By CHRISTOPHER BETHELL
For Inland 360
I arrived into Clarkston late in the afternoon Sept. 25. The sun sat low on the horizon as I made my way down the winding roads from atop the hills that look over the city and its sister, Lewiston. My first stop was the same one I made three years ago: to see my grandfather’s grave in Vineland Cemetery. As I walked over from the car, I worried that the temporary marker bearing his name might again be grown over, but luckily, it was not. I placed the potted red plant I was carrying down beside his name and lay back in the grass, soaking in the silence.
The first and last time I was in Clarkston was at the end of a six-week trip across the states, taking in Boston, Mass., Reno, Nev., and many other cities. I followed the trail my grandfather took many decades before. Unfortunately, he died a year after I was born, so I never met him. I drove the 7,000 miles with my partner, Bekky, in hopes of not only understanding my grandfather a little more, but also to figure out what the American side of my identity meant to me.
This time I am back to spend a month in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. I never knew my grandfather, but maybe I can learn something about him by getting to know the last place he called home. My first week I spent going to some of the places I knew he had been. I walked the evening streets of Clarkston, meeting and talking to anyone who would spare me a minute. I climbed up the hills to a viewing point where Joey O’Donnell was pictured in one of my Polaroids. And I returned to his grave to reflect on the experiences I’d had whilst being here. So far, the valley has welcomed me with open arms.
Bethell is a British freelance photographer who is spending October in Clarkston trying to learn more about his grandfather, Joseph “Joey” Leo O’Donnell, who died here in 1989 at the age of 48. People can contact Bethell at firstname.lastname@example.org.