I wonder who “they” are and how right they may be.

This is an ode to Kent, Ohio…

When I began this post, I was in a terribly sentimental mood. It would be rather boring for you, reader, to read the stories as to why and how I came to love this town. And so, perhaps, I should borrow the Velveteen Rabbit’s sentiment. Kent wasn’t the beginning nor the end but rather, where I became.

The people I met there were real and they made me real. They helped me see beyond myself and 20 years on, many of us are still intertwined.

My drive to get out of Kent may have only be rivaled by my sister Einah’s. I thought I’d split town, like she did, once I’d graduated high school. Yet, when it came down to deciding where to attend college, I didn’t want to leave. I’ve told other stories as to why I chose to stay, which are all true, but I wasn’t done with Kent.

I grew up within an oddball hippie framework with strong undertones of southern rigidity in which my artistic talents were considered uninteresting and unimportant. In Kent, I thrived intellectually and artistically.

We sat upstairs of Brady’s during open mike night and poetry readings drinking wine out of coffee mugs (underage. wow. that seems really, really funny to me now). We weren’t there to wax as much as we wanted the noise, the warmth on cold nights, to be a part of and to out the scene, to search the drawings and poetic smatterings on the girls’ bathroom walls for new additions. In college, I spent time there listening to my friends’ bands play (Vinyl Back, 528 Ragtime), grooving on the hardwood floors.  

God, I loved that place. I loved it for the people it attracted and the bonds it made between them. This photo was taken in 1997 or 1998, one of the last Christmases I was in town for the holiays. All serious conversations went on during walks around town, at playground swings, or on the train tracks downtown. Typically, in the middle of the night. With trusty Ohio blue-tip matches in our pockets, we’d embark on our adventures. Our friends alongside, cold winter nights…

We moved to Kent in 1987 after my parents divorced. Einah and I knew Kent from summer visits with our maternal grandparents but was a very different reality when we had to call it home. Einah never was that fond of the place. During college she returned with less and less frequency, until she stopped coming back all together. The last time she came to Kent, our grandmother had died and I’d flown in from CA.

My family has a rich history in Kent—it was the meeting place of my grandparents. Both had come to visit their elder sibling one summer. This photo of my grandparents and aunts was taken in the mid-1950s  out front of their Crain Ave. house. My grandfather first saw my grandmother on the NE corner of the Main and Water intersection. He was smitten and she thought he was a rogue (he was a bit of a rogue, truth be told). They both made excuses to stay and a few months later (in February), they eloped. They were married for 65 years. So much for “getting to know you” before taking the plunge, eh?

For years they lived over on Crain Avenue and started a family that would become a booming brood. My grandfather worked his way from a beat cop up to chief of police before his retirement in 1971.
Three of their four daughters (including my mom, their youngest) live in Kent. One of my aunts has lived there her entire life, raised her children there, and continued on the family tradition of public service.

This blog is as much about Kent, the friends I met there as it is the root of my family. My grandfather died in November 2002. My grandmother died in February 2003. They are buried in the old part of Standing Rock with a nice view of the Cuyahoga.

I was thinking about it yesterday, my sister hasn’t been back since…and neither have I.

This photo of my grandfather was taken sometime in the early 1950s in downtown Kent. My last memory of Kent is bittersweet with the snow falling in February, feeling lost and really alone, standing outside of Bissler’s funeral home. I’d split up with E the night before I flown back and while I hadn’t yet realized I was pregnant, I wasn’t feeling well.  Looking out over the parking lot, I could see the brownstone I’d lived in my last year of college. I remembered that girl and wondered who she’d grown up to be—would we recognize each other now, in this moment, if we were to meet?

At that moment, Beaner rang my cell, saying he felt something was wrong and I laughed at his impeccable timing. Perhaps that’s the sum of Kent, a place that holds very little now because it gave me all it could when I need it the most—roots, support, love.

I feel a bit badly about not going back as my mom’s side of the family is there. I know they have felt my absence and may have made up stories amongst themselves as to why I haven’t returned in so long.

I’m struggling a bit to understand why I haven’t gone back. I had plans to a year ago at Christmas, but then my mom came out to spend the holiday with me. I was disappointed–Paul was going to be in town that Christmas from Boston. I wanted to see Kent (the lights strung across Main Street, the wreaths on the lamp posts.

Soft powdery snow. I wanted to walk into the Loft and be greeted with that amazing jukebox playing the songs that fit like old jeans, be encircled in the arms of old friends. Christmas eve gathering at my aunt’s house.  I don’t think my family really know or understand me, but I love them regardless and it would have been good to share space with them again.  (Me and Patty Restaine, celebrating up in Coventry in one of those old school black and white photo booths. I had been signed to a gallery right before my 20th birthday).

