WE PULL OFF THE HIGHWAY through a quaint 19th century town called Cambridge, where the buildings still have the flat brick storefronts of an early frontier town, and people’s accents have a country twang to them—not quite Southern, not Minnesotan either; distinctly Ohioan.
We get pie at Theo’s Diner. One slice of chocolate peanut butter and one of cherry, both smothered in whipped cream. It is delightfully in defiance of the food pyramid and the paranoid foodie trends of the nation’s urban centers.
The waitress calls me “Sweetie” and looks concerned when I don’t finish the last bite. She’s got on pale blue jeans and her hair is a bright blond and all styled up in case some cute farmer, trucker, or local boy comes in looking for something other than pie. She is all business at work, dishing out and picking up hamburgers and fries and sides of green beans and mashed potatoes, all with a red-lipsticked local smile, and that Ohio twang.
As we pull out of Cambridge, we enter the county roads, where we’re occasionally stalled behind an Amish buggy trotting along at a 19th century pace. We take in the pastures where the goldenrod and Queen Ann’s Lace of summer are beginning to fade, and the grasses are taking on the rusty colors of fall.
There are cows and horses grazing in the distance, and the textures and colors of the land bring me back to this local place, this base layer of home that I simply can’t peel away, no matter how many other homes I accumulate on the road. This time I am coming back from a year in Beijing, and I am in need of my family and Ohio’s solitude and anonymity.
I know tonight we will sit on the front porch, and watch the sky darken pink to blue to midnight over the pastures to the sound of crickets. Maybe the neighbors will come by with salsa they have canned, or a few ears of corn, and we’ll chat for a few minutes about their new dog and my trip to China.
When it gets dark, it will get cold, the first delightful chill of fall before the serious cold of winter. We’ll go inside, and snuggle into our beds in the silence of that deep Ohio night, lost somewhere in the middle, in the heart of it all, which no one knows about and where no one seems to go.
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