Last year I suggested to my 89 year old mom, Grace Elaine Stuckey Brinker, that we take a trip together.
  • Day17

    On Wisconsin

    April 27 in the United States ⋅ ❄️ 34 °F

    Well. We made it. We're now back in Wisconsin. Twelve days and 2500 miles round trip with an almost 90 and almost 60 year old. Almost all of the driving was on small backroads. Our dashboard totem served us well as we passed through state after state in Trump's heartland (seems like a bit of an oxymoron using 'Trump' and 'heart' in the same sentence).

    Our first stop on entering Wisconsin was St Glarus. A small town settled by Swiss farmers which still holds some of the remnants of its founders. Life sized models of cows adorn the place, cheese shops abound, and restaurants serve fondue, raclette, and rosti.

    I fly out in a couple of days, but tonight we're expecting a late April blizzard (is that actually a thing?) bringing between 7 and 10 inches of wet snow. But it all fits with the Wisconsin state motto:

    'Should have been here last week, it was a sunny 70 degrees and nothing was biting!'
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  • Day15

    Kent Redux and More Gravestones

    April 25 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 50 °F

    This morning we begin our trek back to LaCrosse. We spent the past few days visiting friends and relatives. We were able to spend an afternoon with Ray and Doris Aeschliman. It seems wherever we go we run into people who know Grace or who remember my dad. Just wandering around downtown we'll be stopped to chat by old friends. What a life they'd built here together.

    We were also able to explore Kent a bit more. Lots if changes there. The town/gown connection is stronger in both spirit and physical planning. A new campus/ city gateway is inviting from all sides. We particularly enjoyed the Wick Poetry Center and garden connected to Kent State University. At the center of the garden us a large bronze sculpture and small amphitheater for doing readings. The sculpture is connected to a watering system and in the summer there are 9 plants hosting a garden in its crooks and crannies. The newly built KSU Center for Architecture and Environmental Design building is quite an impressive structure too.

    On our return drive from Pittsburgh to Kent we stopped by another cemetery in Alliance, Ohio. The Brinker memorials are arranged in a semicircle around a central monument. My great great grandfather August Brinker is interred there. He died at the age of 54 during the great influenza outbreak of 1919. The Brinkers were reportedly seed merchants who shared the business with another family, the VanWarmers. The families also intermarried and shared the central stone, VanWarmer on one side and Brinker on the other. Nit sure about the child sized stone for William Brinker who was born and died in February 1900. He may have been an older brother to my grandfather William G Brinker, or perhaps a cousin.

    Last evening we dined with friends and family at a Lebanese restaurant in Hudson Ohio. Uncle Al and his partner Ginger, Cousin Dave and his wife Jill, and friends Dick Leppo and Kay Hensel. Lots of laughs and good company.

    And now we move west...
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  • Day13

    Easter to Pittsburgh and Back Again

    April 23 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 55 °F

    Grace and I have had quite a few pleasant days in a row on this trip. She travels remarkably well for a human being who is about reached her ninth decade. She maintains her sense of humor, doesn't tire too easily, and walks better than the average American of any age. There are moments each day when she lets loose with her favorite swear word, but these are most often short lived events.

    Over the past few days we've had some wonderful unexpected experiences. We attended the best Easter service I've ever witnessed at the Kent United Church of Christ, run across some terrifying religious images, eaten Malaysian small plates in downtown Kent, sampled a craft ale that ranks among the best I've ever tasted, and run across a photograph of Nancy and my favorite Belgian canal in a hotel in Pittsburgh.

    In between I've run across a few old friends and taken Grace's sister Lois out to eat twice. I've also learned through my Aunt Lois that Grace was quite a trouble maker. Maybe even enough to rival me in my youth.Older sisters Lois and Bea had their hands full keeping Grace in line. She broke windows, turned a garden hose on her sister's boyfriend, wore makeup, stayed out past curfew, and even chewed bubble gum against her parent's wishes.

    Can't wait to see what the next few days bring before we set out on our return.
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  • Day10

    Our Hometowns

    April 20 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 57 °F

    Grace and I were born in the same hospital in Alliance, Ohio some 30 years apart. She grew up in Alliance. My grandparents Fred and Irene Stuckey are buried there. They were Church of the Brethren, an early Reformation Anabaptist sect like the Mennonites, Amish, or Hutterites. Some of the Brethren were also Moravians; a pre Reformation Bohemian sect. Needless to say willful obstinance runs in our veins. Fred was born in 1900 and died in 2000 two months after his 100th birthday. We visited one of Grace's oldest friends, Betty Sonday Thorpe, during our swing through Alliance.

