23 August, 2007

I grew up in a little town nestled on the bluffs above the Ohio River. When I rocked myself to sleep at night, I could hear barges lowing on the river as they passed each other. Now I live a few miles farther north on the flat plain that rises from the river across from Cincinnati. I can see train tracks from the windows. I don’t know how my mental life would have been different if I’d started out here instead. I’ve often said that it’s easy to be a postmodernist in the hills, because it’s obvious that where things are and how they look differ depending on your perspective, and you can’t always get there from here. But down here on gridded streets, there’s a different kind of beauty.

I just finished reading James Loewen’s book Sundown Towns, and apparently the city I live in now was one and according to longtime residents even had a sign at city limits, though it’s obviously integrated now. We’ve seen some Confederate flags, but not a lot of active racism. Ft. Thomas, where I grew up, doesn’t end up on the sundown town list, probably because the VA hospital there gave them some sort of black (patient) population that would show up in the census. It certainly has a history of racism and exclusion going along with its legacy of class-based snobbishness and I never had a non-white classmate. It too is less white but maybe not much more welcoming than it used to be when I was a child. It was a good place to grow up because the woods behind my house were a haven for me and I was able to walk from school, but I was aware of the extent of my privilege and alienation there.

When A gets home in half an hour, we’ll be taking off for what will probably be my last visit (and her first) to my most-loved location, the cottage on Lake Erie my grandparents rent. It was one of the buildings used at the Pan-American Expo at which McKinley was shot, like several others then floated across the lake to be set down as a summer home. It’s a beautiful, shabby old house full of sand and memories. I love even the fishy smell of the lake, the flaps and cries of seagulls. It may be stormy while we’re there, but some of my favorite memories are of the times the wind kicked up wild waves and I could sit on the porch and watch the lightning. I feel more myself there than anywhere else. I love material culture more than “real” art in some ways, looking at something I know someone long ago has held, used, loved. The cottage has so many goofy little objects that are part of my history and part of me and in the future will be someone else’s. It’s going to be a hard but good goodbye, I think, and a good chance and place for me to rest.


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