That is the voice of my mother waking me at 2:30 in the morning to go to the airport. I am strangely wide awake after only 4 hours of sleep and before I am even fully dressed, Grandma is at the front door, suitcase in hand. We are going to Cleveland, Ohio to see her Italian brother and family for the first time in years. I'm terribly afraid of flying, so the next 9 hours (including a three-hour layover in Houston, Texas) are a bit torturous. But as the plane descends, I look out the window and see Ohio for the first time in my life. Gently releasing the white-knuckle hold I have on the armrests, I lean across both of my companions to get a better look.
I'm from a valley in Southern California. Looking out on the flat, green landscape I assume that Ohioans don't even know what the word "valley" means. It's beautiful with vibrant green trees all over, colonial-style homes with white-painted boards are nestled in the middle of great expanses of woods, with hundreds of acres to call their backyard. I am utterly flabbergasted at the natural beauty. This is the precise moment I fall in love with Ohio.
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In a confusing whirlwind of crowds and suitcases, I find myself inside a cute blue car with Great Uncle Rick and his wife Mary. The next three days are an absolute blast.
Our first day in Cleveland is spent at Uncle Rick's home where the entire family gathers together for the first time in years. Cousins I never knew I had trickle into the tiny house until there are so many people around that I'm completely bewildered. Family chaos has never been sweeter as 30 people, 2 dogs, and a partridge in a pear tree are mixed together catching up on the latest news and meeting me for the first time. That day is undoubtedly my favorite of the trip.
The next day the three California girls hang with my favorite person in the whole wide world, my second cousin Karen. The sweetest angel ever born, she takes us shopping where we talk and laugh all day long. In the evening we try out a tasty frozen treat we don't have on the west coast- frozen custard. It's like ice cream (my favorite dessert!) only BETTER!
Our final day is sightseeing. We see nearly everything Cleveland has to offer in only a few hours. First is Middlefield, a town in Amish country which takes a winding road through a beautiful forest. On the way, we spot a horse and buggy parked at WalMart, which you don't see every day in LA (only about once a week). We see the Chagrin Waterfalls, then the final- and favorite- stop: Little Italy, my personal heaven. It's only one street long, but is occupied by authentic Italian restaurants and bakeries. Corbo's Bakery makes the absolute best fresh cannolis- they couldn't be better in Italy!
Finally it's time to go home and leave behind my family, the woods, the cannolis, and the late-night hotel dance parties. But as the plane touches ground and I actually kiss the pavement beneath my feet, as I remember shopping malls that look like botanical gardens and the best ice cream in the Universe, I know that I will return many, many more times. I may even pick up my family's accent and start saying "I Love You's" just like them. Of course, next time will be a road trip.
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