36 Hours in Cincinnati

I was adamant.

It had to happen.

Even if it was only for thirty-six-hours.

We had to make the nine-hour trip to Cincinnati before Dillon left for college.

I wanted him to see family.

I wanted to get in the truck, roll the windows down, and drive along Cliff Road. I wanted to show him the river that raised me – the Ohio River, whose deep, winding bends inspire what-could-be-on-the-other-side adventurous thinking.

I wanted him to meet my high school football coach.

I wanted him to meet my boys.

I wanted him to feel the envelopment of care and comfort that I feel with them.

We are a circle of brotherhood.

While each of us has taken off in various directions, we always return to this circle. With our eyes full of history and knowing glances, we each take our turns stepping into the center and then back to the perimeter. There is ease in this circle. It is just us. There is also relief. We get a break from the world. We hold it at bay. The world can wait. When we are together, it does.

And, having made the trip to Cincinnati and back, I think about watching my boys with my son. I think about those men, once boys, gathered around him—the very same boys who back in the summer of 1988 were racing back home from that Hank Williams Jr. Concert in Tim’s farm truck. Billy was driving because Tim was too drunk. The rest of us were in various states of inebriation, sitting in the back of the pickup bed with our arms hanging over the edge.

I think about how the late-night August air rushed through our hair as we went up and over the bridge out of Kentucky and into Cincinnati.

I think about how we grew quiet, looking up at those Cincinnati lights—those skyscraping lights that never failed to provoke small-town boys into dreaming big dreams, how they were reflecting in our eyes, how I wondered where those lights were taking my boys, and how I would love to remember where they took me.

I think about how upon crossing back into Ohio, we raced down route 50, back to the west side, back to our side of town, how we had a scrimmage game the next morning, how it was already the next morning, and how that game was just a few hours away.

I think about how we were all hungover, how we played horribly, how Coach Haag knew what was up, how he tore into us, fuming about our lack of senior leadership, and how his spittle-flying, red-faced tearing into us still stings to this day.

I think about how those boys in that truck are now grown men, how some of us are fathers with multiple kids, and how all of us are men who hug upon seeing each other and say “I love you” in our own way.

I think of how those men took my son into their arms, how they brought him into the fold, how they treated him like a man, how they treated him like he was one of us, and how they gave him a gloriously rowdy and raucous introduction to our ways.

I think about gassing up at UDF in preparation for our early-morning departure back to Richmond and stepping through the tree line to see Mark at his place of work, a place he and his family owns. I think of how Mark said “Mom is here,” how Mrs. Baker looked just as fabulous as the last time I saw her thirty years ago, how I gave her a big bear hug, how I introduced her to Dillon, and how upon Dillon sticking out his hand to greet her she scoffed “Handshake? Give me a hug!”

And, having made the trip to Cincinnati and back, I think I know why I was so adamant about making the trip happen.

I feel relaxed.

I feel relaxed in knowing that Dillon now knows that if anything were to happen to me, that back in Ohio, in addition to a family that loves him, he has a river that will make things right for him, a community of mommas that will wrap their arms around him, and a group of men who will come for him, place him in the center and make a space for him along the perimeter.