I got to thinking the other day about how where I have lived in my lifetime has determined—well determined why I am the way I am. Recalling the places I have called home (even for just a short time) brought back a lot of interesting memories and maybe all you GEEZERS should think about retracing your steps through life—it’s sort of therapeutic.
I start off with my birthplace—Cleveland, Ohio. When my dad left the Marine Corps after WWII, he was in the Pacific so I guess the closest place to dump him back into civilization was California. While there, he married my mom (who was from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin and I have no idea why or how she ended up in California) and then the two of them moved back to where his family lived in Ohio (everything about my family history is vague because for whatever reason, no one ever talked about the past—makes me wonder if everything was a deep, dark secret or if (more likely) family members were just too boring to bother discussing their lives). All I really know about my mom and dad’s family comes from a genealogical history put together by my wife’s sister. To sum it up, it talks a lot about a bunch of dull farmers who farmed the hell out of Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—no war heroes, no high-ranking politicians, no famous murders—just a bunch of nobodies.
We stayed in Ohio until I was four years old. I don’t remember much about my life as a toddler, but old photos showed I was a great looking kid with a beautiful head of ultra-blonde hair (later to become dull, mushroom-brownish in color with severe cowlicks) who always had a big (that’s really big—like just swallowed a bug big) grin on his face. Later in life, I was never as handsome as I was in these pictures to the point I wonder if it was really me in the photos or some neighbor kid.
After just a few years in Ohio, for some reason (remember no one in the family recalls a thing), like the Beverly Hillbillies, my mom and dad suddenly decided to pack up and move—back towards California, but not California. As I understand it, there was no destination other than somewhere “Out west.” So (again Hillbilly style) they loaded up a brand new, 1953, red and white, Ford station wagon and headed out with every thing they owned (which was basically my younger sister and me).
The only story I ever heard about this trip involved putting my sister and me in the very back of the car while crossing a very hot Texas with nothing but open windows to keep us cool. Apparently, my parents thought this was a great idea as they drove for many miles with nary a peep out of us. Turns out we were quiet because we had both basically passed out due to dehydration (if this family story survived, the ones that didn’t must have been real doozies). So they gave us water, acknowledged that once again they would not be getting a “Parents of the Year” award, and headed down the road again.
This cross-country trip along with every other trip with my dad could be summed up by his expounding about his lifelong philosophy of “Suck up, it’s not that bad.” No dad, I’m sure after spending a year in the jungles of Guadalcanal being shot at day after day, nothing really seemed all that bad ever again. Needless to say, as we traveled like the pioneers across America, we should have all been wearing t-shirts with “We Sucked Up!” printed across the front.
I wouldn’t return to Cleveland until 40 years later when I attended a conference being held there. I arrived by plane and then had to take a train ride from the airport to the hotel. I immediately had the feeling of being closed in, a bit spooked, and way out of my element. The ride took 30 minutes and traveled through what to me looked like a bombed-out, Middle Eastern country. Located only 10 feet from the track, there was one small, identical, white house after the other. Every one looked equally old, dirty, and had yards full of trash and garbage collected over centuries.
While there, I was treated to a bit of city wisdom so-to-speak that is probably not contained in the city’s tourist brochures. After taking a charter bus to a museum (so impressive I can’t even remember what the museum was about), the driver spoke up as we left the bus, “If you get back late and the bus is gone, don’t try to walk back to hotel (maybe 2 miles) on foot—that would be dangerous.” And then there was the hotel doorman who responded to our question about going out at night to find a restaurant, “How many of there are you?—six. Well, that should be enough to keep you safe.” To add context, this was at a time when I lived where I never bothered to even lock my house when I left home.
Why Dave is Dave—My short stint in Cleveland probably had a lot to due with my split personality where I am a cockeyed optimist who always looks for the worst possibility in every situation. Now, when in a big city, no matter how much fun I am having, I always feel that disaster (a mugger, falling elevator, drunk driver, exploding manhole cover, looter, or serial killer) is just around the next corner. I never had to worry about this in the small cities I have lived in because nothing ever happens or if there is a rare murder, it is always committed by a trusted, well-respected, salt-of-the-earth family member.