We drove away from Grandma Peckinpaugh’s house with a couple of ghosts reflected in the rear view mirror, turned left onto McConnelsville Road and drove to our next stop, the Manchester Cemetery. Adjacent to an abandoned church, this would be the first of three graveyards we’d visit that day, the final resting spot of many of Cuba’s side of the family, the Peckinpaugh’s and the Swanks.
After walking through the property and checking out the church, we rolled on to stop briefly at the Kildow Cemetery where we found more Pickenpaugh’s and Swanks.
From there it was off to Hoskinsville for the largest of the graveyards and the greatest number of relatives from both sides of my Mom’s family.
It was getting pretty warm as we walked around; viewing the headstones of folks we’ve met and those we’d only heard of.
I must admit that as clichéd as this will sound, when I came upon Aunt Ola’s (Charlie’s sister) and Aunt Clarice’s (Cuba’s), I paused, as they all loomed larger than life in the memory of this west coast boy who only saw them once every five years or so, those graves filling me with recollections of those times and places.
Ola and Clyde owned a farm and we visited there when I was eight years old. They had no running water or indoor plumbing. On the upside of the ledger I got to milk a cow (stepped in a large pile of cow flop) and ride on the farm’s tractor. On the downside I didn’t, or let’s say couldn’t bring myself, to use the outhouse for purposes of one of two basic functions of bodily elimination (I’ll let you guess which one). By the end of our seemingly endless stay on the farm (actually just a day or so) I was one stopped up little boy.
From Hoskinsville we drove on into Belle Valley, Mom and Dale’s birthplace. I’d last visited here in 2005 with Jessica while we were on a pre-college field trip checking out universities she was interested in (American and George Washington in DC, Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and NYU in New York City) and we stopped briefly on our drive to Pittsburg from Washington DC). Before that it would have been way back in 1984 when Joanna and I were crossing the U.S. in our VW Rabbit Convertible on the way home from Europe.
Being lunchtime, we first stopped to see if our cousin Bernard, who owns the gas station in town was around (he was at home taking a nap) and so parked in front of the restaurant next door, Marianne’s Food Station. From the outside, and once inside, it wasn’t a place to inspire confidence but when all was said and done, it ended up being one of the more memorable and pleasant dining experiences of the trip.
A couple of us ordered the Texas Burger, hand formed patty on a bun with BBQ sauce and an onion ring. The meat was cooked perfectly and tasted like it had been out in the pasture until just last week. Drinks were easy, sodas for most of us. It was all simple and very satisfying. Uncle Dale chatted up the waitress, who of course knew most of the folks he mentioned and we had yet another trip down memory lane, this time with enough food to tide us over through dinner.
We returned to the Best Western and relaxed, Joanna and Bev hitting the indoor pool while I enjoyed a beer or two sitting around the room. Later we’d head over to Lori’s, most folks just ordering a piece of pie. I got the French Onion soup, which was as satisfying as lunch had been, rich savory broth, loads of cheese melted on top. All in all it had been a fine day of food and reminiscing.
The next day, our last together as a group, featured a short drive down to Marietta, a town steeped in history at the junction of Muskingum and Ohio Rivers.
Our plan was to take the 90-minute cruise at noon on the Valley Gem Sternwheeler, but arriving a bit early we parked in their lot and perused the outdoor exhibits of the Ohio River Museum, the indoor portion being closed for the day.
At the appropriate time we queued up, purchased our tickets ($14 for adults) and found a table on the upper deck as we pushed off from the dock. I went downstairs and jumped the food line, nearly out the door, to order a round of drinks; two beers and a gin and tonic for a very reasonable $15. The young woman working the cash register and tending bar didn’t have much experience at the craft, so I guided her through the steps of making the drink.
After we pulled out onto the Ohio from the Muskingum a fast moving rainstorm caught up to us, which we weathered for a time under the deck awning before eventually capitulating and heading downstairs to the cabin. Returning to the dock we drove a short distance into town parking in front of the Marietta Brewing Company where we ordered a round of beers and a few appetizers to hold us over until dinner.
The generous portions and nicely crafted brews held us over the rest of the afternoon, as we moved just a couple of blocks down the street to our lodging for the night, The Lafayette Hotel, an historic property right on the river. Built by Marietta businessmen and opened in 1918, it is named for the Marquis de Lafayette, and a plaque near the Hotel marks the spot where he came ashore in Marietta, touted by locals as the first tourist to visit when he came here in 1825.
I’d booked us a larger room as none in the hotel had two beds; ours had a sleeper sofa for Bev, a great view of the river and two, yes two, bathrooms, leading me to believe that it might have been two separate rooms at one time. While the girls went shopping I relaxed in the room, a gentle breeze of the river blowing through an open window, and caught up on news, email, and blogging.
For dinner that night we decided to eat at the hotel in one of their two restaurants, the Riverview Lounge. When we arrived only one other table was occupied and we had a pleasant initial exchange with the sole employee at the time, the bartender. And he would remain as the only person serving (although he did have the help of a lone busboy) which became a problem as the room filled up and soon reached capacity.
At our table, Joanna chose a half order of the Crab Cakes (served with garlic red skin mashed potatoes, and broccoli florets with a lemon aioli) and I the Fish and Chips. The food was quite good, nicely prepared and cooked and was a highlight of the number of meals we had shared in such a short period of time. The only downside to the evening was the slowness of the service, a direct result of the lack of staffing, our friendly bartender doing an admirable job in the face of such adversity.
Debbie, Marshall and Uncle Dale needed to get an early start the next morning as they had a long drive ahead of them, down into Tennessee with two stops along the way. We all met downstairs for breakfast in the Gun Room (the other dining facility) for another free breakfast of impressive proportions. Basically you got a standard egg/meat/potato combo or a five-dollar credit towards anything else on the menu.
Bev, Joanna and I would have a full day as well, with a drive up to Cleveland after we returned to the Ohio River Museum to see the exhibits we’d missed the day before. I opted for a veggie omelet and added ham to it, a wholly satisfying combination of the right proportions of onion, tomato, broccoli and squash.
We all finished eating and settled our checks, then arranged ourselves on a stage in the room for the only group photo we managed to take during our time together. It was four days worth commemorating, spending quality time with Uncle Dale, hearing his stories, reliving our own memories, and connecting to the ghosts of long dead ancestors. Of all of the trips we’ve taken, this one may stay with us the longest, knowing that we may not ever be able to duplicate it. And that’s what makes a journey like this precious.
Ohio River Museum: http://www.campusmartiusmuseum.org/river.html
Valley Gem: http://www.valleygemsternwheeler.com/
Marietta Brewing Company: http://mbcpub.com/
The Lafayette: http://www.lafayettehotel.com/