Monday, July 28, 2008

“Home From Hog Heaven”


c. 2008 Rod Ice
All rights reserved
(7-08)




It was just after noon. I had been on the road for only a few minutes. But already, my mind had started to drift from its predetermined course. A CD of 1980’s pop music warbled from the dashboard. Its synthesized tones diverted my thoughts with unintended effect. Suddenly, my task at hand seemed insignificant. I wandered into a daydream reminiscent of an old Apollo Space Program adventure:

MISSION CONTROL: “This is the Control Center speaking. How do you read me?”

FORD F-150: “I copy you loud and clear, Control. We have clear conditions here, with a forecast for favorable launch weather.”

MISSION CONTROL: “Roger that. Do you understand today’s assignment, 150?”

FORD F-150: “Roger. I will navigate the 77 corridor to Marietta Station. Dock at Hermann Fine Arts Center, and pick up Astronaut Dree Emm, plus her supplies.”

MISSION CONTROL: “Roger, 150. Be advised that there is construction debris scattered along the way. We have slowdowns at Akronia and Cantonari…”

FORD F-150: “The ship is running with GPS fully engaged.”

MISSION CONTROL: “Godspeed, 150! Have a safe journey.”

FORD F-150: “Roger that, Control.”

Actually, my only source of guidance was a road map from the Circle K in Middlefield. But it didn’t matter. I was on the way to Marietta College, where my niece waited with four years of accumulated housewares, and a renewed desire to meet the world. She had graduated from the school in May. Now, her path would veer homeward, again.

Dree came into the world on Father’s Day in 1986, twenty-two years ago. I was a moment my sister and brother-in-law would cherish forever. Her first home was a small, two-story dwelling on Maple Avenue in Chardon. The spot was a secure, quiet place for beginning a family. My brother and I shared in renting the house, as a family group. Years later, that sense of closeness would remain in our hearts…

I arrived in the city just after three o’clock. Yet the familiar curve past Kroger Plaza made me sad with reflection. Instead of pondering the nearness of friendly, southeastern culture, I bowed with humility. It would be my last trip to the river town on Dree’s behalf. This portion of her academic voyage was at an end.

Suddenly, my cell phone chirped for attention.

“Yes?” I answered.

“Hi, Uncle Rod!” my niece sang with anticipation. “My volunteer work is over for the day. I wanted to see how close you were to the city…”

My excitement mirrored her own. “Actually, I’m already here. About one block from Hermann, if I remember correctly.”

She was impressed. “Woot! In that case, I’ll see you in a minute!”

I turned into the college campus, and drove toward the hall where her possessions were stored. A summer mood made the surroundings mellow with off-season ease. I parked on the sidewalk, and fumbled for the tarp and bungee cords.

Dree appeared from the lobby. She was a vision of independent womanhood, with paint smeared in her brown locks, and a tidy outfit inspired by Goodwill. We embraced, and then began to assess the scope of our project.

“Everything is upstairs, in the music room,” she said. “It’s been moved several times, already.”

I considered the multitude of stair-steps. “So… we bring your stuff to the ground floor… then down the hill to my pickup truck?”

She smiled. “Uhmm, yes.”

I took a deep breath. A bold lie seemed appropriate. “Great! I know this will go quickly.”

Hours later, both of us were exhausted.

It didn’t go quickly.

We had consumed a cool couple of gallons from the drinking fountain, and two large bottles of lemon Propel water. My truck was stuffed with mementos, books, and furniture, but leftover treasures remained in the lobby.

“Sorry, Dree,” I said in a whisper. “We’ve reached the load limit.”

She paced through the dormitory rubble. “Well, I’ve got to leave some of this stuff behind. Time to sort through the remains…”

I marveled at her courage.

“Okay,” she said with conviction. “I don’t need this, or that, or the other…”

In a brief instant, the pile was gone.

“That’ll do it,” I observed. The truck was bursting with collegiate cargo. Even the seat, dash, and floorboards were full. But we were ready to motorvate.

On the way out of town, I saw a banner advertising ninety-nine cent beverage specials at the Empire Buffet. “There’s a place we could quench our thirst,” I joked.

“Actually, I was thinking of Hog Heaven,” Dree replied. “If you’ve got a taste for barbecue…?”

My grin went wide. We would pass the restaurant while driving back to Cleveland. It was located off of I-77 in New Philadelphia – a favorite spot I’d discovered years before. “Oh yeah! I’ve been having rib-fantasies all the way from home!”

“How cool that we had the same idea!” she laughed. “Let’s go!”

Our pause for smoked nourishment came late in the day. It was after nine o’clock when we pulled into the restaurant parking lot. Spicy aromas met us at the door. I saluted the neon pig while walking inside. Hunger and fatigue made me less shy than usual. No inhibitions could stall my appetite.

I wanted a heaping plate of tangy, roasted swine!

While Dree studied the menu, I chatted with our waitress. She wore a company T-shirt that boasted a drawing of the famous porker.

“We’re from the Cleveland area,” I said. “But whenever our travels come this way, we always stop for a meal at Hog Heaven!”

“And you write for a newspaper?” she exclaimed.

“That’s right,” I answered. “My niece has been studying in Marietta. But she graduated this year. Now, it’s time to go home…”

“Well, this is your night to celebrate,” the woman smiled. “We’ve got thirty-five cent wings on special, and five-dollar half-racks of ribs.”

My belly grumbled. “Well then, I’ll take a combination platter, of both! With Brew City fries and Cole slaw on the side!”

“Ditto for me,” Dree cheered.

Before long, we were stuffed like the pickup truck. It put both of us in a reflective mood. Closing time passed, and the staff began preparing the venue for another day of business. But we lingered, and traded memories…

“I’ve always depended on you, and Uncle Bubba,” my niece proclaimed. “So once again, I’ve got to say thanks!”
I nodded. “Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“This is a bit strange,” she confessed. “To be going home again, after such a long time…”

My eyes were moist. “I can’t help remembering how I felt in 1983. After studying in central New York, I came to Geauga County. It was an enormous paradigm shift. A change that had my head spinning. I had tried to model myself after the Empire State Rock ‘n’ Roll scene. Yet soon, I would realize that here, in the heartland, was where I could develop my own creative identity. And be… myself.”

Dree shrugged her shoulders. “Really?”

“So, this isn’t the end,” I said. “Only a new beginning. Remember that…”

My niece lifted a saucy rib. “Yes, a new beginning… at Hog Heaven!”

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