The word “Ding” was written in black Sharpie on a silver piece of duct tape. The tape stuck immediately above a doorbell. And the doorbell was installed immediately above the walk-up window to Marsha’s Diner. My kids and I were hoping for some ice cream to celebrate this visit to Amsterdam, Ohio.
So we dinged.
It took a minute for a woman inside the diner to walk from the kitchen to the window. And then it took another minute for her to open the sliding window. But she was very friendly after wrestling the window into position. “G’dafternoon,” she said. “Can I help you?”
I told her we were looking for something sweet to eat. The soft serve ice cream machine was out of service, unfortunately, but she was glad to provide us with a menu and suggest that the pie was pretty good. While we considered our options, she seemed glad to chat us up.
She says their chili is pretty good. She says the Peach Crumble pie is fresh. I assume she’s Marsha and/or Grammy, since the signage in front of the diner alternates between “Marsha’s Diner” and “Grammy’s Kitchen” and since she looks like a “Marsha” and/or a “Grammy.” She’s slender, even athletic, but deep laugh-lines crease her face. A disposable face mask hangs from her ears, tucked underneath her chin. “Where’re you folks from?”
I tell her we’re from Kent. And she tells me she thought so when she saw my blue ball cap with the gold “K” emblazoned on the front. Her husband went to Kent State University. So did her two boys. She grew up in Akron. But they’ve all been back in Amsterdam for years now. Her husband grew up in town, and now it’s come to feel like home for her, too.
Eventually, Marsha asks what was probably an inevitable question: “Why’d you come here, to Amsterdam?” There were no obvious draws to this small town of about 500 people in Jefferson County, near the place where Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia come together.
So I mention that Olivia and Cor were actually born in Amsterdam. In the Netherlands. It’s a surprisingly significant part of their identity, even though we moved back to Ohio when whey were 7 and 4, respectively. Cor chimes in with the refrain that one of his great regrets in life is that he was only documented as an American Citizen Born Abroad, not as a Dutch citizen. “I could have played for the Dutch National Soccer Team.” He smiles, wistfully, and kicks at a pebble on the pavement.
We had planned to visit the Netherlands this summer. But how were we to know that travel would be restricted from a global pandemic?!? If we couldn’t go to the Europe on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, though, we figured we might as well visit the Europe in our Backyard. Last Wednesday our whole family visited three “Edinburgh”s (in Ohio and Pennsylvania) before lunch, with dinner in Holland and dessert in Wales (New York).
Today, we figured it would be fun to see Amsterdam, Ohio — with stops along the way in Glasgow and Highlandtown (formerly known as Inverness). It’s silly, we know. But all of these places in Ohio shared the names of places in Europe which we planned to visit this summer. The real Amsterdam and Glasgow may be unavailable to us. But we can still get a Snapshot, listen to a Song, and eat a Snack in each of these “European” locations in our Backyard.
Glasgow, Ohio, was smaller than Amsterdam, Ohio. Really just a church, a cemetery, a self-storage facility, and a convenience store. Even so, we took a stroll around the grave-yard. We bought some snacks at the Glasgow Carry-Out and Deli (“traditional Scottish” Snickers Ice Cream Bars, a bottle of Snapple, and a plastic-wrapped brownie). And then we jumped back in our minivan to drive down to the “Highlands.”
Highlandtown, Ohio, turned out to be even smaller than Glasgow, Ohio. It consisted of a church, a cemetery, and a fire station. There were no options for snacking. So we really just rolled through the Ohio “Highlands” and didn’t get out of the car again until we got to Amsterdam.
I decide not to get into all of this with Marsha, as she waits to take our order at the window in Amsterdam. We mostly just talk about Amsterdam and about the man who had moved to their town from the Netherlands to live among the Amsterdamians (not Amsterdammers) for several years. Marsha couldn’t remember his actual name, but she says that it was hard to pronounce and that everyone in town had just taken to calling him “V.” She says that I kind of reminded her of V, tall and thin. He used to do a lot of cycling through the hills and hollows in those parts. “Because that’s what everyone does there in the Netherlands, right?”
I agree that there are a lot of bicycles in the Dutch Amsterdam. But suddenly, I’m ready to be finished with small-town small-talk. I look for the next best opening in the conversation that I can find, and I tell her that I think we’re ready to place our order. Olivia and I would split a slice of Peach Crumble Pie, and Cor would satisfy himself with a Sprite.
Marsha disappears for a few minutes and then returns with styrofoam containers for our order. “That’ll be four dollars and seventy-five cents,” she says. I pay with five one-dollar bills from my wallet, and we sit down at the picnic table to enjoy our food and to wait out the rain shower that had started passing through.
Rural Ohio can be beautiful. The wild green forests, the winding roads, the little churches and cemeteries and diners. But the Ohio places possess a very different sort of beauty than their European namesakes. I try to imagine that the Peach Crumble Pie is a slice of appeltaart met slagroom from the Cafe Winkel on the Noordermarkt.
It’s sweet. But it’s not the same. I ask Olivia what she thinks about it, and she says that it’s all right, but not amazing. I glance over my shoulder to make sure that Marsha is not listening in on our conversation. “Yeah, it’s fine,” I say. “It’s fine. Better than nothing.”