LAKE ERIE IN THE MID-SIXTIES
Life was quite ordinary in my family of five, with two sisters and me in the middle. My sisters and I were constant competitors: for the front seat in the car, the seats by the windows, the rockers in the family room, who gets the seat next to dad, who gets the one next to mom, etc.
It was the 1960’s. The three of us were born in 1956, 1958 and 1959. Dad worked shift-work at the steel mill while mom took care of us.
Grandma and Pawpaw lived in the city about a half hour away. Pawpaw worked at the steel mill too, while Grandma did clerical work at a local aerospace manufacturing company. She used to walk back and forth to work --- in high heels. She and Pawpaw owned a big Cadillac, and we were always taking turns sleeping over on the weekends.
They had an older home on Erie Avenue in Middletown, Ohio. It was a two-story. My PawPaw slept in the downstairs bedroom and my Grandma Ree slept in an upstairs bedroom. When we slept over, we either slept with grandma or in the twin beds in my dad's old bedroom. I have fond memories of sleeping in my dad's old bedroom, where the ceiling was slanted and there was an adjoining attic. I remember waking to the chirping of birds in the big old trees outside in their front yard, just beyond the windows. There was a big old fish pond made of stones in the backyard from years gone by. Now it was dry, a pit we used to climb in and out of, hide in, climb on. They had a huge yard with lilacs, rose bushes and a garage that might have once been an extra little house on the property because besides the garage it had two large rooms inside with a lot of old stuff and a regular door.
When we were growing up, we used to climb onto the roof with my parents and grandparents to watch air shows in the summertime.
Their house was part of a block of houses we used to walk around. I remember one old white stone house with dark windows that we always ran past because we thought a witch lived there. Much later, we met the family who lived there and played with their kids. It wasn't a witch's house after all.
Grandma took us to Holy Trinity Catholic church on Sundays. It was a grand cathedral --- a stone building with castle like steeples, high ceilings and ancient furnishings. There was an awesomely quiet reverence inside. Once inside the vestibule, Holy water was in large ivory white, marble basins on pedestals at each doorway leading inside the sanctuary. Murals of the life of Christ, the story of creation, and the like, covered the ceiling with intricate gold vine-like framing separating the scenes. Pictures of each Station of the Cross lined the sidewalls, along with the confessionals. The altar was magnificent with large statues of Joseph and Mary, and Jesus hung on a cross in the center at the very back of the altar. There was a huge table in the middle of the altar platform where the Priest blessed the sacraments before communion.
Whenever we stayed over at Grandma and Pawpaw’s we would have a big “Dutch lunch,” or chips and dip, or popcorn and soda while we watched a double-feature on television before bedtime.
My Great-grandma Sally lived on Catalpa Drive in Middletown. She had a big park across the street from her house. We used to play there with my cousins. As my great-grandma got older, we played at the park while my mom and grandma cleaned her house for her.
Our house was a brick ranch-style house in a new subdivision in the Village of Monroe where there were many young families such as ours. We had a great big yard where mom and dad planted trees and flower gardens. They also had a large patio poured and a nice awning made of Armco steel. We played on a good-sized swing set with a menacing slide, a fearsome teeter-totter, three swings and a glider. We used to stand on the big “A’s” at either end, yelling out whatever came to mind.
I remember one time when we’d just arrived home from the grocery. Mom and dad were inside putting away the groceries while we played on the swing set, hungry and anxious for supper. Then one of us got the bright idea of yelling “I’m star-r-r-ving!” through the long steel tube that ran from “A” to “A.” We took turns yelling “I’m star-r-r-ving,” then listening for the echo. Mom wasn’t too fond of the idea and shouted from the patio.
“Come inside, right now!”
That was followed by a warning to never shout something like that again. After all, we had no idea what it meant to be really starving… like the children in Africa.
I remember playing Barbies in the backyard, going from rock garden to rock garden. I remember spending hours trimming around those same rocks whenever dad cut the grass.
One autumn, mom and dad decided to take us to Lake Erie for a long weekend. We set off with luggage and fishing gear in tow for a four-hour drive to the top of the State of Ohio. We stopped at a prehistoric animal playground/park along the way where we saw prehistoric man, Darwin’s theory of evolution, and a multitude of dinosaurs from Pelorosaurus, also known as Gigantosaurus, to Tyrannosaurus Rex.
We finally arrived at dusk. It was cool and breezy. We had a dinner of sandwiches at a picnic table overlooking the lake. Never had we seen such a lake, and Lake Erie is the smallest of the five great lakes. It was massive; the largest body of water any of us had ever seen.
We took a ferry ride the next day and sea gulls followed the ferry. We’d never seen sea gulls before and had never been in a boat before on a large body of water. The wind was bellowing strong out on the lake. My youngest sister was safely in the middle between mom and dad, while my older sister and I flanked close on each side. What an adventure.
We stayed in a “motel lodge.” It was a one-story motel with small, side-by-side, rooms overlooking the lake.
Our last morning there, we got up early with fishing poles in hand. It was foggy and cool. Mom fixed our breakfast at a campsite grill closeby while dad, my sisters and I went out on the fishing pier. The lake was smooth as glass, but the fish weren’t biting. We fished for almost an hour before walking back to the campsite grill for a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, fried potatoes, biscuits and orange juice.
It was a happy time in my childhood, that long weekend at Lake Erie. After breakfast, we loaded up the car and headed home.