135 Highland Drive

photo of the outside of 135 Highland Drive from Google Street View
Google Street View photo captured September 2013

I knew when we left 135 Highland Drive that cold day in February 2011 that I would never step foot across the threshold again. My grandparents’ house, where we had so many Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas mornings, visits with cousins and extended family, birthday celebrations, gatherings for funerals …

Nearly every room holds memories. The upstairs bedroom, where I spent nights with my cousins, talking and giggling late into the night. The kitchen, where I kept Grandma company while she watched her soap operas or prepared a meal. The dining room, where we had many Thanksgiving dinners and games of Trivial Pursuit. The living room, where we spent hours playing Tetris. The family room, scene of our Christmas mornings. The patio, where we spent many summer days talking and laughing.

Grandma's kitchen
Grandma’s kitchen (photo by Marcus England)
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Grandpa on Christmas morning
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Me in the kitchen with Grandma, just before I moved to Germany in 2003

Even the backyard, where we played badminton. And the front yard, where we climbed the tree. (It was cut down eventually. It was a sad day.)

That house was my lodestar. No matter where I was or what was going on in my life, I always found my way back there.

My family moved a few times during my childhood. First, from a house around the corner from 135 Highland Drive to a place across town. Then out of town entirely, two hours south to Columbus. My brothers and I temporarily lived at 135 Highland Drive during that time while my parents were getting settled in.

Then a few more moves after that – still in Columbus – but to different houses on the westside.

But the house at 135 Highland Drive was always there, and my grandparents still in it.

I lived there again in 1996 during my fall semester at Bowling Green State University – my final semester at BGSU before transferring to Ohio State.

Even when I wasn’t living there, it was often more of a home to me at certain points of my life than wherever I happened to be living at the time.

After Grandpa died in 1999, the house stayed much the same. It just felt emptier.

The Thanksgiving dinners continued. The Christmas dinners. The family celebrations. I grew up, as did my cousins, and a new generation discovered the joys of visiting Grandma’s house.

My nieces raiding Grandma's toy cabinet in October 2010
My nieces raiding Grandma’s toy cabinet in October 2010

When Grandma went into hospice care in 2011, we stayed at her house. We all knew it would be the last time. My brother wisely recorded a video walk-through of the house, though I’m sure we all have every room committed to memory.

Her passing was devastating. Walking out of that house for the final time wrecked me.

The hospital bought her house. Over the years, the hospital slowly bought up all the properties in the neighborhood and demolished them to enlarge the parking lot. Grandma’s house was the only one still standing. We knew the hospital would buy it, and we assumed it would become a parking lot right away.

But the house at 135 Highland Drive stood. For nearly nine years, it stood. We drove by it every time we were in town, and the outside stayed pretty much the same. The landscaping changed some. But I could almost imagine it was still Grandma’s house and she was still there.

And now it’s gone.

I got the text yesterday from Mom. She met my aunt in town, and my aunt drove by.

Gone.

I’m sure the reality of it won’t hit me until I see it myself. But as I write this now, I stop to close my eyes. And I can picture the house as if it’s still standing there, pulsing with life and love.

My lodestar.

 

Tights and Tutus and Christmas Tradition

The holiday season is now in full swing, though I’ve barely managed to do anything so far. I at least started my shopping and have some decorations up. (No tree, yet – not until tomorrow.) And I’m about halfway through my cards.

Later today, I will indulge in one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

I grew up with The American Ballet Theatre’s 1977 version of The Nutcracker, starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland. It debuted on PBS when I was just two years old, and it became a holiday staple. I was enraptured by it as a little girl, and I am sure this was a big reason I had dreams of being a ballerina. (Never came close to that dream, though I took a ballet class when I was at Ohio State as one of my electives.)

Mom and I watch this every year. As I got older, I began to see how very cheesy a lot of this production is. It’s very dated – a lot of ‘70s hair going on, for starters. And the special effects are laughable now. It’s a bit anachronistic, given that the story is set in the 19th century. And Drosselmeyer…. oh, Drosselmeyer. This Drosselmeyer is especially entertaining. In a goofy way.

But the dancing is swoonworthy. Baryshnikov and Kirkland are absolute magic together. And I have never seen a male dancer yet who can compare to Baryshnikov in his prime (which is when this was filmed). Holy moly, his solos just blow my mind.

I’m glad Mom and I are in the same geographic area now so we can watch this together. While I was living in Germany, Seattle, and Maryland, we at least tried to watch it on the same day. There were a few years when we’d watch it at the same time and discuss it over the phone. (We now have this MST3K sort of thing going on with it.) A tradition is a tradition, and we did our best to maintain it even if I was halfway around the world.

So, Mom, prepare the eggnog. I’ll be over in a few hours.

Thankful

Some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around Thanksgiving. That was always the big holiday in my family.

We’d gather at my grandparents’ house in Findlay, Ohio. My aunt and cousins would drive in from Illinois. I had cousins who would come from South Carolina. For a few days each year, we would eat, laugh, play several games of Trivial Pursuit, and just generally enjoy being in each other’s company.

The last time I remember one of these big Thanksgivings was, I think, in 2005. I may be off by a year or so. My husband and I came in from Germany. It snowed. A LOT. I’ll always remember that – not only for the snow (which was a bit unusual) but also because Thanksgiving changed after that.

That’s how life works, doesn’t it? The grandkids grow up and get married. They get busier with adult responsibilities. It becomes more difficult to get together in large groups.

Our grandparents are gone now. Grandpa passed away in 1999, Grandma in 2011 (the last time we were all together again like old times was for her funeral). And with Grandma’s death, we had to say goodbye to their home forever. No more family gatherings there, no more making memories.

Thanksgivings have been smaller since then.

For several years, we couldn’t make it to Ohio. Thanksgivings in Seattle often included friends. In Maryland, we either had a quiet Thanksgiving at home – just the two of us with the dogs, or I ended up alone because my husband had other commitments. (Military life!) I didn’t mind being alone – I had the dogs after all. I made myself a nice meal, spent the entire day in my pajamas, and binge-watched TV.

Since we moved to Columbus, Thanksgivings have been at my parents’ place. My aunt and uncle come down from Cleveland. My youngest cousin, a student at Ohio University, also joins us. It’s the new normal, and I’ll always reminisce about those earlier Thanksgivings with a slight ache in my heart. I miss my grandparents. I miss those times.

Today, I’m thankful I have those memories. I’m thankful to have such a large, loving, joyful family that loves being together. I realize that I’m lucky. Not everyone had such happy times with their families. For some, holidays are fraught with anxiety and drama.

This morning, I will make my family favorite macaroni and cheese and some apple crisp. In a few hours, we’ll head over to my folks’ place for a wonderful feast. I still love Thanksgiving. It’s not as exciting now as it was when I was growing up, but it’s still family time, good food, and laughter.