Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2017



A Rite of Passage
June 8, 2017



I spent an extended Memorial Day weekend in Champaign, Illinois, attending the celebration of my grand-daughter Rachael’s Bat Mitzvah. Although she and her parents are in the process of moving here from Champaign, logistically it was much easier to have it there than here.

Rachael, her mother Elizabeth, and I made the eight hour drive to Champaign one afternoon and evening after Rachael came home from school. When Elizabeth and Mike were married they were living in St. Louis, both teaching at Washington University. That was a ten hour drive from here, following I-70 to Indianapolis, then on to St. Louis.

The Champaign drive follows the same route to Indianapolis, then cuts northwest on I-74. It has been a few years since I made the trip by car; this trip was certainly full of memories of past excursions.

We made our accustomed stop at Bob Evans in Zanesville, Ohio, where twelve year old Rachael was insulted by being offered a “Kid’s Menu”. Fortunately the Bob Evans in Columbus where we stopped on the way back automatically sensed the maturity she had demonstrated in the Bat Mitzvah and gave her an adult menu.

As is my custom I complained to the Bob Evans manager about the décor. When we first began stopping there I was quite pleased with the franchise’s policy of decorating each restaurant with historical photographs relevant to the location. When the one was built in Kirwan Heights, they followed this custom by requesting pictures from the Bridgeville Area Historical Society.

A few years ago Bob Evans management redecorated all the restaurants, replacing the historical photographs I liked with bland, generic Ohio farmland depictions. I think this was a major mistake and have made a point of complaining about the decision whenever I stop at a Bob Evans. One wonders if any of the local managers pass the complaints on to management.

The weekend was the occasion for a large family reunion. Rachael’s father’s side, the Finkes, included at least a dozen and a half aunts, uncles, and cousins, congregating from all directions – Louisville, Kentucky; North Hampton, Massachusetts; Cornell University; Knoxville, Tennessee; and Philadelphia. A major motivation for Rachael to experience the Bat Mitzvah was her observation of several such events for her Finke cousins.

We are very pleased that she decided to undertake this responsibility, especially because it gave her a deep understanding of the heritage of her father’s family and people. Learning Hebrew was easy for her; she already is fluent in Japanese. Studying the Torah and learning about the early days of the Israelites is equally rewarding. I hope she shows the same interest in the heritage of her mother’s side of the family some day.

My daughter Sara and the rest of the McCances drove all the way from Fort Collins, Colorado, in two days, stopping in Omaha overnight. Although Sara was here several months ago, I had not seen the rest of the family since Christmas. Sara reported that, when they began to discuss buying special clothes for the event, fifteen year old Ian announced that he would like a suit, so he could “look sharp like Grandpa and Uncle John”.

His wishes were granted and he did indeed win the “sharpest dresser” contest hands down. Twelve year old Nora and nine year old Claire looked great in their new dresses, but, after all, that is what we expect from girls. Unfortunately my son John and his family were unable to join us.

The ceremony was long, but quite interesting. Rachael has performed as a musician so many times before large audiences that she participated in the service with no sign of nervousness. A pianist (Rachael’s teacher), a cellist, and a gifted female vocalist provided the music. I wished there had been an opportunity for Rachael to play violin with them on at least one occasion.

That evening there was a dinner in the temple for all the friends, neighbors, and family – nearly one hundred persons in total. Family tradition is to prepare the dinner themselves, rather than risk trusting a caterer. We witnessed the preparation of it the day before the ceremony and were impressed with the way everyone, including two young ladies obviously auditioning to become Finkes in the future, chipped in and churned out dish after dish of delicious food.

Following the dinner there was a party honoring Rachael. It was quite loud, provided by a “D J”, in accordance with Rachael’s playlist. One of the guests asked me what I thought of the music – my response was “So far I haven’t heard anything that remotely resembles music!”

Fortunately my tastes were not typical of those young folks at the party, including my own grandchildren. Nonetheless I continue to be grateful that I was young at a time when music was melodious, harmonious, and sentimental. To each his own! By coincidence, that was the title of a big hit for Eddy Howard in 1946, very popular at teen age dances that year.

After the dinner and party the leftovers were transported home and served admirably at an open house the following morning. In addition to all the family members I was impressed with the large number of neighbors, friends, and colleagues who came to compliment Rachael on her achievement.

All weekend I felt a wee bit sad that my sweet young granddaughter had begun to make the gradual transition to adulthood. Fortunately the morning we were packing to drive back here the combination of fatigue and constant stress of the weekend finally got to Rachael. She threw a tantrum over some trivial problem, and I knew we will still have our spoiled little girl for a few more years.

The day we drove back was the first anniversary of my wife’s passing. Some cultures mandate a mourning period of one year; that certainly would not be sufficient for me. She was in my thoughts all weekend. At one point I was about to enter the sanctuary when I got a strong message – “For heaven’s sake, get your hands out of your pockets. You’re not in a pool room!”

Even when I was with a group of people, her absence made me feel alone. I was reminded of the Langston Hughes lyrics to Kurt Weill’s song, “Lonely House”. “Funny, how you can feel lonely, with so many people around”.

All told it was an exciting weekend with a wonderful performance by Rachael and a rewarding opportunity to see family and old friends. Nonetheless, when we pulled off I-79 at the Bridgeville exit, my reaction was “I am glad I am home.”

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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