22 October 2011

Going Home...

They say you can never go home again and I say that's mostly true, if home is a physical place. But if home is the people you love, those who take you in no matter what, if you have that you can always go home again.

I recently was blessed with the opportunity to do just that and visited my dad, who turned 70 this year and whom I had not seen for twenty years, ten of which we did not speak or write. These are a few of the stories I harvested on my recent visit, back home to the heart land of Ohio.

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My grandfather Zelman Marion Lewis was born in 1903 in Marion Ohio in the same farmhouse that I visited as a child and young girl and later as a young woman with my own children. That makes five generations on one plot of land, that means home to me.

Zelman, “Grandpa Z”, as I would have called him had he lived past my first birthday, was the grandson of John Lewis and Ann Evans, who left their native homeland of Wales to escape the harsh life of work in the coal mines. Turning left at Liverpool they arrived in America and settled in Ohio.

Zelman was the son of a farmer, Albert, and a former beauty contest winner, Mary. A Victorian era photographic portrait of my great-grandmother Mary hung in that farmhouse and depicts a captivating dark haired, young woman with soft features, save for dramatically dark eyebrows. She appears to be a petite woman with a tiny waist that is dwarfed by the burgeoning bustle skirt behind her. She stands besides a chair appointed with rope fringe and needlepoint cushion. (Perhaps, this photo was another prize from the beauty contest? From which she won a finely beaded purse, which remained in the family.) I imagine it may have been quite a shock for such a refined looking woman to take up housekeeping and child rearing in the green valleys of Ohio.

A later photograph shows the family in front of that familiar farmhouse at the turn of the century. Mary, who by now has brought forth four boys and a girl, still has a same small frame and tiny waist, her skirt now a much more practical floor length sans bustle. Her hair is still soft but lighter, perhaps greyer. The patriarch Albert stands nearby. His dark hair and graying temples match the dark three-piece suit her wears looking Easter Sunday formal. Zelman, the youngest, is dressed in a toddler’s smock, and appears fair-haired. He stands near his mother and sister Goldie. The older bothers, Dale, Dennis and Royal Glen appear to separate themselves slightly. Indoor furniture, several chairs, a settee, are set about the yard which makes me think it may have been late spring or summer. A good looking bicycle rests against a tree. A bull terrier reclines with a steady gaze in the forefront.

An even later photograph shows Z as a young man standing with a baseball glove in hand and ball cap turned reverse (catcher?) wearing a white cotton shirt long sleeves rolled up to expose Popeye-like forearms, bow-tie askew with dark vest and pants. He has the wide-legged stance of a charismatic leader. The other young men, one of whom is brother Dale, all have baseball gloves and one poses with a bat. It is a classic photo of my grandfather who loved baseball and instilled that love in his children as he would later sit around the radio with them listening to the baseball games.

My dad described my grandfather as a college graduate (not a common feat for Ohio farm boys in those days), an avid reader, and a lover of books and of storytelling. He loved to take his children on walks in the woods behind the farmhouse and describe things in nature to them while teaching them proper names of plants and birds, something that I have my own memories of my dad doing with me.

That such a man would later court and marry a woman fifteen years his junior, the daughter of coal-miners and moon-shiners from the hills (yeah, I said it) of Kentucky and bring her back to that farmhouse in Ohio and raise two girls and two boys. Grandma Sibyl, who always bragged of her “injun blood”, played guitar and told a good ghost story with a Scorpio Sun for a kicker. She named her first-born son, my dad, Ronnie Zelman Lewis, after Ronnie Reagan, her favourite actor. She had nothing but gall when he added politician to his acting credits, adding insult to injury by switching to the GOP seriously offending my liberal grandmother and her Democratic principles.

My dad is a small man, barely a half-inch taller than I am at 5’5. Now 70, he still bears those intense dark eyebrows of his grandmother but his hair is no longer dark and is a soft shade of grey, where it still grows. He has a thoughtful attitude and a wicked sense of humour. He loves to tell a joke. A truly fastidious Virgo, he irons his own cotton shirts P E R F E C T L Y. A live-alone bachelor who maintains a (nearly) spotless home, warmly appointed with everything in its proper place.

We had a great time reminiscing and attempting to fill in all the missing holes of our separate lives. We watched a lot of sports on the tele, mostly baseball, though he claims basketball is now his favourite sport and is unhappy with the current status of negotiations and player lockout. He chided me for my inexplicable love of the Yankees and the Padres. Teasingly disowning me for such foibles. We watched political satire (he faithfully records The Colbert Show and John Stewart’s Daily Show). And this is where we are most alike. Our philosophy on such things as politics, peace and justice has always been 99% exactly matched. So much of his beliefs inform my own. Not to mention our mutual love of words and birds and walks. As I told him in the airport, as I was leaving, hopefully not for another 20 years this time, that even though I am 49 years old I still feel like his little girl. The only thing wrong with that is that there just never was enough, enough time, enough of him. I doubt there could be. But I love him for everything he is… to me.

more to come...

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