A Meeting of the Families

I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. My parents and everyone in my family were from Ohio. I’m a Brooklynite. I’ve lived here for 52 years. I won’t apologize for growing up in Ohio but don’t take me back there.

I had two grandfathers. One died before I was born but I heard many stories about him and the other one, my mother’s father, was my best buddy growing up. I was the youngest of a large family and he was my babysitter, so as far as games were concerned, he taught me every inside game I played. And because I was his youngest grandchild, I learned cribbage and peanuckle probably before I could talk. I was beating many of my older siblings in Gin Rummy because he would spend hours teaching me these games. I have noted with each of my three children, the first thing I taught them was backgammon. I figured when the going gets tough, play a game and it always works.

My grandfather that was my buddy was the youngest of a family that immigrated to Zanesville, Ohio. They came from Germany and they were all farmers. My grandfather had a little trouble learning how to drive a car. When he first started learning, he ran over the chicken coup, so we decided that he was going to be a city person. The city was Columbus, which was the biggest city near Zanesville. He became a tax accountant. He did people’s income tax. However, his brothers remained on the farm in Zanesville and they were very tall. I mean everybody was over six feet.

It was an interesting thing for me to watch because my grandfather on my father’s side, who I never knew, came from family in Wales and they were farmers and they immigrated to Ohio. Both of these guys were born just right after the civil war and land was cheap and there was more land than there was in Wales or Germany. He also wanted to get off the farm and that meant coming to Columbus and he was very successful. He ran a buggy business and was very successful but we all know what happened to the buggy when the car came in. So he went belly up. Education was very important to him. My father was a lawyer. Everybody went to Ohio State because that’s in Columbus. The stories that people told about him were really quite amazing to him. I’m sorry I never knew him.

But my buddy who I did know quite well, did have many stories to tell about growing up on the farm. And then there was the day that all of his brothers decided—all nine of them—to come to Columbus to meet my father’s family because he was also one of five kids. It was quite astonishing when these nine tall men arrived. My father was short. All in blue jeans, just huge. We couldn’t even get them all in the living room. It was quite the meeting of two families. I remember that clearly.