TITLE: All Good Things 7-15-15
By Zacharia Fox
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When I was a boy, my grandpa told me, "David, you're gonna need a lotta therapy when you grow up."
He reminded me of John Wayne, and l liked when he talked, even when I had no idea what he was talking about.
"Pops, what's that mean?" I asked.
"What do you love son? What do you love to do?"
"Well, I like to write stories I guess."
We stared out over that patch of the Ohio River Valley that I'd always call home, and Pops almost smiled. He puffed out that cigarette smoke that I'd always love, because it reminded me of him, and said, "It means someday, you'll have to write the story of your life. And then maybe you'll understand why better than me."
I still didn't know what he meant, but somehow I thought he was right. And there, standing next him on the deck, looking over the Ohio River into Kentucky, I always felt older. I was the oldest of all my siblings, and all the grandkids, and that mattered to me. I thought it meant Pops and I had something special. I still do, I suppose.
Pops and my grandma, who I affectionately called 'Minga', raised their family Catholic, as was normal on the west side of Cincinnati. Once, at one of my cousin's baptisms, I asked Pops why we went to church.
"Just in case," he said grinning. "Just in case everything the priest says is true." He was a funny sort of agnostic, and sometimes I'd see his eyes mist over when he'd listen to Amazing Grace. That hymn may have been all he had in common with my father.
My father, Dave Cross, was from the west side as well. He was raised Pentecostal; or what Pops referred to as "a band of pew jumpers." My grandpa, my dad's dad, was always studying from some Hebrew concordance or blowing the genuine shofar he'd bought in Tel Aviv.
Sometimes, Grandpa Cross would say to me, "You're Jewish David! You're a son of Abraham." I never knew if he meant that our ancestors were Jewish, or if I was a son of Abraham because I was a Christian. So I'd just smile and blow the shofar in whatever authentic call he'd taught me that day. When Pops heard I could blow the shofar, his lips curled, but he managed to hold his wit.
I don't think either set of grandparents approved of the marriage, which only encouraged my parents. And so, young, naive and forbidden as Romeo and Juliet, my parents were married. "At least he's a west-sider," Pops said of my dad.
On the east side of Cincinnati, if you were to ask someone what school they went to, they'd say something like, the "University of Cincinnati", or whatever college they went to. On the west side, if you were to ask that same question, you'd get an answer like, "Oak Hills", or "Elder", or whatever high-school they went to. The east side seemed an extension of downtown with its modern apartments and small skyscrapers, whereas the west side was a perpetual suburbia stretching all the way to Indiana. The east was about progress; the west was about history.
On the west side it wasn't uncommon for your school teachers to have taught your parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins; because neither your teachers nor you family moved away. My father, like my mother, had parents and grandparents that still lived on the west side. That, at least, gave Pops hope that my mom would stay close after the wedding.
But my father never was one to make Pops happy. A few weeks after the wedding my father shipped out for the Coast Guard, and I was born only a few weeks before he was stationed in Jonesport, Maine.
It was in Maine I found my first memories, and my first brother, Bruce, named after Pops. When my dad was transferred off the coast of Virginia, my sister Marie was born. A few years later, James surprised us on our Christmas trip to Cincinnati. It seemed like the kids came as often as the transfers, and so I wasn't surprised when Michael was born off the coast of Lake Michigan in Chicago.
I liked traveling, but I liked most, our trip back to Cincinnati every Christmas. There, the aunts, uncles and cousins would fill Pops and Minga's ranch, with everything most precious to me. I'd follow Pops out onto the deck for his smoke break, and pretend my breath, in the winter air, was cigarette smoke. We'd stare over the bare trees at the Ohio river, and I'd catch a whiff of his cigarette, and smile.
That acreage was a staple in my life, amidst all the change and travel. It was only at Christmas, with my family so very much like the west side, I found that unique sense of belonging called home.
My mom told me, you should never meet a problem without prayer, and she practiced what she preached. So I prayed to move back to Cincinnati. My mom said, "When we pray we should believe and not doubt. The doubter won't receive anything from God." I believed so much that I asked God when we were moving, instead of if.
February popped into my head, and I knew it was God who put it there. When February came and went, my mom tried to console me. But at the beginning of February the following year, we moved into our house, on the west side of Cincinnati. As I was unpacking boxes in my new bedroom, I knew God had heard my pray. God had brought me home. And to top it all off, shortly after we were settled, Molly made us a family of eight.
When he was in the Coast Guard, my father drank like the sailor he was, and it almost cost him his marriage. For him, moving back was a fresh start, and he swore off the booze the day Molly was born. I overheard my mom telling Pops all this, when Pops said, "Renee, he can move where ever he wants. The problem is, where ever he goes he has to take himself."
For the first time I can remember I disagreed with Pops. Things were going to be different. And for a while, they were. But all good things come to an end.
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