Thursday, October 28, 2010

Northeast Ohio

At the corner of Ghent Road and Market Street in Akron, OH, sat a former Long John Silver's restaurant converted into a business called Cavalier Cleaners. It has since closed, but while it operated, the outside sign featured a cavalier. But he was bow-legged, had his arms raised in a lazy "touchdown" style, and the lines of the drawing looked muddy like a very old tattoo. That cavalier didn't look very authoritative. Daughter Emily, still in middle school at the time, started to call the place Funky Man Cleaners. Subsequently we never called it anything else!

My family and I lived in Akron, OH for nine years: 2000 to 2009. We’ve lived several places over the years. One town was wonderful but very far from family, so it never quite felt like home. One town felt both snooty and vibrant, and another town had both unwelcoming and positive qualities. Still another location was wonderful and welcoming but we lived there too soon in our lives to set down roots.

But ... Akron and Northeast Ohio always felt like home to me. Although I knew we probably wouldn’t stay there forever, it felt like the first place we'd lived where setting down roots would be (barring the unforeseen) happy and possible. If we hadn’t moved to a city where we already had deep roots--the St. Louis area---I’d be feeling very homesick for Akron rather than happily grateful for our time there. Beth and I felt fulfilled and valued in our jobs at University of Akron. I loved the classes I taught, appreciated several colleagues, and greatly enjoyed teaching the wonderful UAkron students. I think Emily liked middle school and high school about as much as any of us do---sort of, sort of not---but she loved the area, too.

When you live at a place for a while, you have familiar locations and family inside-jokes, like "Funky Man Cleaners." Although we usually shopped at Summit Mall, we sometimes drove to the other side of town to the Chapel Hill Mall. The "c h" on the nearby water tower was so stylized that the "h" looked like a "b," so we started calling the place Chapel Bill. Of course, we had lots of favorite shopping places, both in there in Summit County and in nearby Cleveland.

And ... lots of favorite restaurants, too. I think ours was Max and Erma's in Fairlawn, although we had several, including the now-defunct Joe's Crab Shack near "Chapel Bill." Two coffee places stand out. I discovered a shop called Coco's Coffee and loved to do my laptop work there until it unexpectedly closed. Happily, someone else bought the place and reopened it as Nervous Dog a year or two later. The place still thrives, so the new owner obviously had a better business plan (and knew how to "build community"). Daughter Emily liked the hot chocolate at the nearby Caribou Coffee, so we often went there, too.

I still think of driving down one of Akron’s main thoroughfares, and touring along on the interstates, and feeling very happy. Certain streets were typical routes: Copley Road, Market Street, Memorial Drive, Portage Trail, Ghent Road, Schocalog Drive, Ridgewood Road, Cleveland-Massillon Road. Emily learned to drive in and around Akron, so the streets and highways carry personal memories of teenage driving lessons. The three of us also loved the hiking in and around Akron. In particular, we liked to hike at the Nature Realm park.

We made numerous friends, which I hope will last for many years. Two of my best friendships have continued uninterrupted--truly "BFF's"--and thank goodness for Facebook and its possibilities of ongoing contacts. I should give a "shout out" to the Summit Choral Society, of which Emily was a member for six or seven years. The society not only enriched her musical life but gave all three of us a little "community" of singers, parents of singers, and society staff that met during many, many rehearsal times and also traveled together domestically and overseas. Their website is

If you move a certain amount, as we do, you begin to confuse places in your mind. After moving to St Louis a year ago, I struggled to remember where, for instance, the Home Depot is, because I still had a strong mental picture of the store in Akron! I miss the Target store in Akron because it was very convenient to our home and very accessible. “Our” Target here has a congested parking lot which it shares with several other stores, much less convenient. We loved the Border's store in the Fairlawn area of Akron, and liked the Barnes and Noble, too.

I'm leaving out many things about Akron and Northeast Ohio that I miss: just because I haven't mentioned it here (in the interest of space) doesn't mean it wasn't important to me or to all three of us. Our house and neighborhood comprise lovely memories about which I'll write another time. Of course there were down sides to Akron, as there are to any location where you love. In one town (not Akron) where we lived, I called a store and said I needed new fabric for my sofa. "We only do reupholstering," the person snapped. “.... Okay,” I said and hung up before calling the person a bad word. Unfortunately, too many encounters at this place had similar characteristics of testiness, indifference, or disapproval with sincere best efforts--and it's hard to feel upbeat about a location when, after a few years, you're eager to start fresh somewhere else, even though you're nevertheless grateful for the good times and good people you've met. Akron was an abundantly positive place to live. Before we moved, I even said goodbye and thank you to some folks I only knew casually: e.g., checkers and stock people at the grocery store, the baristas at Caribou, and others. I hope that our first return trip will be the first of ongoing future visits to a beloved place: northeast Ohio.

(Wow, I wrote this whole piece without once mentioning an obvious aspect of northeast Ohio: SNOW!!!!!!!)

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