years, the two men worked alongside each other colleagues and friends. We used to go to clambakes at Mr. K’s house each autumn; I can almost smell the steaming clams and vegetables and feel the biting cold of Ohio in the fall. When Mr. K retired, he was afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease, which eventually led to his demise. I stared down at Mr. K’s grave and thought of my dad. Buried next to Mr. K was his daughter, who had died in 2002. Now I thought of Mrs. K, who had buried both her husband and daughter. What sort of faith must it have taken to do this, to say goodbye to your loved ones before your time was up?
A few steps away from Mr. K’s gravestone and I was staring at the mark for Debbie R. Debbie had been our family babysitter back when the Malchus kids were growing up on North Park Dr. I have vague recollections of fun times with her, feeling secure while my parents were out. Sadly, the memory that is more prevalent it being told by Mom and Dad that Debbie had died in her sleep one night in 1977. In the thirty three years, a reminder of Debbie’s death will pop into my head and I can almost see the look of sadness on my parents’ faces. I’m sure they were not only feeling sympathy for Debbie’s parents, but feeling blessed that their own children were safe.
Can you ever, do you ever want to, get over such a loss? Reading Debbie’s gravestone a second and third time, I prayed that I never have to find out. Thirty three years and just a random thought of Debbie; from now on I don’t think I’ll ever forget her.
Having gone through more introspection than I’d intended on my morning walk, I finally exited Butternut Ridge Cemetery with the sky now darker and the threat of getting drenched more plausible. As I looked across the road at the houses that faced the cemetery, I sighed, feeling blessed that my children bring so much love and joy to our lives. As I said, it’s the simple things that make me love them more each day. The, across the way, I spotted a yellow sports car tucked away deep in a long driveway, almost hidden from view. I smiled to myself and said, “tweeter,” before starting back the way I had come.