The trip to Cincinnati was more than a business trip, more than meetings. It was a quick trip to the past, a visit to my childhood. A return, but with the knowledge I have today. Which, when you're playing penny slots, isn't much.
During the meeting, we stayed at the Hilton Netherland Plaza, a Depression era hotel that has been restored to its original opulence. I loved it, not only for its French Art Deco design, but for the history, the sense of stepping back in time. Until you realized you had to Instagram the shit out of the place.
Which hardly does the place justice, I know.
Then I posted this photo and what I'd been thinking and what my colleagues had been thinking was confirmed by tweets.
|What? No twins?|
One evening, my boss, another coworker and I skipped the optional group activity, had pizza in my room and watched The Shining. It didn't frighten me like it used to - that exciting, fun kind of scared, but I confess - when I went to bed, I conveniently forgot to turn off the closet light.
The Netherland has its own ghost story. A woman in a green ball gown appears in the elevators, the guest room corridors and The Hall of Mirrors. Many of us joked about hoping to see her.
One afternoon I stepped onto the empty elevator and pushed the button to my floor. 28. At the mezzanine level the elevator stopped and a man from another large group meeting at the hotel got on. He smiled a hello as he fumbled with his tote bag of meeting goodies and pushed number 23.
On the seventh floor, the elevator stopped. The doors opened, but no one got on. Both the man and I leaned forward and craned our necks to see if we should hold the door for someone. There wasn't anyone there. The doors slid closed.
I could feel the man glance at me. Once, twice.
"Do you think she's on here with us?" I asked him.
He laughed. "I wondered that, too."
We both looked around at the gleaming wood, the Art Deco details. There was no green ball gown, no rush of cold air one might expect during a ghostly encounter.
We chatted about how pretty the hotel was as the floors ticked off. At floor twenty-three, he gave me a wink and said "Maybe she'll show herself on your way up to twenty-eight."
I laughed as the door closed behind him. Alone, I gave a shiver and pressed my back against the paneled wall. If the ghost was going to appear, I didn't want to be taken by surprise. I was in serious need of a pee as it was.
I never did see the ghost, but I did get to relive another part of my youth. Our group went to the Great American Ballpark to watch the Reds play the Mets. It was a great game with far better seats than I ever had in Riverfront Stadium back when the Cincinnati Enquirer gave free tickets to straight A students. We had a gorgeous night for it and the Reds were in fine form.
After the meeting, my brother collected me and deposited me at my parents' house in Rising Sun where there was homemade ice cream and Texas sheet cake waiting.
For a day and half, I wasn't a wife or a mother. I was simply a daughter again.
Before my brother arrived at the hotel, I mentioned to my colleagues that I was a little worried that the time would drag. My parents and I don't see each other very often. We don't have much in common. They don't have internet service. How would I survive?
My boss said that her parents were coming for a two week stay one day after she returned home from this trip. My coworker noted that she only wished her parents were still around to visit.
After the traditional family meal at the Big Boy, where my brother, sister and I reminisced over cherry cokes about eating there when it was a drive-in with carhops, I returned home with my parents. Now what would we do? I was stuck there - no car, no internet. I looked at my phone longingly.
Dad turned on the Reds game and I asked Mother if I could look through some of her boxes of photos.
The rest of the time flew.
We drove around town so I could see what had changed. And what had not.
Over coffee and donuts, they told me about their adventures with private health insurance and doctors visits. Without a lick of irony, Moter mentioned I should really take better care of myself. And I know she's right.
She helped me identify people in old family photos. It's become a project of mine to know these people ever since we accidentally got the Ancestry.com account.
My father called me Liza Jane, his pet name for me. He helped me find some photos of our former family cars. I've had an obsession with them since going to some car shows this summer.
I dragged them to the library to use the wi-fi to show them all the cool things I'd found on Ancestry.com. There they were - listed on the 1940 census. Their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, some going all the way back to the 1850 census.
In retaliation, they dragged me to the casino on the riverfront.
My mother and I split a twenty on slots. I played for pennies and she suggested I'd become quite the skinflint. I remembered the story my friend told me about watching a guy over the security cameras. The guy masturbated and ejaculated onto one of the machines.
"It's your turn," my mother said.
"No, that's okay. You go ahead."
When the twenty was gone, we retired to the pub to watch baseball and wait for the Friday night drawings for cash prizes. I tried not to dwell on the fact that the casino was one of the most depressing places I've been in years. And that's coming from me, who for the last two years spent at least one day a month at the Department of Labor with all the other unemployed and desperate.
I ordered a beer. My parents drank water. We ate baked potatoes and watched the Reds game on the big screen overhead. A duo played music on a keyboard and guitar. People came and went. My parents knew many of them. My former gym teacher and her husband, once the high school basketball coach and sports director, took a seat in a booth near us. I wouldn't have recognized Mr. W. if his wife hadn't been with him.
It's hard to see these once lively and physically fit people aging. I ordered another beer. My mother wondered aloud if I might have a drinking problem.
I offered the teetotalers a taste of the Blue Moon beer. It took some wheedling. When I finally threatened to hold my breath until my face turned blue, they tried it. Dad didn't hate it. Mother pulled a face and said it tasted like vinegar. This coming from people who willingly drank Fresca.
Or maybe they were clever - they knew their children wouldn't drink it. Not even on a dare.
"Some Baptist you are," I crowed to my mother. "Gambling and drinking!"
"If I weren't so arthritic, I'd be dancing, too," she shot back.
Without elaborating, I mentioned that when she comes to the casino, she should bring hand sanitizer in her purse.
At 10 p.m. sharp, we headed back to their house where I took as many photos of their family photos as I could before I finally tumped over, tired and happy to have had a chance to hang out with my mom and dad. It didn't matter what we did, it was just nice to be there.
Besides, coming from these party animals, what could I expect?