Memories of Growing Up in Ohio (Part 2)
|Mary Wakefield Buxton|
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— Rural upbringing is very different from that of the city. The woods, fields, cliffs, and beaches surrounding my home on Lake Erie back in the 40s were undeveloped and a girl could spend many hours exploring the beautiful world of nature. Small-town children were free then and could roam on foot, boat or bike without the fear of crime that we have today.
To the north was Lake Erie and Canada beyond, to the west were fields of corn and on the east there was a bubbling creek that ran across our property to empty at the mouth in the lake. I never knew for sure if it was a “crick” as Father said, or a “creek” as Mother said, but Mother’s pronunciation was probably correct because she came from “old New England stock” as she put it, as some Americans do, which she claimed made her a cut above the upstart, handsome Wakefields.
She labeled Father’s family who “came over” in 1872 as “immigrants,” proudly reminding us her family, the Parsons, had “come over” at least two centuries earlier and settled in New England and had then moved west. To this outrage, Father responded (to our gales of laughter) with deep reverence that no Englishman could ever be considered an immigrant no matter when he arrived any place in the world, and that was the end of the conversation. These conversations were my first understanding of how ethnic roots had left deep impressions on Americans.
Yet how we enjoyed Father’s constant, adoring proclamations of “Mother England.” Being a first generation “Englishman,” he was a true Anglophile who loved the Union Jack and English poets. You can bet we daughters grew up knowing we had English roots. I well remember telling my first grade teacher that I was quite sure that I was not a “C” for “Caucasian” as she instructed me to fill out on a form, but an “E” for “Englishman.” Discovering I was a “C” and not an “E” was an early trauma of school.
It was an advantage to have such a father for I learned major quotes (that come in so handy during cocktail party conversations) from Kipling and Shakespeare, and that “the sun never sets on the British empire” and “only mad dogs and Englishmen went out in the noon day sun.” Each spring Father passionately recited Browning’s famous line . . . “Oh, to be in England, now that April’s here!” I still can’t read Browning without remembering Father.
After Pearl Harbor in 1941, America was in WWII with food rationing. Father bought Rhode Island Reds (chickens) and three pigs that he kept in a little house he had built so we would have meat. I came home from school one day and found the three little pigs were suddenly missing. I immediately suspected foul play, even worse, murder. I stormed into the house to demand of Father what had happened to my three little pigs. He suggested they had found a new home, but when pork chops showed up that evening at the dinner table, I tearfully refused to eat. There was something rotten in the state of Denmark.
Father was unusual in allowing dissent from his daughters and listened carefully as we opined on many subjects, as if he were truly interested in what girls had to say. His allowing his daughters this basic freedom of expression was possibly a major factor in my later development as a writer.
After the war Father decided the old pig house would make a perfect playhouse for us. Skeptical, Alice and I watched as Father moved the house to a grassy plot behind Mother’s flower garden and steam-cleaned it. He cut a few windows into the walls, added front steps, and applied a fresh coat of paint. Mother finished the final touches by adding curtains, window boxes, and a carpet. By this time the pig house was an adorable playhouse. Still, with all its fancy additives, it never lost its original name, “The Pig House,” which had just the right connotation to horrify our proper Aunt Lydie.
It was exciting to spend a night in The Pig House wrapped in blankets with my arms around my dog Timmy to fend off the chill of an Ohio June evening. I remember the wild sounds at night: the hoot of owl perched above in the old apple tree; the cry and hum of tree frogs and insects; and an occasional snap of a stick in the darkness. But, wait, it was only Father coming with his flashlight to check on us. Would we want to come back in? “No, Father, we’re staying the entire night,” we answered solemnly. But, by midnight, Alice and I were all too happy to run barefoot through the wet grass home safely to our beds. (To be continued)