You can't go home again. We have all heard that phrase. And for those of us whose parents are no longer alive it sometimes rings as loud as a fire alarm and as bright as a spotlight on a dark night.
On Thursday my daughter, now almost 30, and I took one of our many return trips to Marietta, OH, my hometown.
The place where I have memories of every stage of my life. Born in Marietta, living first in a small white clapboard house across the street from Mound Cemetery, one of the most historical cemeteries in the United States.
You see, Marietta is a proud small river town with one of the richest histories of any other USA small town. It was the first established settlement in the Northwest Territory, established in 1788.
In this month's issue, Smithsonian magazine ranks America's Best Small Towns, the Greatest Little Places to Visit This Year, and Marietta is listed 6th.
Highlights that the magazine lists include the watching the coal barges still passing through on the river, the Sternwheeler races in September, and the 19th century working dams and locks that open while riders take pleasure cruises on the Valley Gem, a historic sternwheeler. The downtown is marked by historic buildings with unique shops such as Twisted Sisters, a West Side completely restored that can be accessed by an old railroad trestle crossing the Muskingum River and now a footbridge to yesterday, and a Sweet Corn festival in July.
Situated in the unglaciated part of Ohio, Marietta is built on a series of hills that only locals are comfortable navigating, with narrow streets, frequent road closings due to hill slippages, and sweeping overlooks of both the Ohio and Muskingum River Valleys.
For for me, the 130 miles to Marietta via I-270 to I-70 East. I-70 East to I-77 South, to Exit 1, Marietta, is a trip from a busy and sometimes stressful lifestyle as a high school principal to my childhood, my memories, and a piece of me that no one else knows.
By Zanesville, the world starts to change. And by Cambridge the stress starts to leave my shoulders. By Dexter City, the hills become so familiar and by Lower Salem I know we are only six miles from the exit.
I make the right turn on to Exit 1, merge onto Pike Street, and my head floods with memories. Past my Dad's VFW where he went to "sign the book" every day. Pike turns into Greene Street and rather than turn down 7th Street to my parents home, or former home, Jennifer and I head to the Hotel Lafayette, one of America's finest and oldest hotels. I surprise her with the Captain's Room, the largest room in the hotel, with a wraparound balcony that overlooks the Ohio River dramatically, just a few steps from the levee.
In this present Marietta, Jennifer and I visit all of our favorite restaurants and shops, the Coca-Cola Museum and old diner on the West Side, with the jukebox where 25 cents still gets you two plays and one of the few places real Broughton's ice cream is still served. Teri Ann's boutique also beckons on Front Street and we slowly make our way into all of the quaint shops in buildings that date to the late 1800's and early 1900's.
When we enter Schafer's Leather, open since 1867, I am surprisingly greeted by Becky, one of my high school classmates, and we catch up where locals still buy cowboy boots and pick up repaired ones.
Time to walk along the levee, where my Dad's voice laughingly echoes in my head every time with "When you are down by the river, drop in." He always loved the irony in the advertising slogan of the Lafayette.
Time for the tough part of the trip, a visit to Mound Cemetery, yes, that first cemetery I lived across from as a toddler, now the site of Mom and Dad's resting place. We carefully remove the now red and brown grave blanket and brush the dead leaves from the grave stone. I remember all of the times I had walked downtown to visit my mother in her job at the Washington County Health Department from home, walking past the beautiful cemetery with the large conical Moundbuilders Indian Mound in the center, and never dreaming that now, every trip to Marietta would include a visit to place where it is now their final rest.
The cemetery, rimmed by uneven brick streets, is also unique in that many founders of Marietta and former Revolutionary War Soldiers are buried here with a map of the cemetery indicating their names and locations. But for me, the names are the names of my classmates and friends' families. Col William Stacy, Col Buell, Rufus Putnam, Whipple, Bartlett, may be the names on the historic grave markers from the 1700's, but the last names are those the rolls of Washington Elementary School, Marietta Junior High and Marietta High School. I recall being in their homes, working with them at the Marietta Pool, and being in English class with them.
From the cemetery, we park at the corner of 7th and Wooster Streets, my home, or what I will always consider my home. The current owners have left it unchanged now for the past 12 years, the last time my parents lived there, and I am conflicted on whether that is good or bad.
The positive is that it floods our thoughts with so many good memories. My Dad warming up my car in the driveway for me during high school, building the garage door himself, and building the deck with my husband when we were first married. His squirrel feeder that so delighted him is now broken but still there and the eagle is still above the front door. For so long his proud Marine 4th Division insignia was still on the garage door window. It is eerie and beckoning to us as if to say, come in. Mom will be in the kitchen and Dad will be in his chair in the living room, and they will be so thrilled to see us.
But that quickly fades, as the sun does on a cloudy day, and we disappointedly pull away from the curb, knowing that Mom and Dad no longer wait at the window, looking forward to our visit, ready to call my sister and nieces and nephews to get the entire family together as only the bedlam of family time can cause.
Trips to Marietta are still special, for every trip with my daughter is special. Just as she was a little girl, and now a young woman, I am still seeing Marietta through her eyes, and she has always loved these trips, and so have I.
Can we go home again? Yes. Of course we can. But it is different. The sights, sounds, and smells of Marietta in many ways are the same. Sun glistening off the river while small waves lap on the old brick levee.
In the middle of the night, as we slept in the Captain's Room, the night was split by a sound only those who live on the river know, the blaring whistle from the Pilot's house of a barge, rounding the curve at the mouth of the Muskingum as the barge slowly traverses toward the Williamstown Bridge.
At our home on 7th Street, as I lay in my bed, we were often lucky enough to hear those loud whistles as the Delta Queen, the Mississippi Queen, and the American Queen would announce to the entire town that they were docking at the levee. The calliope and Dixieland band played River Boat favorites, and we would rush downtown to the levee to see the travelers disembark and gaze in awe at the magnificence of these Mark Twain era paddle boats
In the Hotel Lafayette this trip, as the barge continues to blast its large whistle to warn all other river travelers, I wake again, and for a short time, I am home. On the river. Where I belong, and where generations of my family have lived, and will live always in my mind.