To the Place She Belongs

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, Mountain Mama
Take me home, country roads

From “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver, Taffy Nivert, and Bill Danoff


We crossed the West Virginia border at 4:20.  I kissed Beth, as is our custom when we cross state lines, and I read from the billboard.  “Are you feeling wild and wonderful?” She gave a wry laugh.  “More wild than wonderful?” I surmised.

We were leaving a day later than planned for Beth’s family reunion because of some unexpected and mysterious medical problems she was experiencing. Early Wednesday morning she’d woken with her face all swollen, especially around her mouth. It looked like a severe allergic reaction but she had no history of allergies. After a few hours she decided to go to the hospital. She was there for two days and a night. The culprit, the doctors decided, was her blood pressure medication. The switched her to a new one but that one came with its own side effects, including intense itching and some chest pain. By Saturday morning she was in the hospital again, this time just for a few hours.  Sunday morning her face was swollen again, though not as badly as the first time.

By this time Beth was wondering if it was the medication at all, but perhaps a food allergy.  She’d had two whole tomatoes the day before the first attack and a smaller amount on Saturday. We waited a few hours to see if the swelling would go down. It did and she decided not to seek further medical attention and to hit the road instead. She resolved to stop taking her blood pressure medication (her blood pressure was only moderately elevated in the first place), to go easy on tomatoes and to make an appointment with an allergist when we got home.

We met up with Beth’s mother in Morgantown around five and stopped at an Arby’s for a snack before the last leg of the drive. We arrived at the cabin in Oglebay around seven and ate pizza with the assembled relatives. June had time to perform “Maybe” before bedtime. Noah was feeling poorly so he went to bed when she did while the adults stayed up and chatted.  (Noah and June were the only kids staying at the cabin not counting Eanna, who’s seventeen).

One of the reasons for the reunion was Beth’s aunt Carole’s seventy-fifth birthday so her branch of the family was well represented. People came and went throughout the week but on the first night her son Sean and her grandsons Michael, Eanna and Kawika were there. Her granddaughter Rebecca arrived in the middle of the night. At first I had trouble telling the four men with Irish accents apart, but I had them all straight by the next day.

I’ve been to the cabins at Oglebay twice before.  The first time, in the very same cabin, was at the last reunion ten years ago. There was a herd of kids at that one, Noah being the youngest at fifteen months. The other time was three years ago when we shared a smaller cabin with two of Beth’s friends from high school and their kids (,

Beth went to bed with some trepidation because her symptoms always seemed to emerge around 4:30 in the morning, but she slept fine.


In the morning (a morning so cool I wore jeans) Beth’s mom came to collect June for her swim lesson. We’d signed her up for five lessons at Wheeling Park. June’s been right on the verge of swimming for a while and we thought several consecutive days of lessons might be more effective than the same number spread out over weeks or months.

A little later a music teacher friend of Beth’s aunt Jenny delivered a keyboard he was renting us for the week so Eanna, who wants to study music in college, could play. Beth and I listened as Jenny’s friend refused payment over and over until she practically begged him to take it.  “It’s good to be home,” Beth commented, smiling.

Beth had a work-related call to make so she went to her mother’s house where the cell reception was better. Then YaYa, Beth and June ran errands. Every one else spun off in various directions so Noah and I were alone in the cabin for most of the morning. We settled on the deck to read and watch the ever-present parade of deer amble by the cabin.  I finished Pym, which I’ve been reading for at least two months, and Noah finished The Mysterious Benedict Society around the same time, so I just took his book and started it. Noah had dragged his chair out onto the grass and while he was reading he was stung by a bee. I couldn’t believe that after all the time I spend encouraging him to go outside he got stung sitting still on the grass.

I extracted the stinger and made him an ice pack, made lunch for both of us and then took a nap. Catching up on reading and sleep were high on my list of priorities for the vacation and so far it was going well. I read for much of the day with breaks for meals and chatting with Beth’s relatives. Noah apparently decided the outdoors was too dangerous and retreated to his room to read for much of the afternoon.

