Richard & Elise
1950’s childhood in rural Ohio
During my childhood in rural Ohio in the 1950’s, most farmers’ wives worked on the farm. But no other farmer had a wife from a wealthy Southern background. Our Mom stayed busy in the house. Though she learned to can and freeze, she always closed the windows that faced toward the barnyard, and concentrated on painting walls and decorating, making dresses for Sally and me, and ironing everything. On rare occasions I caught her sipping Sanka while she watched Arthur Godfrey on TV. I suspected that she didn’t like the farm much, even though I never heard the slightest complaint. She loved to be on the go, even if it was only Lodi, Ohio, where an unimpressive square held a defunct fountain and a sad gazebo. Stores lined the square: Underwood’s grocery, Woolworth’s, Lance Electric, Benton’s Variety, Phillips drugstore, Isley’s ice cream, two banks, a Ford dealership, two greasy-spoon restaurants, and the Idol theater, which the owned proudly pointed out was Lodi spelled backwards.
My visits to Grandma Lilly in Cleveland offered respite from the endless farm chores. No one liked to visit Lilly as much as I did. Once every other month or so, I got my reward. In my early years, she resided in the three-story brick Tudor in Cleveland Heights, where I had lived as an infant. I never tired of running up and down the stairs and playing in the sun-filled library. Lilly would pull down one of Dad’s favorite books and read to me. When I turned eight, she moved to a cozy apartment in Shaker Heights. There we walked to Clark’s restaurant and Stouffers, Hough Bakery and Halle’s department store.
More importantly, I detected no animal smells—only the noise of the city. I’d open all the windows in the bedroom where I stayed and drifty happily to sleep at the sounds of sirens, screeching tires, and horns. Lilly kept a family photo album under her bed. No matter how many times we opened it, a whiff of cedar filled my nostrils. She would turn the pages and add to stories I already knew…on the page just after Mom and Dad’s wedding pictures, I stopped to study a picture of them in a cornfield. Mom’s long wavy hair made her look as foreign to me as Dad in his navy uniform. They looked so young.
“Lilly, did Daddy have a girlfriend before Mom?” I asked. She nodded slowly. “Lilly, did you ever meet Peter?” Her face blushed. “My stars child, the questions you ask.”