“If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
But this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
No forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children. “
(from Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Book of Hours, Love Poems to God’)
My memories of the house on Lipply Road are filtered- all of them- through the veils of other persons’ presence in the house, and of childhood. Even on my last visit to the house earlier this month, I stepped lightly, as a trespasser, as a child doing something I shouldn’t be doing. It was a house now, no longer our home. It was vaguely home-shaped, to be sure, but for now, for me what was, was no more. I walked through the kitchen that was, up the stairs that were, but they were not our kitchen, nor our stairs any longer. They belonged to someone else and my great hope as I furtively moved from room to room was that someone soon would begin another fifty year journey of home in love, in life with this house.
(Goodness, how I wanted to dust, sand and polish the floorboards, the door trim, the window sills..jobs I despised once upon a time, though they were a seldom requirement. But that was for someone else to do now. I hoped some other children would be among those having to do so.)
I can only assume, because I must, that this was a visit where I was saying “goodbye” without consciously knowing that I was saying that word. The house was empty now of all which and whom I had loved there. Even without knowing the terrible news which would come in a few weeks, I knew this was an ending of something, something still inexpressible. When I pulled the door shut behind me this time, I didn’t linger.
The People Who Made it a Home
There were the four of us, of course: Dad, Mom, Denny, and myself. Since Dad’s work was on the other side of the driveway, our home extended right into the barn, into the plowed fields, everywhere in the woods, and all around the south shores of Pine lake. The tire-testing circles were our bike-riding tracks, the old horse race track in the woods was our and the neighbors’ perfect and safe place for beginner’s driving lessons.
The men who worked at the test Center were our friends. The earliest ones- Mac, Mr. Raines, Mr. Wise, Arthur, and Leonard- were our mom’s and dad’s cooperative volunteer childcare workers as Denny and I, even as small children, made the whole 90 acres our playground. How many football and baseball games in front of the barn with the baby-boomed abundance of neighbor kids our same age? How many bicycle tires fixed, patched and pumped by Mac, the shop manager, who would stop welding some Firestone-sanctioned job to help us?
Even the visiting Firestone managers from Akron found the way to our kitchen, with frequency. Don loved Mom’s Ritz Cracker faux apple pie. Bill would eat enormous servings of grilled burgers and home-fries. Dick, and Phil, and the two guys whose names I forget but who guided Firestones racing tire testing would, with others, come hunting with Dad on weekends in the fall, always accompanied by Joker, our beagle/pointer. Afterwards, they would eat- pheasant, rabbit- and sometimes stay for poker and beer and cigars in the barn. Even Raymond Firestone (Harvey’s youngest son, a boyhood friend of dad’s when the Firestone family would summer at their homeplace in Columbiana) would sometimes come to the house to eat Mom’s meals, with Dad and the others. (I remember him asking Mom if she could find him some pants- blue cotton summer pants- like the ones Dad wore. She did.)
Those Firestone-connected men were one wave of the people who made that place a home. Other waves:
Most of Dad’s many brothers and sisters lived within a few miles of Columbiana. Mom’s brother and several sisters lived in the Akron area, too. Those aunts and uncles (33 total!) had a lot of children, and their children did, too. So there was an abundance of aunts, uncles, cousins and second-cousins who would frequently be visiting. I have specific memories of every one of our 45 first cousins being in the house, many frequently and continuing even through the time Mom was there by herself.
Because the house was big, it was often the place for the Weber’s annual Fourth of July picnic and Christmas night get-togethers. I know I am only one of many cousins who still feel that “pull” on the Fourth or at Christmas. These were reunions which had been happening for decades already and they extended well into the late sixties. Watermelon, homemade ice cream cranked with broken block ice from Corey’s Oil in the summer or Pine Lake ice in the winter, turkey and ham at Christmas, Hamburgs and hotdogs on the Fourth, always Auntie Olive’s so-green pickles, Auntie Alice and Uncle Bill’s kohlrabis, and so much else. At Christmas, Auntie Alice would disappear and a forlorn looking but exciting-for-the kids Swiss Santa would show up to hand out gifts in a dollar-per gift exchange. At Christmas, each Weber woman would bring her “Weber cookies.” These were special and had roots in Switzerland and were made with baker’s ammonia (!) but they signal still for me the Christmas season every bit as powerfully as the singing of “O, Holy Night” by some slightly off-key alto soloist. Denny and I could tell which aunt or cousin had made which cookie by their texture, thickness, and brownness.