    Our next stop was Canton, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Perie Brown, the mother of my oldest friend John Panagos. We headed out to dinner at an amazing restaurant complex called Gervasi Vineyard Bistro. Great ambiance and food. They brought Grace a special treat for her birthday year.

    While we're on the subject of football, I took breakfast at our hotel this morning. The photo below of the two women watching television was taken at breakfast. They were watching and commenting on the run up to the NFL draft. Not a game, not the draft itselft, but a show on the run up. At Breakfast! They really know how to grow sportsfans here in Northeast Ohio.

    While here Grace and I are staying at the Kent State University Inn and Conference Center. It's a joint venture with the University. Quite a nice place and right in the middle of a revitalized towncenter. We spent today visiting friends and neighbors from our old neighborhood. Neighbor Jan Palermo hosted a nice gathering. Afterwards we were able to visit the home where I grew up and where Grace and Bill lived for 50 plus years before their move to Wisconsin. Note the daffodils.

    Yesterday I shared coffee and memories with Lisa Kurtz-Myers, my first real girlfriend. It was great catching up, although a little unsettling as she reminded me how little self awareness I had back in the day. Somewhat demanding, possessive, self-centered and sexist too. Jeez. I kept thinking that if our daughter Sophie had brought someone like that home I might have suggested she look for a new boyfriend. Actually I was a pretty good boyfriend, given the historical context, and Lisa reminded me of those qualities too. Nancy suggested that we invite Lisa and her husband to visit next time they're in California and I hope they take us up on it.

    Tomorrow is Easter. We catch up with friends from the Kent United Church of Christ, then head to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania to visit with Grace's middle sister Lois and her family.
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  • Day7

    Mansfield and Olivesburg

    April 17 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 66 °F

    Grace and I left Lima and found backroads all of the way to Mansfield, Ohio. We're staying at a State Park Lodge above a reservoir formed with the damming of the Mohican river. Dad and I used to run the Mohican in his homemade fiberglass canoe. Usually he'd invite seven or eight of my scouting friends along. It felt like coming home.

    Along the way we saw more and more flowers blooming. Daffodils, Violets, and Spring Beauties. Dogwood and Cherry trees were also showing. It was lovely. At one point we passed a group of Amish kids on recess playing stickball. At one intersection we ran across a sign reminding us of the temporal nature of things. See the black and white photo below. It's five til midnight and time to get things in order.

    In the evening we were treated to a dinner by cousins Jim, Judy, and Dennis. Lots of reminiscing. It was great catching up with the extended family and their burgeoning offspring. Dennis even has a 'Granddog' that he's been watching while their daughter Erica is off in St.Thomas for Spring Break.

    Today was bittersweet. It marks the second anniversary of my father Bill Brinker's passing. We started off by visiting Grace's oldest sisiter, Bea Henry. The two told stories about their parents and the school principal, Mr. Cobb. It seems their biggest fear was that the principal might call their mom. Bea also forwarded an opinion that the current resident of the White House is crazy. Dangerous territory in this part of Ohio. Grace responded by saying, "You can't say that Bea! You're a Republican!" To which Bea responded, "Well it's true. I wouldn't have brought my kids up to behave like that."

    Mom and I then drove on to nearby Olivesburg and had lunch at the Olivesburg General Store. This store was once owned and managed by our Henry relatives back in the day. It now features homemade cauliflower dough pizza and craft beer. They also have ice cream and good coffee which cover most of my major food groups. Might be time to consider a move. I could ride my bicycle down there in the morning and not have to leave until dark. They also sell a Daisy bb gun with a pink stock that I found adorable.

    After lunch we headed a mile or two up the road to the farm that our family once owned. It is now owned by the Henry clan. I remember innumerable weekends out at the farm with my dad putting in a five acre lake, planting trees and daffodils. My friend John Panagos even spent a couple of months with me painting the barn and outbuildings. What a wonderful feeling it was to be met with clusters of daffodils spreading all around the lake. It was so special to see Grace walking among them, as I'm sure dad had planted them for her. Here's a link to the field of flowers:

    I may have to check on buying that land back. ;) It was always Pop's dream to put a cottage among the trees looking over the lake.

