You CAN Go Home Again: Part 2
My home town of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, is often described as a charming little burgh with a bit of a New England flavor. In the center of town is a completely natural waterfall tumbling over a broad shale shelf. Some say the name comes from the fact that Native Americans in the area were “chagrined” when they came to that point in the river and had to portage their canoes around it. This seems unlikely to me. I don’t know if anyone really knows the true origin of the town’s name, but it is certainly a lovely little town with a lovely waterfall, and I have always been proud to call it home.
We don’t start our day here, however. First there is breakfast, packing up, and spending a leisurely hour feeding the alpacas and goats, and playing with the dogs one final time.
Next we head back to my first childhood home for some more pictures, and then on to the caves – the spot my grandkids fell in love with the evening before.
I watch them scramble down and am dying to climb all the way down there with them. Having given my camera to my grandson the evening before, I can tell that it is all just as I remember. I long to stand in that magical place – with my grandkids. But, oh dear, probably too risky, a little voice in my head keeps repeating. I have never fully recovered from a fall on the ice in which I badly broke my ankle and leg. Plus, this is only the first full day of a whole week with my grandkids. What if I reinjure myself scrambling down a rocky hillside…?
The evening before, I had decided I would NOT attempt it. However, with a fresh perspective this morning, the discovery of a different way down, and the encouragement of my grandchildren, I tackle the trek – with no injuries and no regrets! Even successfully navigated the stream full of slippery rocks at the bottom!
It’s still one of the most beautiful places on earth and every nook and cranny seems to hold some happy childhood memory. I don’t rush my grandkids, but let them explore, and climb, and splash in the water to their hearts’ content.
What finally evicts us is “nature’s call” so we head back up the road to the former neighbors we’d bumped into the night before. While the oldest grandchild uses their bathroom, the youngest gets a little more time with “Ritzi,” her newfound friend.Taking a trail back into their woods, we cross over into the beech forest behind my second childhood home.
I knock on the door of the current owners but when no one answers, I surreptitiously take a few pictures. The house is greatly altered, as I already knew, but the beauty of the natural setting; the long, sloping circular driveway; the large boulder in the front yard – they are all like old friends.
Plus, a wonderful discovery! The large field across from our driveway looks unaltered. Surprised that it hasn’t been built on, I learn it never will be because it’s been designated a certified wildlife habitat, maintained especially for birds. We hop the fence (including me!) to walk along the side of the habitat, hoping to meet some horses and burros rumored to be grazing behind the preserve, but we never find them.
“At the beginning of the trip, I told my grandkids matter-of-factly that Grammy would cry at some point during the trip. They looked surprised. I went on to say, “It’s okay. When you’re the same age as your parents, you will understand. When you are Grammy’s age, you will definitely understand. And don’t worry; I’ll be fine. Just bear with me.“
Walking back along the fence and passing the birdhouses in the nature preserve, I suddenly know this is that point. My mother, the quintessential nature-loving tree-hugger with a special affinity for birds, would have been thrilled by the fact that the field directly across from our house is now dedicated to her feathered friends.
Suddenly I miss my mother fiercely, and the tears well up.
“I need a hug,” I tell my two granddaughters. The three of us stand there for a moment in a silent embrace before my younger granddaughter bends down and picks a small buttercup to cheer me up. The moment passes and we pile back into our car, heading for the falls.
You can’t visit Chagrin Falls without also visiting, well…the falls. It’s our own miniature “Niagara Falls” for although smaller (of course), it is mighty, and the thundering water drowns out most conversation.It’s also essential that we visit the Popcorn Shop at the top of the falls. (A warning, however: three bags of flavored popcorn, three milkshakes, and a small dish of ice cream set me back $45!)
To finish our treats, we cross the street to the park upriver by the manmade falls and enjoy the antics of the geese there who skim close to the edge, but never slip over!
My grandchildren are only mildly interested as a take them on a short tour of where I attended church, where we bought our groceries, where I worked as a waitress during high school. Not too exciting…
The real excitement lies down the river where a local blacksmith carved a huge boulder at night by lamplight, finishing it in 1885. Although the elements, time, and vandals have chipped away some of the original sculpture, it is surprisingly well-preserved for being 135 years old! Among other things, it depicts a Native American maiden, a papoose, a skeleton, and a quiver of arrows.
A friend of the Native Americans, the sculptor – Henry Church – originally named the rock, “The Rape of the Indian by the White Man.” During my childhood, it was known as “Squaw Rock.” To honor the sculptor and downplay controversy, the name has been officially changed to simply “Henry Church Rock.”
Moving upstream, we wade into the water to try our luck at catching crayfish. I am replaying a memory crystal clear in my own mind: standing ankle-deep in the Chagrin River with my mother as she teaches me how to catch crayfish. I remember what kinds of rocks to look for, how to move them carefully to avoid muddying the water, and how to place my cup behind the crayfish because they always shoot backward.
She taught me well for first we catch “Chester” and then “Bob.” Several others are not with us long enough to receive names because they are inadvertently set free when my grandson slips on a moss-covered rock and upends our bucket.
I remember the thrill of outsmarting a lightening-quick crayfish and I see the same thrill mirrored on the faces of my grandchildren. At one point I ask them, “Do you know who you are meeting here today?” They seem puzzled as they look around, for no one else is in this part of the river. “My mother,” I tell them. I think they understand.
By the time we finally scramble out of the river, we are wet and muddy…but very happy. My 12-year-old granddaughter is triumphant because she has finally caught a minnow. Their only disappointment centers around failing to catch any water striders. Oh my, but that’s nearly impossible, I try to tell them!
I pull out wipes to clean us up and dig out some dry clothes, for my sister is expecting us for dinner. My sister’s jewel of an historic home set on 10 acres is an oasis to us on this hot day. She has all the chairs in a properly socially distanced circle on her lawn. After some lemonade, the kids are off to explore the towering groves of bamboo (does that really grow in Ohio?), cutting some down to fashion into bows and arrows.
After dinner, my sister brings out an actual archery set. How much fun can three kids have in a single day?
All too soon, we must leave this green corner of Ohio and head two hours down the road, closer to our eventual goal of Michigan. It has been a full day, and my heart is full, as well, when my 12-year-old granddaughter tells me, “Grammy, your childhood is the childhood of my dreams!”
Perhaps you can never fully go home. Much of my childhood is just gone – the apple tree in the front yard, the Indian grist mill. Many others are altered beyond recognition. But some things are still the same – the falls, the river, the caves. Perhaps even Chester and Bob are distantly related to crayfish I caught and released all those many summers ago?
I choose to embrace what remains, grateful for this opportunity.
The trip has been surprisingly inexpensive but would have been worth it at double the price. As the the old MasterCard ad would say: Gas, food and two accommodations? Less than $300. Sharing childhood memories with your grandchildren: Priceless.
I have two other sets of grandchildren, and I will not wait so long to take them “home” again, as well.
Have you moved away from your childhood home? Have you been back to see what’s still the same…and what is no more? Have you ever taken your grandchildren back there to make you – and your stories – “come alive”?