I don’t know why I haven’t gone back. It’s funny. I’m a Gemini—I THRIVE on change, but for me, some THINGS can’t change or it fucks with my emotions and I lose a sense of self. I’m very child-like in this regard. I like change, but only certain kinds of change, the sort of change i can understand.

A lot has changed in Kent. For instance, I haven’t seen the Starbucks that is now in Brady’s Cafe. The bookstore is gone, the library where Rita, Sloan, and I worked has been remodeled. Carrie’s parents sold the house and moved to Georiga (yes, i had to bring that up. I’m still wish we could have figured out a way to buy it from them). Someone else now lives in my Grandparents’ house. The falls have been lowered. The Loft is now something else.

The Zephyr as I remember it is no more. A lot of us worked there—Sheri (she got me the job there!), Shelly, Dana, John, Kelly, Melissa, Beth. That restaurant was a second home—a place to study,  read, get fed when you were too poor to buy groceries.

Sunday mornings at the Zephyr were always the best and worst. Best because all your friends were there and the worst because as an ex-employee, you were least likely to get your food before other customers because the staff knew you’d put up with a longer wait. I owe the Zephyr a lot. Gina gave me my first batik show when i was 19. I had at least one show a year until I graduated.

This photo was taken in 1995 an my mountain bike is one of those locked up out front. The last time I was there, Jason Andreas was buying me a beer, Beth Lid and Patty were behind the bar, and everything looked different, but it felt the same. And that was the important part : it felt the same. And I need to have that sense about places.

The difference between non-Kent friends and Kent friends is that so much needs to go unsaid with Kent folks–they know where I come from. My friends have changed from high school and college, but it’s the bond between us that make the hard conversations easier. It isn’t so much  building a life around them as it has been a conscious choice to include them even when they are no longer within arm’s length. We are older, but more ourselves than we’ve ever been, and we fit like puzzle pieces.

I sometimes catch myself feeling Kentsick (I never really considered it home). It was a safe house or a cocoon. It gave me time to grow my wings and learn life skills before departing. Nothing ever that bad happened to me, or rather, as I said to Rita recently, lots of bad things may have happened there, but they would have been worse if they’d happened somewhere else.

And it is a magical place…drawing in people, connecting them, and in some cases, not connecting them. Different parallel realities and time warps. All told, a very safe, crazy place to explore the questions all teenagers/college kids ask themselves…who am i? what do i want to be? And the freedom given to us in that town—to grow into ourselves still seems incredibly unique to me.

Paul said, walking home in the snow with that silly plastic snowman I’d won at the TwistOffs’ show under his arm, we’d had a good run— 11 years of parting ways and coming back together for Christmas. That was the last Christmas we all gathered for after hours and snowy walks. A photo of Karl, Paul, and Brian taken during that last Christmas trip. The irony here is that Karl is quite tall and he squatted down so that I, shorty, could get him in the frame.

It was the scenery mixed with the cast of characters, the music, the snow, the lush summers that produced some of the most interesting moments of my life. It harbors many of them still. I don’t know what this blog is about. I don’t know if it makes sense, really. Guess, I’m lost in my thoughts on this one. I know it’s time to go back, I’m just afraid of what I will find when I go.

Perhaps, I’ll find myself wondering why I didn’t stay and live that other life…Kent would be a great place to raise a family. I know the house i’d live in… the one caddy corner to the Masonic temple on the SE corner of Main and Mantua Streets. I’ve loved that house since i was a little girl. The view of the Masonic Temple would remind me of my grandfather every day. Yeah, lush summers, music with friends, and walks at Towner’s. My grandfather offered to buy it for me once, a few years after I moved to California. I almost said yes, but instead, I stayed here. Many important family events have been held at the Masonic temple including wedding anniversaries, graduation parties, etc. The Thompson grandchildren (of whom I am the youngest) used to play pool and hide-n-seek in its upper floors. The Thompson grandchildren’s favorite playground. JIG 2001.

I do think about it—when will I know it’s time to go back?

Tower's Woods. My last snowy walk in Kent. January 2003.

For those of you reading this who only know me out here, maybe this will not have been too boring. For those of you who knew me there, I’m sorry this is sappy and not really reality. It’s just memories twisting up my thoughts. But I love you and I love that you love me after all these years.

I wish I knew where the pictures were of my sister and I riding ponies at KentFest….

