We were in Ohio for a few days attending our high school's alumni banquet. 2010 is the 35th anniversary of my high school graduation and I had a blast seeing people I hadn't seen in many years. For me, many of them went from being crazy high school kids to grandparents in the blink of an eye. To borrow a phrase from the time-mindblowing, man!
Rick graduated a year ahead of me, so we know all the same people. The student body totaled about 450 back in those days, so everyone knew everyone and many of our classmate's parents were classmates at the same school. Except my dad, who was raised Catholic and attended the Catholic high school in town but was still considered a "West Sider" and not quite up to snuff by the nuns who ran the school. You see, in some places people grow up on the wrong side of the tracks, but we were on what was considered by the townies to be the wrong side of the river-the West Side. A bunch of ill-educated, ill-mannered country bumpkins who populated the hills and hollers where the land rose up out of the bottoms on the west side of the Scioto River. We were definitely country, when country wasn't cool.
This was the first trip back without a living parent in the picture. My family roots are deep in the area. The Cooper branch goes back to pre-Civil War, but the majority of my ancestors immigrated from Germany in the mid-19th century. Most were dirt-poor farmers; I can remember visiting their homeplaces as a kid and being amazed at the lives they had created from nothing. My great-grandmother, who was a big part of my childhood, was born in 1881 and was boarded out and worked as a housekeeper as a young woman. She didn't marry until the age of 22, an old maid for sure in that era. My grandfather (her son-in-law), used to tell the story that she had been engaged to marry a young man but one day her beau drove to her house in his wagon with another young lady and invited my Granny to his wedding. What a way to break an engagement!
Great-grandmother, Elizabeth-back row, right
She went on to marry in 1903 and she and my great-grandfather moved to town so he could work at the local steel mill. Sadly, she was widowed when my great-grandfather was killed in a horrendous accident at the mill. She then moved back to the country with her five young children so she could have a cow and a garden and feed her family. It was a hand to mouth existence augmented by the generosity of relatives and neighbors. The boys left home as soon as they were old enough. My grandmother, Daisy, had completed the 8th grade when they moved but never attended high school.
Daisy married my grandfather in 1925. They lived in town for awhile but eventually moved to the West Side where they raised their children, 3 biological and one adopted. They always had "extras" living at their house, various relatives or friends who were going through a rough patch and needed a place to stay and food to eat. My grandfather was a very tolerant man. A wonderful country cook, Daisy worked for many years in the cafeteria of the grade school I attended. Still today people will reminisce with me about her great cooking.
Grandmother, Daisy-front row, left
My grandparents moved my great-grandmother into a house across the street when she was no longer able to keep up the farm and she eventually moved in with them after a fall resulted in a hip fracture. After recuperating, walked with a cane which was never away from her side. This was a woman who was used to ruling her roost and woe to those who committed an infraction of her rules within reach of her cane. She couldn't move fast but she could certainly poke you if she could reach you! Yes, my grandfather was a very tolerant man.
Now there are very few of us left in the area. I got to see an aunt and an uncle and a few cousins while there but most have moved off for better opportunities in other places, the same search that led our ancestors to the rich and plentiful farmland of southern Ohio and back and forth across the Scioto River.
My trips to Ohio over the last 7 years have been filled with family responsibilities, illnesses and deaths. There was hardly time to catch a breath and still get everything done. This time was different. I could actually sit and enjoy being in what is a very beautiful place. The wildflowers and butterflies put on a spectacular show and the weather couldn't have been better.
No matter where I am, the hills of southern Ohio will always be a part of me.
And I ate real tomatoes every day. Thank you, Ohio.