Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Write for the BIOGRAPHICAL Genre (12/04/14)
- TITLE: The West Side
By Zacharia Fox
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When I was a boy, my grandpa told me, "David, you're gonna need a lot'a 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.
"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 cigarette smoke, and said, "It means someday, you'll have to write out your story. And then maybe you'll understand it better than me."
I still didn't know what he meant, but somehow I knew he was right. 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 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, Jim 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 from Tel Aviv.
Sometimes, Grandpa Cross would say, "You're Jewish David! A son of Abraham." I never knew if our ancestors were Jewish, or if I was a son of Abraham because I was a Christian. So I'd smile and blow the shofar in whatever 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 Juliette, 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 name a college. On the west side, they'd tell you what high-school they went to. The east side seemed an extension of downtown with its modern apartments and small skyscrapers, where as the west side was a perpetual suburbia. The east was about progress, where 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 off to the coast guard, and I was born only a month before he was stationed in Maine.
In Maine my first brother, Bruce, was born. My sister Marie came off the coast of Virginia. A few years later, James surprised us on our Christmas vacation, back in Cincinnati. It seemed, a new sibling came as often as the transfers, and so I wasn't surprised when Michael was born 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.
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