Dinner was a cookout—burgers, hot dogs, corn, potato salad, green salad, watermelon and ice cream. June provided the after-dinner entertainment, singing “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” Then YaYa, who’d kept June most of the day (which is how I got to read so much) took her back to her house for a sleepover.  We’d agreed June would stay with her for three days as a mini-version of the week Noah had with her in June.

We were out on the deck talking about American politics with the Irish contingent of the family when Noah started to feel sick again and as he had the night before, went to bed early. Beth, Jenny and Rebecca worked on a one-thousand-piece puzzle (a collage of images from the 1960s) while Eanna played the keyboard.  When we went to bed Beth had been feeling healthy all day.


In the morning Noah felt better. He and Beth worked on the puzzle and played gin rummy and went for a walk to the lodge. June was still over at YaYa’s so I read all morning and into the afternoon. By lunchtime I was starting to feel some cabin fever and was thinking I should take a walk or a swim, but Noah had a stomachache again so I stayed with him when Beth went to her mother’s to do some laundry and help her with some computer issues.

Meanwhile, Noah recovered and when Beth and June returned we decided we’d all go for a swim. We walked along a wooded path and ran into Jenny, who was out taking a walk of her own. In the pool, June demonstrated the results of two days’ swimming lessons. She put her face in the water without goggles and showed us how she could tread water. I swam laps, although not for as long as I would have liked because there was no dedicated lap lane.  Still, it felt good to stretch my muscles and feel the sun shine on my back. I love swimming outdoors but I rarely do it.

As we left we saw Rebecca emerging from the pool locker room carrying a tennis racket. The Irish relatives were an active lot, always off for a run, a bike ride, a swim or a game of tennis.

YaYa made a pan of delicious spinach lasagna with garlic bread, salad and chocolate chip cookies. Beth and I offered to cook one night but there were too many people and not enough nights so we were forced to let other people cook for us all week, not just dinners either, but a succession of desserts—homemade cookies, peach cobbler and coffee cake kept appearing like magic.

After dinner, Eanna played “Hard-Knock Life” on the keyboard (I think he found and printed the music especially for June) while we tried to coax June to sing with him but she wouldn’t have anything to do with it. I think the slightly unfamiliar version of the music threw her. It was sweet of him to try, though. June was also exhausted from a day that featured three trips to the pool (once with YaYa, her lesson and one with us).  Beth drove her over to her mother’s house and put her to bed so YaYa could stay at the cabin and socialize a little. A friend and old teaching colleague of Beth’s mom had come to the cabin to visit and a comparative discussion of standardized tests in the United States and Ireland ensued. Eanna played some more and then headed over to the lodge to print more sheet music (and to email his girlfriend, according to his teasing older siblings).

Later Carole, Jenny, Sean, Michael, Rebecca, Noah and I played Quiddler, a card game that’s best described as a cross between Scrabble and gin rummy. Sean, an English professor, had the Oxford English Dictionary on his phone, which was handy for word challenges (and there were a few). You have to admire a man who carries the OED in his pocket. The rules for accepting help from other players and passersby became the subject of good-natured dispute. Occasionally people drifted away from the game to work on the puzzle, which was gradually taking shape.  When I was up to use the bathroom at 12:30, Michael was still working on it.


In the morning Noah wanted to ride the paddleboats and we invited Eanna to come, too. He and I shared a boat and Beth and Noah had another one. Just as I was thinking was a pleasant day it was—sunny and around eighty degrees—Eanna said he wasn’t used to exercising in such heat. (He meant his tennis game the day before and tennis does require more exertion than paddleboats, but it wasn’t the first time the Americans were commenting on the pleasant temperatures while the Irish found it hot.)

Eanna went off with Carole to help her with her Meals on Wheels delivery while we picked up YaYa and Carole and went to lunch at the Silver Chopsticks.  Earlier I’d mentioned how I’d heard how people who win bronze metals feel better about them than people who win silver ones (because it’s hard to come so close to gold and not win it).  As we approached the restaurant, Noah said maybe we’d feel better about lunch at the Bronze Chopsticks.  Beth was quite taken with this joke.

