February 21, 2023

Last Ride to Ohio: Memories of Riding through Seven Mountain Tunnels.

I looked at the freshly dug grave and my paternal grandmother, Mumma’s casket. And then to my dad as he tried to hide his tears.

My heart felt heavy and I silently wished he would shed those tears. But, daddies didn’t do that; daddies were strong and silent.

It was my 10th birthday. And we were in Warren, Ohio, burying my grandmom. My first death, first funeral. The irony of my birthday on her burial. No wonder my birthday has never felt joyous, but that is changing over the years as I near my final time in this earthly form.

The ride there:

“Daddy, can we stop at that mountain so I can collect a rock?”

Ah, I knew he would stop, if it was safe; he supported my rock-collecting enthusiasm. He cautiously pulled to the shoulder in western Pennsylvania outside the entrance to one of the seven tunnels carved through mountains.

I got out and looked at all the purple pieces of rocks and selected one or two for my growing collection of stones gathered on my young travels on car rides, or walking in the neighborhood in Dundalk, Maryland.

With pocketed selected stones, I got in the backseat of our grey Studebaker. And on we went through tunnel after tunnel, finally making our way to Warren, Ohio.

Although not a happy visit, I still enjoyed sleeping in the attic and exploring the various treasures such as Mumma’s spinning wheel. I imagined how she wove the wool and created artistry through woven blankets. I enjoyed a quick but chilly visit in the backyard to remember how blueberries were ripe for picking, but not on this cold winter stay.

I missed my cousins not being there; I believe Uncle Carl may have been stationed in the Philippines at that time. My uncle was present and holding steady next to my dad and grandfather, Pappa. Stoic Finns. Loving men, who showed love in gestures and kindness, not hugs like some daddies and mommies gave.

When my cousins, Sanna Liisa and Madeline were able to visit Ohio the same time as my sister and me, we would play together, or Madeline and Nancy together, and Sanna and me. Age differences in childhood are key factors in clicking with another. Playing in the attic, sleeping on an old mattress, gazing out the only window to the small back yard.

Hours playing on the huge, to me, front porch and swaying on the white wooden bench supported by metal links from the ceiling of the porch. Angel wings in the winter snow, outside games in summer. Picking berries on hot sunny summer days.

Visiting relatives on the streets nearby. One memory of meeting my paternal aunt who was on the Titanic with her husband of three weeks. Taking fresh cut flowers when visiting and knowing the mom of the home would put on a fresh pot of coffee—regardless of time of day.

And that telephone! Slender black tube with an earpiece attached on the left side and a cord to lift it up to dial “0” for Mable, the town operator. Holding the base in one hand, the earpiece in the other, and speaking into the top of the phone. I am not sure her name was Mable, but it sounds like a good choice.

She knew everyone and would immediately ask how you were doing and to whom you wished to speak. It could go something like this: “Hi Mable, I am doing well and thank you. Could you ring up Gladys on Mulberry Street for me?” “Of course, Sanna, she is talking now with Aina and I will patch you through to them.”

And this was part of the community connection back then. Everyone knew everyone else. Although reflecting back, that could prove a bit nosey and gossipy at times.

Sorry, I digressed; it happens more and more often these days as I recall memories from long ago. Something I did not do, I accepted impermanence decades ago and follow the path of Buddhism. Past is past, future is not here yet, live in the present. Nothing and no one lives forever.

Hmm, this first death was a starting point for me.

As I look back to our leaving Ohio, we always stopped at Howard Johnson’s for lunch and pink peppermint ice cream in a bowl or a cone. I always got to select a rock on my way there, or back. I think this was my last trip. I do not recall going there three years later when Pappa was found dead in his small bedroom by a neighbor who had not seen him the day before.

Kind neighbor placed a wooden ladder against the house in the back and climbed up to see Pappa lying in his bed. His face still peaceful. It was late morning; my grandfather would have been up before dawn.

No one lives forever. Memories do fade; some line the fascia of our lives, some bury deep within the inner mind.

This is the third part of a series that started when we bought an old house that reminded me of this one.


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