Memories of Growing Up in Ohio (Part 3)
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— Lake Erie was the core of my childhood with a wild beach that ran in two directions depending on what an adventurous girl was up to that day. East went to the mouth of the Vermilion River that emptied from deep in Ohio. There was a long pier where one could sit and watch the endless convoy of boats passing by. Vermilion was coined at that time “the largest small boat harbor on the Great Lakes.”
Or, I could have a good run with my dog west on the beach toward Huron. Three cliffs over Alice and I shoveled terraces like we learned in school the Incans had built in Peru to grow crops. If an Ohio cliff could become an Andes terrace, than the dog at my side was surely a llama? Those were pre-TV years when a child could experience any adventure simply within his own brain.
I loved boats and wasn’t particular, anything that would float would do. One wintry day Alice and I even set off along the frigid shore on a huge chunk of ice that had broken off from land. Fortunately, before our “raft” turned out to sea, we were able to hop off onto solid ice before it was too late. Freedom, we learned, was dangerous and one had to be careful.
I valued freedom most of all and my bike lent the most freedom. Originally Alice’s, the bike was my ticket to anywhere. I would come home from school, jump into play clothes, take a dime from Mother’s purse in the kitchen drawer, hop on my bike, and head for town.
I still remember the joy of taking off on my bike. True freedom was a child with a dime in her pocket off for adventure on the General Sherman Memorial Highway. At Blue Bird Beach I connected to sidewalk. I would stop at a store to buy a dime package of Hostess chocolate cupcakes with cream filling. Nothing else in life has ever tasted that good.
Treasure was everywhere. Seashells that could be strung into necklaces, “lucky stones” (from sheepshead fish) or pebbles, when wet, became vibrant gems, pieces of polished glass worn fine by sand that became fine jewels suitable for a queen and given freely from the sea, exotic driftwood “animals” in all shapes and sizes, and smoke wood, which Father taught us (much to Mother’s horror) could be “smoked” like real cigarettes.
Alice and I built forts on the beach with uprooted trees from the storm-driven coastline. One day someone wrecked our fort. We suspected our tough cousin, Don Parsons, who lived east of us but every time we tried to pin the crime on him, he only laughed.
I skated with Alice every winter on Sherrod’s Creek, four cornfields away, and a long run for two girls thick in winter clothing and skates slung over shoulders. Bessie Sherrod had been Father’s first-grade teacher and I could tell he had really loved her because every time he mentioned her name, he spoke softly and had a special look in his eyes.
There were fireflies to capture on summer nights and seal in jars with holes punched through the lid that we could take to our bedroom and light up the dark with golden sparkles. And wild violets that grew in fields to pick for Mother or wind into flower necklaces. The modest dandelion was a royal bloom, especially the first one spotted in springtime that Father picked and brought inside to gently rub against our noses. “A yellow nose indicates happiness,” Father would say as I ran to the mirror to see if I had a yellow nose.
There were wild daisies to weave into chains, honeysuckle blossoms to snap apart and suck sweet nectar, grapes and wild red raspberries to ravish, the North Star in the night sky to point to in wonder and try once again to locate the big dipper.
Then, lake freighters were free for the asking, Father called them “Big Boys,” that passed on the lake’s far horizons leaving only a trail of smoke off their vanishing sterns. At night, I might hear the lonely cry of the foghorn at Huron and imagine “Big Boys” steaming silently by my bedroom in the dark fog. To sleep, perchance to dream, with waves crashing against the breakwater in storm or kissing the shore in a gentle lap and only a stone’s throw away.
And the long wails of freight trains blowing their whistles all night long as they sped through the sleeping flat lands of northern Ohio, sometimes in the night it seemed one wail would fade away as a new wail began. When I left Ohio for a woman’s college in Virginia where Mother fervently hoped I would become a lovely lady, oh, how I missed the trains. (to be continued)