Last month I went to Cleveland to visit my family and a few friends for the first time in a year.
I stayed at my dad’s house, my first time there since my mother died three years ago.
“We’re going to a Slovakian festival on Saturday,” he told me on my way in, “and an Italian festival on Sunday. I got you tickets.”
My first night in Ohio I stayed with Jan in her new house, with its view of Lake Erie. She’d sold the home she’d lived in for 36 years. She’d raised her two children in that house; it’s where she and Greg lived together as husband and wife; it’s where she kept his ashes after he died. Between all the parties in our younger years and all the times I stayed there when I came to town, while I may not have known every square inch, I knew many of them.
The morning I left Jan’s, we went to the lake. I almost didn’t go – I was antsy to get to the next place, an almost constant kind of pressure when you’re visiting home. But I did, and it was a thrill. Lake Erie is every bit a part of me as Lake Michigan.
In two days’ time, I saw so much of the city I love, from its East side to its West side, from the far South end to downtown. I also saw my father’s twin brother, whom I hadn’t seen in three years. Our time spent together was filled with good conversation, good food, good drink.
What I loved most about the trip was all the new things I learned.
- Other than adoring my paternal grandfather Mike, who was Rusyn, I never really felt a connection to my Slovakian heritage until attending the Carpatho-Rusyn Vatra. Watching the performers there, I was so overcome, I started crying behind the lens of my camera.
- “Vatra” is Slovakian for “bonfire,” which is the centerpiece of the festival. Dancers move around it and jump over it.
- “Halupki” is Slovakian for “cabbage roll.” Cabbage and noodles are “haluski.” “Perogi” is “pirohy.” Slovakian cucumber salad is delicious.
- Golden Pheasant (Czech) and Lomza (Polish) beers are also delicious.
- Accomplished Slovakian singer Hanka Servická is my father and uncle’s second cousin. They stayed with her two weeks ago on a trip to Slovakia.
I already knew that this is what I looked like when I was six months old:
I learned that this is what my mama looked like when I was six months old.
When Dad and I visited Mom at the mausoleum, he explained his reasoning behind including her maiden name on the front of the crypt.
“She is every bit that name as you are your maiden name,” he told me. “I wanted her to have that part of her identity.”
Putting aside the fact that in our culture most if not all women’s names come from either their fathers or their husbands, I consider this beautifully feminist thinking on my father’s part.
I learned that my Sicilian great-grandmother was married three times. Her full name was Augustina Badamo DiNovo Salvatore; everyone called her Christina. I have a vivid memory of being in her house when I was a little girl. She was making sauce and stomping around the kitchen and talking loudly in Sicilian, and I was both fascinated and scared shitless. I found out that this memory that’s lived in my head all these years took place in her house on the top of Phillips Street in Baden, Pennsylvania.
I learned that Cleveland has installed a giant chandelier in its theater district, called Playhouse Square, located at East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue.
There’ve been times in the past when I visited Cleveland that the city seemed downtrodden. On this trip, all that had gone away. Cleveland has been power-washed. It’s bright, vibrant. Ready to go.
Part of this may be attributable to LeBron James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. At the “Taste of Little Italy” event we went to the day after the Vatra, I saw a guy in a T-shirt that read “Cleveland is the City” and I immediately wanted it. I later found out that LeBron used those words when he announced he was coming back.
While in Cleveland, I learned from my uncle that a “Dopp kit” is another name for a shaving kit. Wikipedia defines it as: “a small toilet bag, made of leather, vinyl, or cloth, that is used for storing men’s grooming tools for travel. The name derives from early 20th century leather craftsman Charles Doppelt, a German immigrant to the United States, who invented his toiletry case in 1919.”
I learned that a beloved family member had come out of the closet.
Your papa just told me,
I love you very much.
I learned that Jan’s things look great in her new house.
The older I get, the more people I love who die, the longer I am away from my family, the more I long for my Ohio roots. No matter where I live in the world, Cleveland will always be the city for me. I don’t yet know how to rectify these emotions I have about feeling separate from the place and people I love. About not being able to hop in my car today and go across town to watch the Browns game with my brothers.
But it pulls at my heart a lot lately.
Photo credit, T-shirt: homage.com