Wednesday, May 14, 1997
'Plain people' have insights
into life and death

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Terry and Terena met at a nursing home.

A resident had died. Terry, the mortician, arrived to remove the body.

Terena worked at the home. One look at Terry and she just knew they were going to get married.

They became Mr. and Mrs. Terry Deters 10 years and three kids ago. In 1990, they opened Ralph Meyer & Deters Funeral Home in the neighborhood where Terry grew up, Price Hill. He's still the undertaker. She runs the office.

At the latest "Lunch With Cliff," wherein I buy lunch to enjoy other people's company and hear what's on their minds, Terry and Terena do not talk shop. Lunch is for the living. And the Deterses' children.

"At least one of them is always with us," Terena says. "We usually wind up talking about baby drool."

Monday, the drool belonged to Christopher, their 7-month-old son. He's teething.

We had fish sandwiches at the Crow's Nest, the 103-year-old neighborhood fixture that's a few blocks from the Deterses' funeral home and next-door to St. Joseph Cemetery. Terry and Terena were quiet and unassuming, the type of people the tradition-bound west side takes great pride in raising and is only too happy to have stay in one place for generations.

"We don't put on airs," Terry said.

"We're plain people who love to stay at home with our family," Terena added. "We lead a somewhat boring existence."

They're too modest. Another west-side trait. But they do know what's important. Because they deal with death on a daily basis, they appreciate the fabric of life.

"We're concerned about Price Hill," Terry said, adjusting Christopher's bib.

"I want my children to feel safe when they play in their yard," Terena added, "like I did when I was a kid."

In his lifetime, Terry has seen beautiful parts of his neighborhood go downhill. He sees warning signs from his house behind the funeral home.

Litter dots the sidewalk. At night, surly teens hang out on the street corner. They're out later and later and getting younger and younger.

Night and day, cars race down a narrow side street. People stay inside. Graffiti and vandalism are all too common.

"These sound like little things," Terry said. "But we have zero tolerance for them. We don't want to turn into what Lower Price Hill has become."

So he and his wife call the cops and City Hall when there's trouble. But they wonder whether anyone's listening.

"We're like the borrowed mule of the city," he said. "No one in city council has a vested interest in Price Hill."

After lunch, Terena left with Christopher to plant flowers in the funeral home's yard. Terry and I talked a few minutes more at the Crow's Nest, where for over a century Price Hill has gathered under its pressed-tin ceiling to celebrate births and hold wakes. The 40-year-old mortician wanted to explain why the neighborhood he grew up in was a good one. Given his line of work, he knows more than most about the kind of people who made it that way.

Terry talked about the heroes he has buried, men and women from the neighborhood who, in most cases, lived long lives. They survived the Great Depression, fought in World War II. After the war, they came home to the west side. They moved into their parents' homes or around the block, had kids, worked hard.

Terry usually learns their stories after they die. He hears things at the visitation. The family comes in with a veteran's discharge papers. He discovers that the quiet little guy who did all of his house repairs and helped his neighbors fought in the Battle of the Bulge and worked two jobs to put his kids through school.

He's moved by this. And fearful, too. He's afraid that that way of life is fading every time one of these "seemingly unremarkable people" dies.

"These are the ones who quietly sacrificed. They didn't fool around, and they were always there for their kids."

Kind of like the Deterses of West Eighth Street.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.