122 Cincinnati, OH: Ancestors

[Lockland, Ohio, my ancestors' hometown]

I always feel when I visit Cincinnati that I am visiting the past. But that might be because my father was born in Cincinnati and we used to visit his relatives down there until the mid-1970s, when we moved farther away and the number of relatives living there grew fewer. More recently, I had taken several trips to Cincinnati to do genealogy research on the ancestors who settled here in the 1860s, and I found it hard to distinguish today's town from the one I visited as a child. The soot-covered brick factories still stand that signaled our exit off the highway to Aunt Annie's, who was sure to have cookies waiting and many jars of jelly made from the grapes she grew in her back yard. Such rustbelt scenes are common in Cincinnati, and they have had a romance for me ever since those visits here, which may partly explain why Hopper's scenes and the cities covered in this book appealed to me.

Going back is always going back. It's not like seeing an unknown city for the first time. I had to work hard in Cincinnati not to overlook what might have struck me about another town but that I had already come to expect from Cincinnati.

My cousin's son Matt is a teenager living in a small community within Cincinnati. He rode around the city with me as I did my research, and finally it dawned on me to ask him about Cincinnati and isolation.

"I'm in a small town. Everybody gets sick of the same people and places. But I'm afraid to go out and find new people. 'Cause I don't know what will happen. So, I can either sit here and fake happiness with my usual crowd. Or sit here and try to be perfectly happy with myself. Watching you interview people, I see that people say some pretty cool insightful stuff when you stop and talk to them."

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