Immigrants in Eden Park

photo 4I am a two-time Cincinnatian. Not two-timing, though I hail from Cleveland and cheer for both Cincinnati and Cleveland teams. But two-time, in that I have lived in Cincinnati twice.

I often separate memories of living here using my first husband Devin, or my second husband Mark, as the qualifier. Or I will categorize my experiences as before living in Oregon, and after. But always, beneath the surface, I label my existence in Cincinnati as before I grew strong, and after life left me exposed. Simply put, before and after.

I landed in Cincinnati, straight out of the University of Akron with a Computer Science degree and an entry-level programming position at Star Bank.

My reasons for coming to Cincinnati were plenty. Warmth. Job security. New starts and an older sister, Laura, who had already paved the way. She had cut loose from the smothering snows of northern Ohio winters. With her buoyant personality, she had winningly made friends and created connections in the city. And she knew Cincinnati, each festival, each neighborhood, so well I nicknamed her Queen City Queen.

photo 3Cincinnati was Laura’s playground and I gladly met her there each day, for seven years. I lived in Hyde Park-near and she lived in Clifton off Riddle Road. She worked for McDonald’s, not on the fry line, but in marketing, and her position enabled her to see the city from a vantage point those of us with desk jobs could never envision from behind our blinking screens.

And so I began to observe Cincinnati through her eyes, her wide brown eyes and her long lashes that might make someone want to crawl underneath them for shade. What she saw energized me.

Though most newcomers were immediately labeled east side or west side, we just labeled ourselves Clevelanders. We stood proud at the Bengals-Browns games while the other 50,000 fans cheered against us. We drove to the West Side for Price Hill Chili and the Greek Festival, up north to Lebanon and Waynesville to shop for antiques. We hung out in Clifton as if someone might believe we were still in college. We headed out to Hidden Valley with her boating friends to waterski, and into Kentucky to visit Mainstrausse Village. We patronized Flanagan’s and Caddies, taking my parents there to meet Ray Combs. And we took our brooms to Fountain Square for the World Series Celebration in 1990.

But our sweetest times were sitting together on a sunlit Saturday, with no work, no plans, no desire to move. If Cincinnati was Laura’s playground, then Eden Park was her park to play in. We bought LaRosa’s antipasti salad (the closest we could come to anything Italian). We chowed down on salted rye rolls from a Findlay Market vendor. We brought magazines and sunglasses and blankets, and pretended we were still at Maude Neiding swimming pool, or the green space on a college campus. We watched the river and the many lives of the park course through the day.

And we talked.

Some conversations were about my parents, their history, their struggles. Some about our jobs. How hard it was to break into this city, parochial in its plethora of Catholic high schools. Provincial in its German heritage. There hardly seemed room for public school-educated Italians from Cleveland. We were our own kind of immigrant, with no assurances we would ever fit in.

We occasionally discussed our love life, somewhat non-existent, so we moved from that topic quickly. Truly I wondered, as did our friends, if we were so close, would we ever find a man that could break that tie.

And we were silent.

photo 2Each Saturday, as the rays drew down, we felt something special about Eden Park we never found anywhere else. Perhaps its history as a vineyard for Nicolas Longworth gave the park its feel of times bygone. The gazebo was the oldest structure in any Cincinnati park. There was a presidential tree grove with trees planted for every president since Washington, the first planted in 1882 for George.

There were many paths that criss-crossed and meandered around the Krohn Conservatory, lead up to the Art Museum or the hidden CRC swimming pool. There was the outdoor theatre, where one might imagine Shakespeare would appear at a moment’s notice. On Mirror Lake, young hockey players swished on the ice, thankful it was their turn to finally enjoy the pond.

Back then, Eden Park left an impression on me because of its wide expansive view of the Ohio River. If I craned my neck towards the east, I could see where the Ohio was birthed. If I watched the water flow south and west, I saw how easy it was for the river to produce a new present moment for every ripple. If I moved to higher ground, I could observe as the river towed its burdens and mine into and beyond the metropolis. Out of my sight. Troubles disappeared as easily as the twig spotted bobbing past my perspective.

I eventually broke the boyfriend tie with Laura, meeting my future husband Devin at my place of employment. Soon, he and I wed and moved to Oregon where I gave birth to my son. Those were my in-between years which were followed by a return to Cincinnati on a different path, my after. By then Laura had already moved away.

