In the late 1980's, when my father was dead but my mother was still alive, a friend of mine drove Sophie and me to Steubenville, Ohio. I always referred to my mother by her first name; Sophie. Not to her face, only when I talked about her. I shall continue that here.
After my father died, Sophie was without transportation. She never had a driver's license and felt she was too old to learn to drive. For some reason, she would rather ask one of my friends for a ride than ask one of hers. It turned out that my friends enjoyed Sophie's company and were more than happy to take her to the store or wherever else she desired to go. It would not be odd for me to wander into the house and find one of my friends sitting around and drinking beer with Sophie. One such friend was a girl named Janice. Sophie had told her about having relatives in Ohio that she had not seen for years. Janice announced that she would be happy to drive Sophie to Ohio. The trip was planned out before I even knew about it. It had been decided that I, too, should visit these long lost relatives. And so should Louise, a cousin of my mother's that lived near us. I believe my unwarranted invitation was more to share the driving time than to meet unknown distant relations. In other words, I was shanghaied.
Louise was a recent widow whose only son had been killed decades earlier in a hunting accident. Janice, Sophie and I arrived at Louise's house and I was sent in to fetch and carry whatever luggage she may be bringing along. Inside the house, Louise's suitcase in my hand, I was ready to exit when I heard Louise say "Okay, boys, I left sandwiches for you in the fridge. Behave and don't break anything while I'm gone." I turned around to see with whom she was talking. There was no one there. Apparently her husband's death had pushed Louise over the edge. She had mentally resurrected her husband and her son, and carried on conversations with both of them. It eased the lonely nights of her empty house. Sophie had known about this. She whispered the details to me on our drive to Ohio. I was glad Louise had left the boys at home. It was already cramped enough in the car with the four of us.
When we arrived in Steubenville, I was grateful to get out the car and away from the female chatter. As it turned out, the relatives who was putting us up for the next few days was another widow woman who had three daughters. They all were third or fourth cousins, four or five times removed. CSI, with all their magnifying glasses and state-of-the-art microscopes, would have a hard time finding a iota of testosterone in this household. And although I was treated courteously, my presence was appreciated about as much as Ted Bundy at a sorority slumber party.
The first day dragged on. Yet, after dinner, drinks were served and a much-needed inebriation commenced. Unfortunately, Sophie kept her eagle eye on the bottles in my hand. When I was offered a third beer, Sophie chimed in to say "Johnny has had enough." I left the women inside and went to sulk on the back porch. The youngest daughter, who was about a decade older than I, came outside to see how I was doing. She had brought with her a six-pack of Miller. As it turns out, she was my favorite third or fourth cousin, four or five times removed. We split the beer. During our conversation, she let it be known that a liquor store was three blocks directly behind their house. I volunteered to go buy something a little stronger.
If you know anything about Steubenville, it would be this: Steubenville is very hilly, almost mountainous. Okay, you may also know that Steubenville is where Dean Martin is from. If you meet someone who is from Steubenville and mention Dean Martin, you will get one of two responses. If that person, either him or one of his friends or family, has never had any direct links to Dino, then he will brag about sharing their hometown. If he, or friend or relatives of his, happened to have had a direct connection to the late singer, he will state that Dean Martin ran out of town after borrowing money from everyone he knew. But enough about Dino, let's get back to the Steubenville terrain.
Steubenville, in different areas, can be very steep. In fact, on many hillsides you can find wooden stairs as easily as finding fire hydrants. I wish my distant cousin had mentioned this before I trekked off to the store in the darkened night. It is very disconcerting to think you are walking down a thirty degree slope and suddenly you are imitating Wile E. Coyote. For a microsecond I was suspended in mid-air, then disappearing straight down, leaving behind a slowly dissolving cloud of smoke shaped into a statue-like copy of myself. Falling off a mountain may sound like fun, but trust me, it is not. The only reason I did not break any bones was because they had been softened by the evenings alcohol. I bounced off the side of the cliff, hurdling down at a ever increasing speed. The bottom of the hill had a big curve in that turned my fall into a roll. My tumble came to a sudden halt due to a fence that surrounded a neighbor's property. Staggering to my feet, I saw, twenty feet to my left, a wooden staircase that went up to edge of the cliff I had just departed. At least I found an easier route for my return trip.
I got on the path that started at the stair's end, and followed it to the main street of a business district. I spotted a bar and figured because of what I had just gone through, I deserved to be waited on. When I got to bar's entrance, I found the door to be locked. There was a diamond shaped window in the door, and I could see a few customers sitting at the bar. There was a button on the side of the door, and I pressed it. The bartender looked towards me, and I raised my hand to the window in a friendly gesture. He buzzed the door open and I entered.
I went up to the bar and ordered a rum and coke. (On a side note, it is very rare that I order anything other than rum and coke. Keep this in mind if you are ever in the position to buy me a drink.) Sitting on a stool, I grabbed the drink and took a sip. I enjoyed the drink while studying the wall behind the bar. The tiny hairs on my arms stood on end as I recognized a picture from an Olympics of yesteryear. The picture was a box of V.I.P. seating overlooking the field. The men photographed in the box were smiling and laughing. The year of this Olympics was 1936. The V.I.P.'s enjoying themselves were Adolph Hitler and his cronies. There was also a mirror behind the bar. In the mirror I spotted a back room with a pool table. The men shooting pool and observing the game wore leather vests with a motorcycle club emblem on their backs. They all had shaved heads. I had stumbled into a den of Aryan skinhead bikers. Apparently, my initial wave to gain entrance resembled a "sieg heil." Oops.
Needless to say, I quickly downed my drink and made my exit. Luckily, the rest of my evening was uneventful. I found a liquor store, purchased a liter of rum and two more of coke, and made my way back to the stairs and up to my cousin's house. Repeating the incident to my distant relations, it was confirmed that the area did have a bad element, but as long as they didn't break any laws, they had as much right to exist as anyone else. Kind of like today with the proposed mosque near ground zero. They may be legally in the right, but morally it is so wrong.
So if there is any final thoughts on my adventure, it is this: If given the opportunity, you should buy John a rum and coke.