After lunch I took June to the pool again. After three lessons she could put her whole head underwater and swim underwater, but oddly not dog paddle. When she tried she’d just tread water and not be able to propel herself forward. Some of the Irish arrived while we were in the water and after saying hello, went to the deep end to race each other. We were in the water a long time, but June didn’t want to get out, insisting, “I’m not cold!” as she hugged her arms around her chest. She would not leave until I got Sean, Michael and Rebecca to come over and watch her tricks.

Dinner was homemade pierogies, green beans, roasted vegetables, and chicken for the meat-eaters, plus a peach cobbler Jenny made. Noah walked up the to lodge to use the Wifi, and Carole and I followed a little while later.  She wanted to check her email and make some phone calls and I wanted to buy a t-shirt at the gift shop and use the computers in the business center, but as it turned out the computers all had Net Nanny installed.  Did you know many of your blogs—and I mean you, Allison, Swistle, and Tracey—are considered Adult/Mature by Net Nanny?  So I couldn’t read everything I wanted. Interestingly enough, my own blog was accessible, despite having the word “lesbian” in the subtitle. It’s nice to know Net Nanny isn’t homophobic, just irrational and random. (Though the next day it warned me away from my own blog, to which no new content had been added, because it contained images of people in “intimate apparel or swimwear.”  Beach pictures of the kids, I swear, Net Nanny!)

Back at the cabin, it was Scrabble and the puzzle and our nightly concert by Eanna.


Carole’s daughter Meg arrived on a flight from Ireland during the night and the next morning she had presents and treats to distribute—a box of Irish crème and Irish whiskey flavored truffles for the house, lollipops with leprechauns on them for the kids. Plus Noah got a braided wristband in the colors of the Irish flag, and keychain with a Celtic N on it. June got a necklace and a bracelet with dolphin charms.  Carole got a set of brightly colored dipping bowls that fit into a basket and two mugs for her birthday, and Jenny who recently retired, got a magnetic Scrabble kit, “not for your retirement because I know you aren’t accepting retirement gifts, but just because I was thinking of you.”

Meg asked to see Noah’s West Virginia Monopoly board he made for the State Fair project. It has fame extending beyond the Atlantic apparently. It also has a blog. He brought it over and she admired all the properties and card and players’ pieces.  We’d learned earlier in the week how Meg and Sean made their own Monopoly board from memory when they moved to Ireland as teenagers and couldn’t find one to buy there. Meg promised to play the game with Noah before we left.

In the afternoon we went to a Pirates game. We drove to Pittsburgh and then took a ferry down the river from remote parking to the stadium. Scattered afternoon and evening thunderstorms were predicted but the skies looked clear. As soon as the game started Beth and I were both busy explaining the rules of baseball to the kids.

In the restroom right before it started, I asked June, “Do you remember the rules of t-ball?” thinking I could go from there.

“No,” she said. “That was a long time ago I played.” (It was last summer.) I tried to explain it as best I could but I’m not sure she ever understood what was going on.  She did cheer, when everyone else did, but she was a little concerned no one was cheering for the opposing team.  I reassured her they have half their games at home with their own fans, too.  Part of June’s vision for the ball game involved getting food from a strolling vendor so when the cotton candy seller came by and I bought some for her, she was pretty well satisfied with the whole experience.  Noah was interested in the statistics about each player that flashed on the screen when he came up to bat. Beth tried texting a message to June to be displayed on the screen but either it never appeared or we weren’t looking when it did. I got Cracker Jacks because it was a ball game and pierogies because it was Pittsburgh and I settled in to watch the game, something I haven’t done in years, well decades actually in a stadium. I’d been thinking of the game mainly in terms of logistics and I’d forgotten I like baseball.

Arizona scored two runs almost immediately and then Pittsburgh got two in the second inning. Scoring slowed down after that. By the time we got up to go home in the seventh inning stretch, the score was 6-3 Arizona and that ended up being the final score. “Why do we have to leave so soon?” June asked so I guess she had a good time at her first Major League baseball game.