Sixteen years following my return to Ohio, I made my way back into the city of Cincinnati. I am near water again and Eden Park is accessible. These days in winter, I hike up to Eden Park with a fuller knowledge of what lured my sister and I so many years ago. Not the ancient gazebo or the park’s paths or the water views when the ocean was out of sight. No, it was each other, seated side by side.

photo 1I always stand in the spot, just south of Twin Lake number one, coveting my before, imagining two young women from Cleveland spreading blankets across a damp rug of early green, eager to leap into their after.

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What Natalie Cole Brought Back

natalie_cole_CPO_2_8_15_music_hall_Scott_Preston-26-150x150I didn’t run off with all of my mother’s LPs, only the coveted Sinatra ones. But when I heard Natalie Cole at the Pops on Sunday night, and watched her interact with an old video recording of Nat King Cole, I immediately experienced a momentary sadness. There had been Nat King Cole records in her stash, along with Glenn, Bing, Dean, all the great performers who were called to mind, with one syllable. But when I was trying to steal some piece of my mother’s soul, to keep for when she slipped away, it was Frank I held on to, and not Nat.

As the concert wore on, Natalie Cole’s presence, her wide eyes conjured up images of her father before those images were projected onto the big screen hovering over the orchestra.

I too was summoning images of long ago, of a mother who once saw Nat King Cole, at the Sands in Vegas, and wrote only this, “Heard Nat King Cole at the Sands.” In her day, she didn’t have the luxury of luxuriating in her good fortune, or mediating or expounding upon the event later. She was just lucky to be there, in the moment, with Nat King Cole. And, I suspect, she may have always had her eye out, for someone else.

I knew all of Natalie’s swing songs. How could I not? I consistently loaded them on Pandora or Spotify whenever I was with Mom. And when Natalie sang a duet, Acércate más (Come Closer to Me), a Nat King Cole hit from the 1940s, with a video recording of her father, I made a mental note to help Mom rediscover those songs as well.

When time for THE song approached, Natalie stepped to the side of the screen, and interacted intimately with the screen version of her father.

Earlier that day, I had been visiting Mom. She and I were in the community room, and one of the assistants, Natasha, was playing a variety of standards on the piano. Mom seldom sang along that day. When the piano playing ceased, the audience returned to its hushed state. The only sound palpable was that of grandchildren and great children of D. scurrying around outside the window. Natasha moved to prepare for another activity.

Mom’s head was drooping. She was beginning to snooze. The day was rainy, dreary. I too was ready for nap, though it was only three in the afternoon. I began humming a few bars from the last song Natasha had so lovingly played. “My bonnie lies over the ocean, my bonnie lies over the sea, my bonnie lies over the ocean, so bring back my bonnie to me.”

Seated around me were Ella, positioned in a wheelchair, a rather stubborn sort on occasion, and Janie, who walked around rubbing her hands together in worried pause, wondering where she was supposed to be, and Polly, skinny as rail, who roamed endlessly, wearing her Mardi Gras beads. I told her she was a little early, but the truth was, she’s been wearing the beads since she most likely absconded with them from someone else’ room.

A soft chorus erupted around me, as if the undercurrent of life had risen to the surface. Joanie began whispering. Patty warbling, my mother waking, beautifully intoning, “Bring back, bring back, bring back my bonnie to me, to me. Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my bonnie to…”

And here each woman paused, to take the breath the tune took, and then resumed….

“me.”

It was a moment, just that, to savor.

Later that night, after we had navigated the crowds and strolled the two blocks to our home, I should have been singing any of Nat King Cole or Natalie Cole’s standards. But I wasn’t.

I was stuck on the damn “Bonnie” song, reaching for an imaginary recording of my mother, seated in the audience of the Sands, seated next to me witnessing Natalie’s breathtaking performance, seated next to me in her care home, roused from sleep by a number she knew.

That’s how Natalie must have felt, whenever she interfaced with a likeness of her father on a still photo, on the Pops screen, on any other recording, when she extended her hands towards the loving voice of her father.The belief that we can reach across atoms and particles and light waves and sound, barriers to the brain, and bring a loved one back, with the mere calling out of a melody.

 

Photo by Scott Preston, http://www.cincygroove.com

What They Left Behind

photo 1photo 2What They Left Behind

In the city, I attempt to adhere to many maxims set forth by my parents when I was younger: Look both ways before crossing the street. Don’t leave your valuables out in plain sight. Lock the doors to your house and car. Be careful around strangers.