Mom’s were perfect.
The Friendly Class of Grace Church
Virtual Family: Mom and Dad’s Sunday School class at Grace Church. This was the WWII young people’s class, organized in the 1950s. They were all making their own homes, babies, and lives in Columbiana and there were many of them. When I was at Grace Church for their Bicentennial a couple weeks ago, I compared these men and women to another whole set of aunts and uncles and their many children as friends/almost cousins. Most of the adults are gone now, and many of those my age have long ago scattered, but..for awhile..there was a Grace-begotten Camelot.
These people, too, were at our house a lot, and we at theirs: class gatherings, picnics, hayrides through the woods, Vacation Bible school camps in the woods, after basketball/football game gatherings for ice cream, and Sunday school. Communitas it is referred to in Spanish- it was a community born in the spirit of community. It was not a community formed of membership, obligation, or rank. It was a family of choice, an example of “Friends shaking hands, saying ‘How do you do.’ But what they’re really saying is ‘I love you.'”
And so many others..
The Pine Lake Secret Sisters, the Card Club, the Bowling teams- all would meet in the downstairs rooms for talk, and talk, and laughter and cards and chip-chop bbq beef sandwiches, and whatever else was made and brought (never bought and brought, never). Upstairs (sometimes) Denny and I would listen from our bedroom to what was happening below us through the air vent between the floors. I think we stopped for good when we once heard Tommie Keck say, “I can hear them giggling again.”
We (the young ones) would sometimes put on shows for our parents using the built-in stage of the sliding doors which enabled the one great room to be divided into a dining room and sitting room. Reash, Candel, and Weber kids used those doors in ways they were never intended to be used, but boy were they fun (and how easily I can hear and feel those doors, right now).
The ancient downstairs “second” kitchen (with a hand pump in the sink) became a playroom for little kids and then a family TV room as little kids grew up. It’s where cousins Kenny and Gail Miller, and our moms and dads watched the Beatles debut on Ed Sullivan, yeah yeah yeah, just several months after I had sat in that same room watching the weekend of November 22 to 25 with the rest of America.
For years before Denny and I left home and for many years after, Mom made about a million cookies, ten thousand cakes, and twenty thousand pies for customers who kept coming back and as donations or gifts to whoever had caught her eye and heart that week. (I exaggerate the numbers, but not by much!) For every Street Fair she would make 30+ pies to be sold at Grace Church’s food area. And she did that for almost forty years. Later, Dad would help her cater meals around town for various groups, and frequently for the men working in the barn, and that’s to say nothing of the food Mom prepared for Grace’s once a month “Come whoever wants to and pay whatever you want” lunches which she “engineered” for years. Here’s a picture of one page (of 20 pages) of pictures she took in the 1970s of wedding cakes she made! And ALL of this cooking was done in that single kitchen of the house! All that food is part of the reason the whole town is connected to this house!
Just as I tip-toed through the house earlier this month, I tip-toe now a little ways back from immediate rush of memories of the house, the home. Five days before the fire, we had to say goodbye to our Golden Retriever, beloved Salem, who for fifteen years had loved us as we loved him, with a love that is too complicated, too big for words. Sometimes words detract from reality because they must, by their very nature of being “only words” be less than what we are trying to describe through them. But we have to try, and that’s what I’ve been doing, and now I have to be quiet for a bit. At least about these two, the dog and the house, which are no more.
Physically, Salem and the house are gone. Emotionally and spiritually, though, they are wildly alive in my heart. I knew that was true of Salem, of course. All who knew him have mourned. But it has been healing to see and hear of the love expressed for this 134 year house, too, by so very many people. I lived there, it was home, but it was not “mine” any more than Salem was “mine.” The really best things, the true things in life are those that we share outside the boundaries of “ownership.” The best things belong to us all. Our perspectives may differ, the intensity of our feelings may vary. But the best things, the very best things in life are..
“Father of all, we pray to you for all that we love, but see no longer. Grant all of that which is loved, your peace; let light perpetual shine upon all of it; and in your loving wisdom and almighty power work through our memories of that which we loved the good purpose of your perfect will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. .
We commit now, what we have loved to the ground, ashes to ashes, dust to dust..”
(adapted from The Proposed Book of Common Prayer, Church of England)