In the morning, Beth, Noah and I accompanied YaYa and June to June’s last swimming lesson. It was drizzling on and off so we stood poolside with our raincoats and umbrellas watching as June held to the side and kicked, dived for plastic rings, and swam with a noodle under her arms or twisted around her torso.  She jumped into the pool (the instructor caught her) and at the very end of the lesson she swam a few feet unaided. Any longer and she wanted to put her feet on the bottom. Everyone agreed it was good progress for a week and the teacher kept telling her she “did awesome.”

After the lesson, we went to YaYa’s house where June had a warm bath (she was shivering in the pool and insisting she wasn’t cold). We did laundry, watched some Olympics (synchronized swimming and kayaking) and ran errands. Then Beth and her mom took the kids swimming at the lodge’s indoor pool.

Carole’s seventy-fifth birthday party was that evening.  Wonderful smells drifted from the kitchen all afternoon as Sean and Meg cooked an Indian dinner, complete with four different curries, raita, basmati rice and naan. Beth contributed a pitcher of mango lassi. There was also a buffet of American food- chicken, ham, potato salad, and crudités with dip.

In addition to the cabin crew, at least another ten people came, friends and more extended family.  One of these was an almost five-year-old little girl named Hannah, who is my kids’ third cousin.  June sized up the girl, dressed in a purple, sequined leotard and launched into an explanation about why she was in her pajamas.  It was close to June’s bedtime when the Hannah and her family arrived, but June clearly felt underdressed in her hand-me-down shark pajamas. Once that explanation was out of the way, June settled in on the couch next to Hannah, who was carsick from her drive from Ohio, and a little overwhelmed by June’s steady stream of chatter.  When it became clear the conversation was going to be one-sided, June decided to sing Annie songs to Hannah.  Eventually, Hannah recovered enough to eat and talk to June. She even followed her to the bathroom while June was brushing her teeth and informed her that she didn’t have to go to bed until ten-thirty.

I put June to bed ten minutes after bedtime, but before the cake was served, telling her I’d save her a piece, because I wasn’t sure what time the cake would be cut.  When it was, there were sparkler candles in the shapes of the numerals seven and five Meg had brought all the way from Ireland. Sean made a lovely toast to his mother and to Jenny on the occasion of her retirement. Carole opened presents: a scarf, a shawl, some thimbles (she collects them), a Kindle, and two books, the last two in the Hunger Games trilogy.  She’d read the first one for her book club and liked it better than she expected so I suggested to Beth she buy them for her birthday. I stayed up a bit past my own bedtime, listening to Carole and YaYa and Jenny reminisce about their youth. It was a very nice party.  “I don’t want to leave,” Beth confided to me, as we sat together on the couch.


We were planning to leave in the early afternoon, so the next morning we got up and packed.  Around ten-thirty, Jenny, who loves to play games, noted there were enough people sitting around the table to play a game and I swooped in, suggesting Noah’s West Virginia Monopoly game. Jenny, her daughter Laura, Michael, Rebecca, Meg, Noah and I played it for two hours. The game wasn’t even close to over when we quit, but we needed to hit the road and Jenny and Laura, who were playing as a team, were clearly in the lead so we declared them the winners. I think I was in second place.

After the game we got a picture of June with all of the living female relatives who have the middle name June (YaYa, Beth, Meg and Laura.)  They are all named after Beth’s grandmother Ida June, the family matriarch. We pulled out of the cabin’s driveway at one o’clock. Beth said she felt sad to leave.  We’d had a nice week in Oglebay Park in the cabin full of family and it’s always hard to leave the place where you belong.

We’ve been home for a week, a stressful and busy week. Beth had to work late twice and I failed to take the kids’ pediatrician appointments and Noah’s middle school orientation (the first of two) into account when I mapped out my work hours. Noah had a lot of summer homework assignments to complete because he has camp next week and the week after that school starts. But my work and his homework got (mostly) done. And June had a good time at basketball camp. We’ve settled back into our home life, but every now and then I think of that cabin in the woods and wonder if we might all gather there again, and maybe next time in less than ten years.