On the West Side of Cincinnati, the Angel of Death comes not with a scythe, but an outdoor sign letter changing pole. Nearly every time I drive past The Farm, that estimable reception hall anchor of Delhi, an employee is changing the marquee, and that usually means someone is dead.
I am reliably informed that Cincinnatians of a Certain Age that for a season, The Farm was the it place for wedding receptions, with brides lining up on New Year’s Day by the polyester clutchfull to secure their date months in the future (“Get The Farm, then get the fella!”) People rushed marriages over this.
There was an open bar option and a bubble machine and bad, bad bridesmaid dresses. If you live on the West Side, you have walked beneath the awning of The Farm at some point. It doesn’t matter if your family showed up with the Woodland tribes or you just got here. You’ve sat in a silo and you’ve picked through the vast vat of fried chicken.
But with neighborhoods shifting the way they shift, the main revenue stream at The Farm these days are early bird buffet dinners and funeral receptions. The large and sensible cars start showing at 4 PM for evening chicken on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Sometimes a nearby parish Girl Scout troop or swim team rents a silo. But, increasingly, the people who celebrated the beginning of a new life there pass in review one last time. There is a simple beauty to The Farm life circle.
It taps directly into how information passes on the West Side. We don’t need tolling bells; we have a letter changer. Recently, the father of one of my friends died, and in the social media tumult I missed the date of the funeral. Then I drove past The Farm and there stood the Grim Reaper with this letter pole, the message as far as CELEBRATING THE LI. I got on the phone. “Funeral’s today, reception at the Farm,” I told a mutual friend.
I no longer needed to search out an obituary. The Farm marquee does not lie. When I passed by the sign again later in the day, there was his full name. It was comforting, in its way. A lifelong West Sider had passed into the Great Parish Festival in the Sky, and a proper sendoff had been secured.
It’s how we bid farewell to my own father. At the end of his struggle with cancer, my mother called her brothers, the funeral director, and The Farm. We received friends and family members amongst sandwiches, photos of him at work, and a small felt banner from his alma mater. It’s how he would have wanted it. It was close to home and it made sense. “It really made sense for you to get The Farm,” said the people who hugged my mother and bent over my nephews.
This hasn’t been an enjoyable YOU ARE OLD shift to notice, but it is a natural one. The Farm has no staircases. It is rife with handicapped bathrooms and within a 15-minute drive of just about every Catholic church west of Vine Street. The Farm could not escape its destiny.
Perhaps the MLB and the Reds can’t either. Some fans will never return from the shutdown. I’m well on my way to being one of them, a process that began a few years ago and has been inching along slight by slight. That doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy the open bar and the bubble machine for what they are. But am I camping out in my Oldsmobile Cutlass to lay down the going rate to do so? Not anymore. I’m not alone, either.
The MLB still has my attention, but is fast losing grip on my heart. Some of the choices it’s made recently do not make sense. I feel as if it’s trying to ask me out on a date while simultaneously dropping a diss track on all I hold dear in what’s important about baseball.
I’m still standing where I have since I was five years old and the giant electronic scoreboard seemed to rise from the other side of the moon. But the neighborhood in which the Reds play have changed. Major League Baseball is no longer a celebration of a new day in this life, but a lingering remembrance of what it was and grief for what it will never be again.
The Angel of Death has been long coming to baseball, but in 2020, he’s reached his long arm to the board. We’re just passing in review.