“We grew up being told to get out of town after graduation.”–that line stuck with me. Kudos to the kids, like these singers, who stuck around their hometowns and now bring soul-feeding art and music–and even beer–to the ones they love. Musical performance with a side of ale. Love this! Sharing from “Voices from the Borderland,” Mansfield, Ohio. ~ Rust Belt Girl (Rebecca)
Joel Vega & Andrew Potter, singing at The Phoenix Brewing Company
I don’t know one bean about opera. What I do know, is that Andrew Potter produced a note Monday night so low and resonant I felt it in my bones. You don’t have to know much Wagner to appreciate the talent and hard work behind making that music.
I attended “Hopera2!” at The Phoenix Brewing Company — a pairing of Phoenix’s beer with music by Mid-Ohio Opera. The opera company was founded by Joel Vega, a name I knew growing up here as someone to watch out for at the yearly solo and ensemble music competitions. And now look at him! Maybe it was the beer, but the man couldn’t stop smiling. As someone who has created his own successful arts nonprofit in a town where many said, opera? he has every right to grin. Mid-Ohio Opera brings…
Growing up in the Cleveland, Ohio, area of the U.S., the first question asked of a new acquaintance was: “What side of the city are you from—East Side or West Side?” Once that was settled (if you were still talking) and you exchanged surnames, then came the second question: “What kind of name is that?”
There’s a lot to the East Side/West Side rivalry this article delves into if you’re interested. But today I’m talking—and taking—names. What’s in a name? If you’re a Rust Belt native, a lot.
My husband, not a Rust Belt native, thinks the name question is gauche (okay, he doesn’t say gauche, but that’s what he means: tacky, uncouth, even rude.) I wouldn’t ask the question of my neighbors in the Maryland town where we now live, a town that was established in the 1600s. Here, talk of family names and countries of origin quickly gets really old—literally. (Of course, there are many exceptions—newer immigrants and many “come here’s,” like me, from other American places.) Still, for many longstanding Maryland natives, the Old Country—with its telling surnames—is a distant memory. They are Marylanders, plain and simple.
Being from the Rust Belt is a little more complicated. On a recent trip back to the Belt—the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area to be specific—I made it my mission to have pizza. (Maryland is known for blue crab, not pizza, for good reason.) It’s true, Beaver, Pennsylvania, doesn’t have a particularly Italian ring, but it has a lot of Italians—who, thankfully, know their pizza. The next town over still had their banners flying for a Serbian food festival. The local grocery store featured homemade pierogies from a purveyor in town. Okay, we’ve established that the way to my head is through my stomach. But, really, the Old Country feels a little less distant in the Rust Belt.
On that trip back to the Belt, I visited with cousins and an aunt, and we talked about old times. We looked at black and white family photos shot in the 40s and 50s. “Looks like the Old Country,” said my husband of photos of barely-clad kids splashing in a tin tub in their Cleveland yard. We also talked about names: Polish names in my family’s Buffalo, New York, area towns; Italian names in a cousin’s new Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area town; a lot of German names in my Ohio hometown.
Me? I am the granddaughter of a Rossenbach and a Heineman. Next year, my most famous (or infamous, depending on how you like your wine) German-extracted relations, will celebrate 130 years of Heineman’s: Ohio’s oldest family owned and operated winery. The Old Country making it big in the New Country!
Whether examined through the lens of food and drink or neighborhood or family name, we are—to a large extent—who we came from. And who you are matters a lot to me, a writer, curious to a fault.
So, I’m not apologizing before asking you, “What kind of name is that?”
I don’t know about you, but I find the memoir in general a tough nut to crack. I’ll admit it’s not my favorite genre to read. As a fiction writer, I’m an escapist–I admit that too–always seeking new opportunities to inhabit the lives of fictional others.
The memoir also poses challenges for the reviewer: how to best critique a plotting of events in a life that really happened; how to critique a cast of characters who are actual people?
Then there are my own personal memoir hang-ups, which say much more about my issues–as a “good girl” raised on Rust Belt values (more on that later)–than the genre’s. As in:
Talking (or writing) about oneself is evidence of vanity.
Talking about one’s successes is risky business, as in you don’t want to jinx yourself.
Talking about one’s trials only invites more trials, as in, you think you’ve had it bad, I’ll show you bad; also as in, good girls bear their crosses with (quiet) grace or suffer the consequences.
Amy Jo Burns knows a lot about grace–and about suffering–and she has written a graceful memoir, one I can’t quite review but find myself drawn to write about.
If there’s a city that is the butt of more jokes than Cleveland, I don’t know it. From burning waters (yep, that really happened–a long time ago) to crash-and-burn sports teams, my native city could use a re-brand. Or, so say the branders.
In this digital age, when we worry about our personal brand–imagine our grandparents pausing to consider what message they were sending with a profile pic?!–cities and states are also fighting to be presented in the best light.
Branding is such a big deal that Ohio’s Governor Kasich proclaimed that “Rust Belt” sends the wrong message; he likes “Tech Belt” for Ohio. So far that moniker hasn’t stuck.
My native place is rusty; its past is a bit sullied. Cleveland’s the opposite of slick: a brander’s nightmare. But we’ve been through the wringer (time and again) and come out tougher. Remember the “Cleveland: You Gotta Be Tough” t-shirts? The fact that native Clevelanders can wear defeat as a badge of pride, and laugh off the past while striving for a shinier future–that’s what makes me proud of my hometown.
Would you re-brand your hometown? Give it a catchy slogan? What would it be?
No matter where you’re from–Rust Belt, Sun Belt, or elsewhere. No matter how you say, thanks, I hope you hear this bit of gratitude.
I delivered this blog in May, and like most five-month-old offspring, it is still in the babbling stage. During this developmental period, I’ve learned a lot about my native Rust Belt, its history and its present, and how it’s portrayed in fiction and nonfiction. I’ve called upon memories of growing up in Ohio–the distinct sounds and tastes that take a girl back home, if just for a moment. I’ve learned how I want to represent my home, creatively. I’ve learned blogging is much more than writing. It’s connecting. And I couldn’t do that without you.