    Tomorrow we're off to Alliance, Ohio where mom and I were born and where she spent her youth. With aunt Bea's admonishion we carry with us a new hope that our Republican friends and family will see just how far things have gotten away from how we were raised and from where we need to be.
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  • Day5

    Wisconsin to Ohio

    April 15 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 36 °F

    We left Wisconsin midmorning on the 14th of April with a plan to drive down the Mississippi some 250 miles to Peoria, Illinois. The drive was beautiful, rolling hills indicative of the Driftless region on this stretch of the river. The undulations are a remnant of what was once the norm on the northern half of the continent. The glaciers of several ice ages have scraped the topography of this part of the world flat. This Driftless region was spared.

    We stopped at our favorite thrift store in Lansing, Iowa to pick up a talisman for the journey. This being holy week (that's the week between Palm Sunday and Easter for Sophie's benefit) we decided that a Solar Jiggling Jesus would fit the bill. We also made a stop at MacGregor, one of my favorite little river towns. They have some quirky shops and a good diner that serves up cappuccino and chocolate cake. Along the way we passed an old barn that had served as a music venue and was up for sale. We made it into Peoria just before dark.

    There next day was remarkably flat and repetitive. The glaciers, the settler's penchant for laying out gridlines, and modern farmer's penchant for planting the same crops mile after mile saw to that. Check out our driving timeline in the photos below. Thats 300 miles of same.

    We did catch a break with a lunch stop at Joe and Lee's ecological oasis near Logansport, Indiana. They are the parents of Sophie's companion Jacob. They've been working the same 40 acres for 35 years in an effort to bring back wilderness. The beavers get an assist with this. There are lakes and wetlands and countless birds. Lee mentioned that they have 5 species of woodpecker and that blue grosbeak have been sighted. At migration time they go through 2 lbs of grape jelly a day feeding the orioles. We were fed well too with a hearty potato soup and some of Joe's homemade rye bread. A perfect stop.

    We passed the Indiana/Ohio border by late afternoon. An hour later we pulled into our hotel in downtown Lima. Lima is filled with old time businesses, partly because many of the national chains have passed them by. There are no Starbucks within 30 miles of the town. Kewpie Burger was just around the corner from our hotel so we stopped in for a burger, a bowl of chili, and a photo op.

    Tomorrow it's on to Mansfield to visit with Grace's oldest sister Bea and her family.
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  • Day2

    Weather Window

    April 12 in the United States ⋅ ☁️ 37 °F

    My mom, Grace Elaine Stuckey Brinker, is turning 90 this year. Her birthday is in mid August. Last year I suggested that we plan a trip together. "Anywhere you want to go, I'll get you there", I said. "Let's take a train across Canada or catch ferries up the inland waterways to Alaska. How about back to Central America? You always loved it down there."

    She said that she'd think about it.

    A week later she calls me on the phone and says, "Those sound like nice ideas, but what I really want to do is to go back to Ohio."

    Ohio. Where she spent the first 84 years of her life. Where her sisters live. Where her church community is. Where her friends still ask about her. "OK," I said, "but we're not going around your birthday, because it's 95 degrees and 95% humidity everyday in August. Let's go in April, when the birds are in migration, the daffodils and crocuses are blooming, and we have a chance of good weather."


    My plane into Minneapolis was delayed for several hours due to 'a winter cyclone event' which dropped temps into the 20's, dumped over a foot of snow, and kicked up 40mph winds. See photo of the knocked over furniture on the deck of her senior living place. So much for good weather. All the Wisconsonians I've run across keep saying the same the same thing, "You should've been here last week! It was a sunny 75 degrees." Of course by now I'm on to them because they've said the same thing every time I've visited over the past 5 years. "Shoulda been here last week..."


    I'm sure there are weekends in the late spring or early fall when it isn't freezing or hot or raining or something isn't biting you, but I haven't hit those precise weather windows yet.

    So, we're all packed. Grace has opened the gifts that I brought from Nancy. We've had a couple of nice meals with my brother Will and his spouse Beth. We have a bag of roadtrip food. Tomorrow we set out down the Mississippi for a 700 mile drive from Wisconsin to Ohio with a side trip to Pittsburgh.

    We're using Atlas Obscura's website to plan our stops. We're looking for experiences that can only be found in this part of the world.

    Stay tuned.
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