But, like any human, I sometimes bypass those maxims. My son and husband, walking with me this summer were convinced I would get run over by cars, buses, bikes. I tell them, “I am so in tune with the pulse of the city, I am aware of light changes and cars shifting directions, and therefore don’t always need to stop when walking, only slow down.” They nod and look both ways for me.

But, I have learned it’s not always in my best interests to ignore my parents’ advice.

My Toyota stays parked outside. One of my learnings after our move, was to not leave items in plain sight and – lock your car door. The police will tell you this. The neighbors will tell you this. My husband will tell you this and I will tell my kids.

But because I am the toter of all things house-related, my car is oftentimes stuffed. In particular, when we were moving, I moved boxes in, then moved them out, and left them in the car overnight. So, was not always convenient or efficient to empty out my car.

I also stock up on items for my mother’s care and leave packs of Gatorade, packages of Depends, People magazines and cartons of air fresheners in the car for the next day’s visit. It seems silly to remove them from the car, carry them inside, then have to tote them back out. So, I keep them in the car.

The remainder of belongings in my car range from sunscreen and hair spritz, to Cheetos and salted almonds. I keep pens and paper, a bookmark from Aunt Alice’s celebration of life, packages of gum, an empty sunglass case, a few pennies, umbrellas, snow scrapers, plastic bags to cover seats when I am transporting larger, dirtier items. My family jokes, when the end of the world comes, they want to be in Annette’s car.

Under the hatch, I keep a treasured item that has stayed with me for 25 years. My Cleveland Browns blanket. The blanket was purchased at Kmart, following the weekend my brother got married. Devin and I were making our way to the Cleveland stadium for a Browns game and we, being from Cincinnati, realized we didn’t have the right clothing to compensate for the cold. We stopped at a Kmart and found the blanket.

The blanket has moved to Oregon, Seattle. The blanket has been my trusty friend when I have been stranded on the side of the road. The blanket is like a burrito, when I wrap my mother in it, during cold days, and transport her to my home.

If ever there was security in a piece of fabric, that blanket is it. Not because of what it says, but what is represents – home, travel, adversity, overcoming, mother and warmth.

It has come as no surprise, on three occasions over eight months, I have left my car unlocked. Usually, it is because I am running in, or walking out. Or my hands are full, or my mind is brimming.

The first occasion occurred when I felt an odd presence of some one or thing in the car. I was backing out of my parking space, planning to visit my mom. I had eaten lunch so, I reached in for Cheetos – not hot. And the bag had vanished.

I didn’t recall finishing the bag the last time. But, my memory too could be slipping a bit. Then, I looked in the console, and items there had been turned upside down. I got a sinking feeling my car had been visited overnight. A feeling confirmed, when I peered into the backseat to check on the stockpile for my mom. The Depends were there. The Gatorade was gone.

My car has a keyless entry, and the fob stays in my purse most days. I don’t have to reach for a key to unlock the car, so when I place my fingers on the handle, I never really know if it is locked or unlocked.

Someone in the neighborhood told me otherwise that morning.

I jumped out of car, and looked around, as if the perpetrator would still be there, or Candid Camera was filming some thirty years later. Then, I walked to the back of the car, and opened the hatch, fearful of what I might, or might not, find.

“Oh, thank God,” I said aloud, to the football gods. No one was sleeping in the back. And, my Browns blanket rested in peace.

I later told my husband about my ordeal for the morning.

Assuming the perpetrator might have been looking for warmth and sustenance, after all, they took the Cheetos, I said, “I still can’t believe they didn’t take the blanket.”

“Really? You’re surprised? This is Cincinnati, even the criminals have standards.”

How could I respond to that?

I stopped leaving Mom’s Gatorade in the car, but on two other occasions, a breaking still occured. On the second occasion, I opened up the front passenger side door, to find my can of almonds emptied out. But, alas, the Browns blanket was still there, shining bright orange.

And just yesterday, the perpetrator was kind enough to leave all the items from my console on the front seat, in a show of bravado, I suppose. To let me know, someone had been there.

Gradually, I am learning my lesson. This act has saved me from my addiction to Cheetos. I am more efficient with and conscious of what I carry into and out of my car, adhering to the “pack it in, pack it out” adage for hikers. I will only leave behind almonds, if they are spiced with wasabi and soy. And if that person needs the Depends, then so be it. I will caution, though, they are size small.

But that person better not, I repeat, better not take my Cleveland Browns blanket.  After all, the only maxim that really applies is one trespasser’s trash is another woman’s treasure.