Under These Circumstances: Traveling For A Funeral

The twisting highways that cut through West Virginia and lead to my hometown, which is on the border of West Virginia and Ohio, are terrifying at night. The last time I made the drive, the fog was thick and low – a meteorological manifestation of my cloudy, burdened mind. Because the hills are steep and street lights are rare, the dim headlights were the only aid my vision had. I couldn’t plug in and listen to my own music because I didn’t have an auxiliary cable and there was nothing on the radio. The hum of the highway was the only sound accompanying us for the ride. My childhood friend, Karin, was sitting at a spine-straight 90 degree angle in the passenger seat and scanning the blackness for shining pairs of deer eyes. My husband was doing his best to stretch across the tiny car’s back seat and rhapsodizing about beauty, undoubtedly in an effort to help unload some of the weight Karin and I were carrying. But we were on the way to the funeral of one of our close childhood friends and our availability for consolation was erratic.

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Just 48 hours earlier, my husband and I were departing DC and on our way up to New York for a five day vacation when I received the news that she had died. She died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 28. The misfortune of her passing was paired with the serendipitous fortune of having arranged to stay with Karin in New York. She was a good friend to both of us and as I slumped down on Karin’s futon in her dark Bushwick apartment, I was grateful that, if nothing else, we had each other. We spooned, ordered in food and reserved a rental car.

We had made plans to stay with our friend, Liz, at her parents’ house. Their house was our safe place growing up, a home with both a revolving front and refrigerator door. Her parents have known me since I was 6 years old, but I hadn’t seen them in a decade. Our little car slid quietly into a space in front of their house, which looked exactly as I’d remembered, around 1am. Liz and her boyfriend were waiting for us with Karin’s younger brother on the front porch, illuminated beneath the overhead light. Liz and her boyfriend had just arrived a few hours earlier themselves after a long drive from Milwaukee. We embraced and then discovered that we were gripped by manic exhaustion, the kind that makes your stomach turn while your brain still races. We tip-toed down into her basement, which was still littered with the toys from our childhood, and hung out on the worn-down couches we always hung out on, this time as adults. Contagious, unstoppable laughter erupted every ten minutes or so between the six of us as we recounted hilarious stories of the friend we’d lost. We were childishly frightened of waking Liz’s dad, which meant that our bursts of laughter were followed by a swarm of shushing, which triggered more laughter.

She would have wanted it that way, she was a funny girl, we said.

She was one of the only people I went out of my way to see during the handful of visits home I had made since high school graduation. I hated Marietta when I lived there and I couldn’t wait to move away. But during one of the last visits in Marietta I had with her, she showed me where to find love for the town. We sat side by side in Muskingum Park during the late afternoon, ripping up handfuls of grass as we talked. The meticulously green park hugs the Muskingum River and in the late afternoon, everything glows with the warmth of over-saturation and shimmers with the river’s reflections. A golden beam of light was cast over her face. She looked so unmistakably beautiful.

Her family had asked me to learn and sing a song that was special to her at the funeral. Without hesitation, I agreed. As I removed the tags from the new black clothes I’d purchased in New York with trembling hands, I choked. I didn’t know where or how to find the strength to use my vocal cords in front of a room filled with people I hadn’t seen since high school under such bewildering circumstances when I hadn’t even yet processed the news enough to cry. I bit my tongue and looked out the bedroom window and onto that flawlessly paved, wide street on which I’d learned to ride a bike, on which I’d regularly parked my first car. I went downstairs.

It was weird to see us all dressed up. I didn’t even wear heels at my wedding and yet, here we all were, balancing and clicking in unison. The three of us held hands and walked slowly into the funeral home. We’d given all the hugs and condolences we could give and we still had 45 minutes before the beginning of the ceremony. We walked like a pack of wolves who’d grown up in the wild together down the main street in town and into a bar, one of the few. With urgency, we ordered shots, ciders and beers. Tucked into the wooden booth only briefly, we left as quickly as we came. We walked back in the direction of the funeral home although we were unwilling to reenter a minute earlier than we needed to. Instead, we crossed the street and entered the park, the same park I’d sat in with her not that long ago. We walked down to the river and we sat on the stairs, chewing on our cheeks from the inside out, trying to calm our racing hearts. The sky glowed with that amber hue and I looked over at Liz and Karin, both of their faces washed over with a beauty I now know I’ll never forget.

How to Find Bereavement Support Groups

Cedar Point Officially Announces New Roller Coaster For 2013

Always seeking to break records, it looks as though Ohio’s Cedar Point will be building a new winged coaster projected to have the longest drop, fastest run and longest ride of its kind. The coaster, which is set up so riders are suspended in cars that hang out over both sides of the track, is the first coaster to be built at the park since Maverick debuted in 2007. Although rumors about a new coaster have been circulating for months, the news officially broke today when the amusement park put out a press release.

