Performer: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Songwriter: Neil Young
Original Release: Last Time Around (Buffalo Springfield)
Definitive Version: Four Way Street, 1971
Cancer runs in my mother’s family like a thread. It got both of her maternal grandparents long before I was born; it got both her parents by the time I was 12; and it finally got her the second time around after a quick battle a year ago. The genes have been thinned out, but I’m very aware that it might come to get me some day. I still have a few years before I start to enter the danger zone.
I barely knew my maternal grandmother. She died when I was 8, and I have just isolated snippets of memory—nothing enduring. In fact the only thing I really remember about her is one time when she was undergoing treatment just before the end, Mom went to visit her at the hospital. I didn’t see her; I was disinvited, so Dad took me over to Ohio Stadium to knock around.
Back then, OSU had Astroturf on the field, and they left the gates open, so anyone could go in and play football right on the same field that the Buckeyes played on. How cool is that?
Anyway, I remember Grampy, my maternal grandfather, better. I don’t have a lot of memories of him, because he lived in Marion, and we didn’t go to see him every weekend, like we did Meem and Pop, my paternal grandparents, who lived in Upper Arlington about 10 minutes from my home.
The thing I remember most is his house. I think because I was there so rarely, it was more interesting to me than Meem and Pop’s house, which I saw all the time. It was a ranch house on the corner of a fairly modern (1960s) subdivision. I liked going the “secret” way to get there, because it seemed as though you were out in the country, when all of a sudden you went over a hill that had railroad tracks, and his house was right there on the other side. The other way was down a major road populated by stores, fast-food restaurants and gas stations.
We’d park in the driveway and always go through the garage to get inside; I don’t think I ever went through the front door, which was on the side that faced the train tracks. You’d go through a regular door by the garage door, which I thought was cool, past the old Coke dispenser he had there to another door that opened into the kitchen and utility room (off tot he side) where the washer and dryer were.
Past the kitchen was the great room, the dining area first and then the living area with its 1960s-chic furniture and brick hearth and fireplace where Grampy kept his awesome collection of German beer steins. Off the kitchen and dining area to the back of the “front” door were two openings that led to a hallway, the two bedrooms and bathroom in the back and the den in front. The den opened to a screened-in porch and then the back yard.
Grampy had been fighting various cancers for quite some time—my Mom’s family were voracious smokers—and by the time I was 12, his face showed the ravages of the fight. Jin used to say Grampy frightened her. To a 7- or 8-year-old, which would be the age she was when he died, I could see that. I didn’t think so; that’s just the way he looked.
I can’t remember whether I had as much of an inkling before Grampy died that that was about to happen the way I did with Nanny before him, but I remember distinctly after he died. It was the summer of 1976, and we went to Marion far more than ever before, because—now that both parents were gone—Mom and her family had to pack up the house.
I had just discovered Four Way Street the winter before all of this took place, and I was listening to it almost nonstop, so when I hear this song, I think of Grampy’s house in Marion and one visit in particular when we spent the night there, but I’ll save that story for another time.