by Maria Mize
a child's perspective
Life was quite ordinary in my family of five, with two sisters and me in the middle. We 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. We were born in 1956, 1958 and 1959. Dad worked shift-work at the steel mill and mom took care of us.
Grandma Ree and pawpaw lived in the city, a half hour away. Pawpaw worked at the steel mill too, and grandma did clerical work at a local aerospace manufacturing company. She walked back and forth to work --- in high heels. My grandparents owned a big white Cadillac with red, leather interior, and we were always taking turns sleeping over on weekends.
Theirs was an older home on Erie Avenue in Middletown, Ohio, a two-story. My pawpaw slept in a downstairs bedroom and Grandma Ree slept upstairs. When we stayed over, we slept in the same bed with grandma or in twin beds in dad's old bedroom. I have fond memories of sleeping in dad's old bedroom, where the ceiling was slanted and there was an adjoining attic. I often awoke to chirping birds in big leafy trees in the front yard, just beyond the windows. A big old fish pond made of stones was in the backyard from bygone years. Now it was dry, a pit we climbed in and out of, a hiding place. There was a huge yard with lilacs, rose bushes and a garage alongside what was likely a former grandmother's cottage. It had two large rooms inside with a lot of old stuff and a "regular" front and back door.
One time, we ventured onto the roof of the main house with my parents and grandparents to watch an air show. It was hot summertime and we wore swimsuits.
Their house was one in a block of houses we used to walk around. I remember one old white stone house with dark windows; we always ran past because a witch lived there. Much later, we met the real family and even played with their kids.
Grandma Ree took us to Holy Trinity Catholic church on Sundays. It was a grand cathedral --- a stone building with castle-like steeples, high ceilings, ancient furnishings. There was quiet reverence inside. In the vestibule, Holy water was available in large ivory white, marble basins set upon pedestals at each doorway leading into 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 sidewalls, along with confessionals. The altar was magnificent with large statues of Joseph and Mary holding baby Jesus. These statues flanked a dome recessed area where our suffering Savior hung on a cross. A huge table was set in the middle of the altar platform where sacraments were blessed during mass by a priest.
When we stayed over at grandma and pawpaw’s, prior to bedtime we often had either a “Dutch lunch,” or chips and dip, or popcorn, always with a small glass of Coke.
Great-grandma and Grandpa Sally lived on Catalpa Drive, also in Middletown, across from a enormous park resplendent with an old-fashioned playground and backdrop of blackberry bushes; and I remember a large hill upon which we once played king of the mountain with my cousins. After Great-grandpa Sally passed, as my great-grandma was growing quite old, we often played at the park while mom and grandma cleaned her house.
Our home was a brick, ranch-style within a new subdivision in the Village of Monroe where many young families were residing. We had a big yard where mom and dad planted trees and flower gardens; we had a kidney shaped patio, covered by a strong awning of Armco steel. We played on our own swing set with menacing slide, a 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.
After arriving home from the grocery one afternoon, while mom and dad were inside putting away the groceries, we played on the swing set. We were hungry and anxious for supper when one of us got a bright idea, prompting us to take turns yelling “I’m star-r-r-ving!” through the long steel tube connecting “A” to “A,” pausing only for the echo. Mom wasn’t amused and shouted at us from the patio.
“Come inside, right now!”
...then warning us to never do that again. After all, we had no idea what it meant to be "starving"---like children in Africa.
I remember playing Barbies in the backyard, from rock garden to rock garden. At other times we spent eons trimming around those same rocks while dad cut grass.
One autumn during those years, mom and dad took 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 Ohio, stopping at a prehistoric animal playground/park along the way, where we saw prehistoric man, at least Darwin’s theory, and a multitude of dinosaurs from Pelorosaurus, also known as Gigantosaurus, to Tyrannosaurus Rex.
At dusk, we arrived at a flat-roofed, one story motel overlooking Lake Erie. It was cool and breezy. We had a dinner of sandwiches at a picnic table close-by. Never had we seen such a massive body of water, and Lake Erie is the smallest of the five great lakes. It was the largest body of water my sisters and I had ever seen.
We took a ferry ride the next day, ushered along by a few squawking white sea gulls. We had never seen gulls before and this was our first boat ride. The wind bellowed strong on the lake. At the back of the ferry, my youngest sister was safely wedged between mom and dad, and my older sister and I flanked close on each side. We were wide-eyed. What an adventure.
On our final morning, we woke early, taking fishing poles in hand. It was foggy and cool. Mom fixed breakfast at a campsite grill while dad took my sisters and me fishing. The lake was as calm as a great lake can get, but the fish just weren’t biting. After a short while, we walked back to the grill for a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, fried potatoes, biscuits and orange juice.
Our weekend in Lake Erie is one of my happiest childhood memories. After breakfast, we loaded up the car and headed home.
Not too long after that trip, in 1966 and 1969, mom and dad had two more daughters.