Expected to be completed for the summer of 2013, the ride is named “Gatekeeper” because a section of the ride will arch through two towers directly over the park’s admission gate. Riders will go on a two-minute and 40-second spin that hits speeds up to 67 mph on a 4,164-foot track that reaches heights of 170 feet.

Here’s how a press release describes the coaster: “Once riders crest the top of the 170-foot-tall lift hill, the coaster train will rotate 180 degrees to the right, turning riders upside down before plummeting a record 164 feet toward the ground at speeds reaching 67 mph. Then the train will enter a half loop, go through a half twist and curve out in the opposite direction from which it came. A towering 105-foot-tall camelback hill awaits just before riders glide through a 360-degree giant flat spin.”

Of course, all those numbers come with a cost: the new coaster and a redesigned front gate will cost the park approximately $30 million. According to the Sandusky Register, Cedar Point will also remove two rides – Space Spiral and Disaster Transport – to make room for the new coaster. When completed, the park will once again have 16 roller coasters, which was temporarily set back to 15 when Cedar Point began taking down Disaster Transport.

Innkeeper Challenges Guests to Take on Her Job

Over the years, innkeeper Ellen Grinsfelder has overheard plenty of comments about how much fun it must be to run the cozy bed and breakfast where she works in Logan, Ohio. Since so many people have wondered how grand of a time it must be work at the inn, she’s decided to take the day off and let a guest step in and run the place.

The Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls, located near Hocking Hills State Park, is now on the hunt for a friendly, energetic person to take over innkeeper duties on Sunday, June 3. Anyone who thinks they are up for the job-a task that includes checking in guests and taking phone messages, among other duties-is encouraged to contact Grinsfelder by email at ellen [at] innatcedarfalls [dot] com. In return for their service, one “lucky” applicant will receive a free overnight stay that evening. We’re looking forward to hearing whether or not the chosen one still feels like they got the better end of the bargain after Grinsfelder returns.

Photo of Innkeeper Ellen Grinsfelder courtesy The Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls.

Ohio State Reformatory continues to spook guests with overnight ghost hunts

Exotic animals may have terrorized a small town in Ohio, but guests looking to get really scared should head to the infamous Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield–one of the ultimate places to go for a ghost hunt. For the Halloween season, the reformatory is offering a haunted house-style “Haunted Prison Experience,” but next spring the real frights will begin when the facility that housed over 154,000 prisoners over its lifetime will host ghost walks and overnight ghost hunts for those with serious interest in paranormal activity.

The spooky facility was made famous by the film “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), and has been used in a number of other films and TV shows–including a long list of paranormal investigation shows such as Ghost Adventures, Scariest Stories on Earth and Scariest Places on Earth. Ohio-born Marilyn Manson also did a photo shoot at the reformatory, as well as Godsmack and Lil Wayne.

Built between 1886 and 1910, the reformatory remained in operation for 94 years until a federal court ruling ordered the facility to be closed. Five years later, the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society was formed to turn the prison into a museum and conduct tours. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Place, the prison boasts the world’s largest free-standing steel cellblock.

Those looking to book a tour through the dark halls and corridors of the reformatory–which, by the way, are led by tour guides well-versed in the eerie history of the prison–should book now, as the tours are extremely popular and sell out months in advance. All proceeds go directly to restore the architecture of the reformatory.
The Central Guard Room at the Ohio State Reformatory


An Aerial View of the Ohio State Reformatory


Just a sampling of the spookiness that awaits at the Ohio State Reformatory.

Yuengling will make its way into Ohio bars

Here is some good news for Ohioans and visitors to the Buckeye State: Yuengling beer will make its way into bars throughout Ohio by the end of the year. Already served in thirteen states up and down the Eastern seaboard, the beer has so far not made its way inland – even though it is brewed right next door in Pennsylvania.

What took Yuengling, a company whose claim to fame is the oldest brewery in the country (as well as awesome and affordable beer), so long to move west? Pat Noone, the brewery’s business development manager, says the company will need to expand its brewery in order to handle the move into Ohio. He also says the company is shooting for an October launch and that the level of excitement in Ohio is “high, very high.” Yuengling must have been listening to Ohioans demands: the state wants the beer so bad there is even a “Bring Yuengling to Ohio” petition circulating around the Internet.

If all goes well in Ohio, perhaps more westward expansion is on the way for Yuengling!

[Photo by muohace_dc, flickr]