read an article once that said you should never date (or eventually marry) someone you can’t travel with, and as far as advice goes, that’s in the same ballpark as shacking up before putting a ring on it — another warning I ignored on my trek down the altar. So much of my life — pre-wife and family — was all about me. I liked being single, no, scratch that, I loved being single. When I even dared to dream about marriage, I had a secret fantasy where my spouse and I would live in separate houses, commuting back and forth. That fantasy had less to do with spicing things up in terms of creating a series of mini-vacations around our domestic situation; I simply wanted to have my own space and assumed my wife would, too.
Of course, I look back now and laugh at the silly daydreams of a foolish young man I’ve left behind. I know him so well, walked a long while down the road of life with him, but I have to say that I’m enjoying the company and comfort of others, especially my wife when we’re on the road together.
Almost six years in and hitting the highways and byways with her is far less about thrills and adventures than the intimate pleasures of finding home in any and every dot we place on the map. In the beginning, we talked about the future — the empty-nesting days to come when the girls are in college and we’re no longer shackled to the Queen City. Would we be East Coast-bound (she’s a native New Yorker) or would hospitality of the South (I bleed Carolina blue, thank you) lure us down for some home cooking? Or maybe the West Coast (thanks to our fantastic mid-December honeymoon in San Diego) would blind us to the threat of sliding off into the ocean?
In between all of the talk, though, there’s been steady travel. Trips all along the Northeast corridor, in both summer and winter (I have to admit that winter — anywhere — is a real turnoff for me), from the mountains to the coast of North Carolina and all-too brief stops in Michigan and Chicago, sometimes with the girls, sometimes without. At various points we find ourselves wondering if this spot could be our final destination.
Lately, though, the tone and tenor of our travelogue has changed, ever so slightly, shifting to a comparison between the allure of the other and the place we have feared to call home. My wife has now officially lived in Cincinnati longer than New York, but she refuses to give up referring to herself as a City-girl, despite the fact that her family no longer even lives there, either (her parents are in Peekskill, N.Y., and her baby sister lives in Massillon, Ohio).
I’m not much better. I’ve bounced around a bit from Asheville, N.C., (my first 15 years) to Chattanooga, Tenn., (for two years of prep school) to Philadelphia (13 years of college and post-college living and working) to almost 12 years here. Home to me is wherever I am, but I have had my eyes elsewhere most of my time in Cincinnati.
I am fascinated by Thomas Wolfe, a fellow Asheville native and acclaimed author, who left home back in the early 1920s and wrote about the desire to set a new course for himself, to leave that life and, in particular, that place behind. In my own way, I too sought to escape that place: the small-minded racism, the seeming gravitational generational pull within families and the community to remain, its constricting Southern-ness, but, intriguingly, Asheville found within itself the need to separate from its past and these traits. As I left, so too did the old city and in its place, a new Asheville has grown and matured into a shining example, the new kid on the block that now, even I, a lost angel, find myself looking back at with wonder.
With each excursion back (the latest being this past Thanksgiving, just my wife and I), a new chapter in the ongoing narrative unfolds. Days wandering the thriving downtown with block after block of restaurants and bars and shops, all independent and alive with a global spirit, the kind that only comes from literally having attracted people from all over the planet to this little alternative mecca. And still I see hints of the old, slivers of what once was — and was actually good, for me at least — my home parish, now a basilica and the locally owned bookstore, Malaprops, where as a kid I sat in the aisles reading books for so long that the women who owned the place finally broke down and gave discounts to keep encouraging me to read. I made a special stop during our Thanksgiving getaway to thank the last of the original owners, who still comes in to work a few hours each week, for nurturing that seedling.
And now, months later, I sit in the Queen City and I think about my own girls and what they will recall about Cincinnati years from now, when they come back from wherever life takes them. Will they, while sharing dinner with us at Nicola’s, look up at the winding staircase that leads to the upper level and remember watching as their mother and I exchanged our wedding vows? Or will Lily, our youngest, ask to twirl around the floor one more time on my toes, as she did that day, when it seemed like there was no one there except the two of us?
I hope they never forget the days in Happen, Inc.’s Toylab or those summer afternoons when we premiered films made by kids from Project Connect at the Cincinnati Museum Center or the chocolate brain freezes from Coffee Emporium. Or, better yet, maybe they will call forth some memory to come, some new experience here that we will all recall fondly and compare to some other place that won’t be quite like the place we now call home.
CONTACT TT STERN-ENZI: [email protected]