A few song lyrics playing through my head as I write this blog:

wrap me in your marrow, stuff me in your bones…a song to bring you home… At the Hop, Devendra Banhart

And you, you always told me, no matter how long it holds me, if it falls apart or makes us millionaires, you’ll be right here forever, go through this thing together, and on heaven’s golden shores, we’ll lay our heads… Golden, My Morning Jacket.

a dreaded sunny day, so I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates, Keats and Yeats are on your side while Wilde is on mine… so we gravely read the stones, all those people with love and hate and passion just like mine, they were born and they lived, and then they died…. the Smiths

it’s not like any other love, no this one’s different because it’s us. and if the people stare, then the people stare… i really don’t know and i really don’t care…. we may be hidden by rags but we’ve got something they’ll never have… so i stake my claim. If they dare touch a hair on your head, I’ll fight to the last breath…oh the good life out there somewhere, so stay on my arm you little charmer… Hand in Glove, the Smiths

sometimes we live no particular way but our own…sometimes the songs we hear are just songs of our own… Eyes of the World, GD


I went flew back to Kent last summer (2008) and stayed for a total of 36 hours. Sheri met me at my mom’s (I had called ahead and let an Aunt know I was coming) and we went and sat on blanket hill, talking, and she gave me a collection of birthday gifts which brought tears to my eyes. Included in the items— her May 4th candle–lit every year she’d gone to the memorial.

I went to the Zephyr for a beer with mom and Sheri. Rachel was behind the bar and I got a huge hug. It was all surreal. I attended the graduation party of my oldest second cousin (cousin Jamie’s oldest daughter) which was held at the Masonic Temple. My cousins and i ran around like kids, remembering all the parties and celebrations our grandparents had hosted there over the years. I remember the tours my grandpa used to give me when i was very young. It all made me feel closer to him, to my one true root.

Kent…my hometown (?)…. I came back.  Everything was as i needed it to be. I hung out at the historical society with my aunt and worked out an arrangement to permanently loan my old beloved wool cape, which turned out to be a Masonic ceremonial cape.  I did go up to the cemetery to see his grave and to chat a bit with him and Rob Wolf, whose grave is just across the way from my grandfather. Two men in my life who are gone and whom I continue to think about as I move forward in life.

Ultimately, I came back home with a sense of relief— i’d jumped the hurdle and gone back. It was as i needed it to be. People may change, but places, at their core, stay the same, and I am, after all, a nomad who is tied to the landscape. Perhaps, most importantly, the visit reminded that I carry my history within me. Every time I look in the mirror, my Grandfather’s blue eyes shine back at me. Ironic that I have traveled so many miles to realize my history was literally right in front of me, starring back at me each morning as I brush my teeth…

Postscript January 2010.
I’ve just returned to Wildlands. In mid-december, I loaded Siddhartha and Sky into the Jeep and headed cross-country, taking the mid-northern route back to Ohio. For nearly a week, I wound my way back, playing in snowy Wyoming’s Green River, seeing the North Platte flow into Nebraska, suffered through one of the worst nights known to me in Iowa, and then, the next day pushing through IN and IL, finally rolling into Ohio—where it began to snow.  A dear HS friend loaned me his empty house (on the market) and not staying at my mom’s house was a relief. Too many  memories there. I didn’t tell my mom I was Ohio-bound, instead, concocted a surprise for her. My local aunts, cousins, their husbands and children went caroling at my mom’s–as the group finished singing the first or second carol,  I released the pups who ran up to my mom and I stepped to the front of the singing group.

I spent three days in Kent—The pups and I wandered up to the cemetary and I stood by my Grandather’s grave, tossing frisbees for Sky, across the field, towards the Cuyahoga. Later, i took them out to Towner’s Woods and watched Sky chase after Siddhartha, down the sledding hill, disappearing out of sight before charging back to me. It was important to me to run my labs on the ground where Chloe (my lab from college) had run, to see the old forests. I saw Patty (shown above in the old black and white with me and who commented on the original blog post). We spent a few hours talking at the Zephyr as she tended bar and old friends came in, out of the snowy world that is Kent at Christmas time. I rolled out of Kent and headed to Columbus where Eric showed me the brewery and Einah joined us from NYC. She and I then embarked on the return journey. We spent a week together, road tripping with the labbies. I was able to show her my favorite haunts in the southwest and we discovered a few new favorites—

Yes. To know yourself is to know and embrace your history. For good, for bad…it is and it is YOURS. To the girl I was, to the woman I am, and to the self I will be… godspeed.

Currently listening :We Shall All Be HealedBy The Mountain GoatsRelease date: By 03 February, 2004

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i love love love this blog.

and this summer…well, i’ll meet you at the cemetery gates…say the one behind fred fuller by the curve in the road where the old underground railroad house is…where the ground sinks in when you step on it sometimes…(geez, you know, i hope that’s still there. i haven’t been back to kent in just over 8 years!)…but i want wilde on my side.


Posted by guihuai on Monday, February 19, 2007 at 11:48 PM