From Tradition to Table

Photos by Megan Leigh Barnard

When They Ask Me What I Miss THE Most…

By Columbus ex-pat Hanif Abdurraqib

When I come back home to visit, I always drive. People often ask, man…why don’t you just fly?

And the most reasonable answer is, well…because there are no direct flights to Grandpa’s Cheesebarn, of course.

At the conclusion of another trip back home to Ohio this spring, I found myself sitting in the parking lot of Grandpa’s Cheesebarn at 10:30 a.m. It was a Sunday, and they don’t open until 11 a.m. on Sundays. I knew this, and purposely delayed the start of my trip back to my new home of Connecticut just so that I could pop in before exiting my beloved home state once again. Around 10:45, someone who I would like to imagine probably recognized my face from all of my trips there (but in reality, someone who just felt pity for a person sitting in an otherwise empty parking lot on a Sunday morning) opened up and let me in early.

In a way, that is the best representation of my relationship with Grandpa’s Cheesebarn: I’m always waiting for it to let me in again, sometimes even directly after I leave it.

I left Ohio in July of 2014 to officially become a resident of the Northeast. A land with very few barns, none of them holding any cheese and/or finely smoked meats inside. The history of Grandpa’s Cheesebarn is a bit vague, and I’m no detective. According to lore, in the early-1900s, some dude named Grandpa Yarman only had one possession, and it was a portable RCA radio. And he apparently decided to sell it for a wheel of Swiss cheese. Shortly after eating this wheel of Swiss cheese, it seems that he was like, “Alright, time to start smoking some meats,” and then his reputation spread through all Ohio. I imagine that his reputation was also that of a liar, since he clearly had more possessions than just that portable RCA radio. Seems like he may have also had a meat smoker. But, again, I’m not here to play detective. The only complaint I have about Grandpa’s Cheesebarn is that it doesn’t take out of date electronics as payment for cheese. If Grandpa Yarman could exchange an RCA radio for a wheel of Swiss, why can’t I take my old Sony Discman in there and get some aged Ohio cheddar? It’s a mystery, really.

There aren’t many places one can stop and sample homegrown cheese and meat, and shake hands with a guy named “Grandpa.”

It becomes a bit more of a tourist pit stop every time I’m back. I don’t particularly mind that. Ashland, Ohio, isn’t exactly famous for anything else. (It proclaims to be the “World Headquarters of Nice People,” though the folks working at the Perkins next to Grandpa’s Cheesebarn don’t appear to have gotten that memo). I’ve driven almost all around the country. There aren’t many places one can stop and sample homegrown cheese and meat, shake hands with a guy named “Grandpa”—the third generation of his kind—and hear stories about the 1930s and ’40s when the Cheesebarn clawed its way through The Depression. Then you can head right next door to Sweeties Jumbo Chocolate shop to see what kind of fudge has been prepared for the day.

There just aren’t many treasures like that on the road anymore. It reminds me of home, and what I’ve always loved most about Ohio. Where you can find a small beacon in the midst of all of the dead grass and water towers. Stop, be fed, laugh, leave full and happy. It is true that Ohio is a lot of things—not all of them great—but that’s the thing I don’t ever want to see change. Not just Grandpa’s Cheesebarn itself, but the comfort it represents.

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