While never my own hometown, Van Wert, Ohio holds enough elements of my family history to make walking its streets feel a bit like a homecoming. It’s the sort of place where mention of a family name brings recognition tied to the members of multiple generations. It is the town where my mother grew up, and the place we returned to for reunions, weddings and funerals. Over recent years the return trips were more often for funerals. This past weekend, we said our goodbyes to Grandma.
Death no longer feels like an unusual event but rather an inevitable transition. Her life was 93 years long and full of most of the things she had hoped for. I will miss her, but there is no tragedy in the ending of a long and fruitful life. I wonder if I will miss Van Wert, too. Her burial may have been my last reason to make the two and a half hour journey through flattened farmlands to this little town in northwest Ohio. Last Monday may have been my last time to sit in the church where my parents were married and where my maternal grandparents have now both been memorialized.
We stayed next door to the first home at which I remember visiting Grandma on Washington Street. Our rooms at the Hughes Inn, an Arts & Crafts Mission style bungalow now operating as a bed and breakfast, allowed me to peek at will into some memories next door. I wandered down to the stream that was off limits to me as a child and then ran past some other personal landmarks on my morning run. Yes, it was all smaller and fitted more closely together than I remembered, but I expected that.
As I ran past the fairgrounds, the reservoir and golf course, the unusual black squirrels common to Van Wert county, and my grandparents’ “dream home” on nearby Walnut Street, I remembered talking about the details of long ago visits with Grandma during our last time together in her care center’s dining room. She always loved listening to shared memories. The stories of playing “dress up” with her old clothes, putting on a circus for the neighborhood children and swinging from the willow trees that lined the lane behind her favorite home… The moments were singularly insignificant, but together they added up to her investments in me and her other grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I like to think that my retelling those old stories told her in a tangible way how very much she has mattered in my life.