02 October 2008

Closing the Circle

Today was a day for closing circles and saying goodbye. My family buried my grandmother today, a sad occasion of course, though somewhat less so as it meant her release from the terrible grip of Alzheimer’s. But the trip felt like much more than just saying goodbye to a loved one. I said goodbye to and closed the circle on a big part of my life as well.

Both sides of my family came to the United States in the early 20th century. Mom’s side, the Swiergos family, is Polish, dad’s is Italian (and no, we didn’t have a vowel in Italy either, we were northern Italians where many family names really do end in consonants, see www.cattarin.com for the genealogy). Both sides ended up northeastern Ohio. My folks were raised in Alliance, and though they moved on, my maternal grandparents lived pretty much their entire adult lives there. I spent many wonderful summers and more there. The memories are too numerous to recount, even to myself. Ohio became a part of me and always will be.

But Alliance, Ohio isn’t Cleveland or Columbus or anywhere else you might travel on business someday. It’s about 15 miles off the interstate, and not even a main-line interstate. Unless you’re driving to Akron, or happen to be in Canton, and make an intentional side trip, you’re not going to stumble on the place. In fact, I hadn’t been in town in 10 years, since the passing of my grandfather Swiergos. The Cattarin side holds periodic Ohio reunions, but none of them remain in Alliance. So with the passing of grandmother Swiergos, my blood-relative link to the town pretty much dried up. Burying grandmother Swiergos after many years of Alzheimer’s wasn’t too hard. Burying a chapter of my life was.

I’m in taper and rest mode for Wineglass coming up on Sunday. With an additional 400 miles driving out from upstate New York to Alliance and back, the rest part has already taken a hit. And when I was there, so did the tapering. My tapering rule-of-thumb is to run no more miles each day than the number of days till the race, until 4 days prior, at which point I stick to 3 or 4 a day to stay loose. With only 4 days till the marathon, I should have put in 3 or 4 this morning. But we were in a hotel room on the west end of town, and it was 4 miles to the old Swiergos house which had been home base to our clan for 50 years.

I knew I could drive by it later in the day if I wanted to, but who I am today is defined in part (other than my wonderful immediate family of course) by my running. Not so much the physical act of it, but the mental and emotional side which, even if I could no longer run, so fits who I am. Something insisted that I do what I’d never done, and connect my running life to my Ohio life which so shaped my early years. I broke my taper rule and covered eight and a half this morning, just to run down their street, the street I’d walked, biked, and played on so many times, but where I’d never – not even in my first lap days to my recollection – laid the stamp of my running footprints.

As these things often are, it was somewhat anticlimactic. The house, long sold from their caring hands, has run down somewhat. Neighbors on either side who happened to be out and with whom I chatted briefly were all recent short-timers with no neighborhood memory and of course no idea who these former pillars of the community were and what they meant to anyone, let alone me. But in a big way, it wasn’t anticlimactic at all. I honored them by running past the seat of their memory, in effect saying, “I’m doing well, I’m strong, and that’s because you did good.”

After my morning run through time, we did the funeral home, the Mass, the cemetery service. We stopped in to visit dad’s grave – he died at a tragic 29. We pondered in a way we never really had done before what our life as a family might have been like had that tragedy not happened. We could have all been very different people. As my wife likes to say, you can’t just change one thing. But we became who are. And who I’ve become was able to connect with where I came from, one time only, by running past the place that was a second home.

As it was, mom didn’t want to drive past the house where she’d grown up. She wanted to remember it as it was, not see it as it is. I was very glad I’d broken my taper rule. As we left town, I knew there was a good chance I’ll never be back. The circle is closed.

Rest in God’s peace, Granny.

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