Coming to Ohio is the difference between visiting a place and visiting people. For us, Ohio is synonymous with family.
My dad was a native of Columbus and met my mom in high school soon after her family moved from a suburb of Philadelphia. They were high-school sweethearts, both attended Ohio State University, and then they married, moving to California as newlyweds in the early ’60s. Next summer they will celebrate their Golden Anniversary.
I am proud to have roots in Ohio. It is physically beautiful, known for its Midwestern values, and has more bragging rights than most states. Among the many famous Ohioans is Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the Wright Brothers, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and Steven Spielberg. Seven U.S. presidents were born in Ohio.
Ohio gave America its first hot dog in 1900. (Thank you Harry M. Stevens!) The Cincinnati Reds were the first professional baseball team. Play-Doh, microwave ovens, traffic lights, and the first Hoover vacuum cleaner were all invented in the Buckeye State.
But for us, the big attraction in Ohio is family. My own childhood memories of visiting Columbus center on marathon playing sessions that seemed endless as the grown-ups sat and visited and ate in the other room. I was jealous of my cousins’ basement and intrigued by the fact that there was no fence that separated their yard from their neighbors’ yard.
The first snowball fight I ever had was in Ohio.
My joy didn’t have a voice yet, because I was a kid and took it for granted. The safe, warm fuzzy feeling of the whole mishpucha being together.
This was an important stop on our road trip. I put school on hold while in Ohio. The four days we were there, we didn’t crack a book or learn anything substantial about the history of the state. We didn’t visit any museums or national landmarks. I relaxed about the kids’ journal writing.
From generation to generation, creating joyous memories with family is just as treasured as a national monument, as valuable as a historic landmark and as meaningful as an exhibit in a museum.
The most important order of business was eating Chinese food and watching movies on a rainy night, a giggly midnight run to the Waffle House, collecting nuts that had fallen from the buckeye tree in the backyard, putting on a show for the grown-ups in Aunt Myra’s and Uncle Bernie’s basement – while the Ohio State football game played on the TV.
For me, the visit was also bittersweet. After almost 40 years of visits centered on joyous occasions; weddings, births, bar and bat mitzvahs, three years ago our family was rocked with the crushing news of the untimely death of my cousin Eric – leaving behind a beautiful wife and two small children.
Eric was the “cool” cousin. Larger than life. We all wanted to be as funny and talented as him. He was like a human magnet and no one could resist the pull of his charisma and generous heart.
The void Eric left hurts the family every day but, as my cousin Dave put it, his candle burned bright, illuminating the lives of countless people for a brief time.
Time is indeed brief and all of our candles will one day only be burning in someone’s memory. Being together in Ohio the past few days, I could literally feel the glow of the kids’ laughter warming the room.
Ohio holds more treasure than the California gold rush for me. It makes my heart soar higher than the Rocky Mountains and the love for my family is deeper than the Grand Canyon. In the more than 3,000 miles we’ve covered since leaving California, the ones in Ohio were some of the most important. I am confident this was a lesson my kids passed with flying colors.