Memories of Growing Up in Ohio
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.—Almost as much as genes, the place where a person is born and raised is an important part of whom that person becomes. Every now and then I stop and think how fortunate we who grew up in small towns in the 1940s and 1950s were. My small hometown was Vermilion, Ohio, just one of many small towns across the nation that provided such rich childhood memories.
In today’s materialistic world one tends to think “rich” means accumulation of fame, money or power. But Thoreau defines for me the real quality of life as one lived as close to nature as possible. Thus, fame, power and money are not what I’m referring to when I use the term “rich.” Being so fortunate to live in a rural setting is real wealth.
Living rich for girls in my day meant growing up as “Tom boys” . . . free to pursue truth based on experience, never dogma, and to develop freely, just like boys. Father often told us three daughters that he didn’t know how to raise girls, so he raised us just like he and his five brothers had been raised in Vermilion a generation earlier.
“River Rats” is how he labeled his gang of boys that once ran wild in their youth along the undeveloped Vermilion River—swimming, fishing, boating and hunting. I could hardly speak of my generation with such terminology because we certainly weren’t wild, but we had plenty of freedom to explore the world back then when it was much safer than it is today. Freedom for a child is a magnificent thing as it teaches self-reliance and high esteem. Most children today don’t have such freedom; they must be guarded at all times to make sure they do not get into trouble or hurt, and this is a tragedy.
There were three of us girls, Alice, Georgia and me. I was the second daughter born just two years after Alice, and Georgia coming eight years later. Father spent a lot of time with us outdoors, teaching us about the world. Alice even learned to hunt and fish, but I did not have the heart to shoot anything and could barely stand to hook a fish.
Mother was full of fun and there was always a lot of laughter in our home. I took after Mother although I had the very English trait of being deeply serious, even in laughter. Most things still strike me as funny but with advancing age and so much sadness in life, it has become more difficult to laugh.
There was radio and TV in the late 40s, but I preferred to generate my own excitement and adventure in play or imagination. I tolerated school. I think children today who are absorbed in and even addicted to hi-tech gadgets such as cell phones, iPads, Google, Facebook and Twitter are missing so much in the rich world of imagination.
My major love was “Timmy,” a black-and-white springer spaniel mix who taught me life simply couldn’t be lived without a dog. I still feel this way. Timmy and I were inseparable until the day he died, the worst day in my childhood.
Timmy loved to scare Aunt Grace when she would visit from her home in Lakewood. Timmy, sensing a city person had just pulled into our long winding driveway back to our home on the lake, somehow knew there was good fun at hand. He would pick up a handy snake found sunning itself in the McKege cornfield next door and, with it still writhing in his mouth, chase Aunt Grace as she ran screaming back to her car.
How sad that legions of Americans grow up today without a dog. In today’s world a child has to have a more practical pet . . . like a gerbil or a fish that requires less care. A child without a dog is a lonely soul, no matter how many gadgets he has.
We had a “Girls-Only” treehouse that Father had fashioned out of scrap wood high in the old apple tree that took me into the Green World during summer where I could sit for hours dreaming wondrous thoughts. The tree came with a supply of green apples that I collected for ammunition when Robbie from three cornfields away tried to climb the ladder. A girl in a treehouse armed with a bucketful of apples can quickly send a boy back to the cornfields where they belong until a girl is ready for marriage.
Just running through the corn was a major source of joy. In those days farmers planted corn in rows that were wide enough for a child to run totally hidden from the world. What exquisite freedom! But how many children today ever have a chance to run through those lovely fields of corn?
(To be continued)