I have a copy of the 1921 bill of sale for my grandparents’ new home
I have a copy of the 1921 bill of sale for my grandparents’ new home in Bedford, Ohio where my dad was born and raised and where we grandkids spent many a happy weekend and holiday during our formative years. The New Year holiday offered time to reminisce about earlier, simpler times.
Grandma and Grandpa paid $2,500. There’s little chance of the memories we made in that home could be found in the clunker of a used car one might be able to purchase with $2,500 today, 97 years later. We could be kids in and around that house.
The house, though, is gone now, its warmth and love replaced by a cold, chain auto parts store. The parking lot covers the spot where the apple orchard once grew, its trees sharing their bounty with those nimble enough to climb the trees to pick the apples or fearless enough to gather the fallen apples up from the ground shooing away the hungry hornets from their oozing yet sugary bruises. The narrow, overgrown brick pathway that led from the side porch to our great aunt’s home next door, where Grandma’s sister lived, might still be buried under the asphalt.
There was a small sleeping porch upstairs where my brother and I shared a three-quarter bed in the summer on weekend visits with Grandma and Grandpa. Llouvered windows framed the porch, which were cranked wide open to the cricket chirp-filled night air in northern Ohio. Train whistles, diesel horns, and the clickity-clank from locomotives speeding by on the nearby tracks would awaken me just long enough to smile at the sounds, roll over, and then fall back to sleep.
What is it about train whistles? They invoke a sense of excitement — of exotic destinations and fresh possibilities — of big, heavy machinery and of power and might. I smiled at the sounds wafting through the sleeping porch screens because I knew what awaited us the next day. It would have taken one of those locomotives to hold us back; those trains attracting us boys at Grandma and Grandpa’s house like the hornets drawn to those sweet, rotting apples on the ground.
Today a tall security fence prohibits access to the tracks just a few lots — then they were residential but now they’re commercial — away from where that $2,500 house used to throb with activity and percolate with dreams. Sadly the possibilities to be found in railroad adventures, the fantasies of becoming train engineers one day, and the visions of interesting foreign destinations are gone. But my wonderful memories remain, perhaps a bit embellished by the natural fade of nearly 60 years since they were so wonderfully made.
Many a penny left on the track just before being called in at dusk for the night was flattened by the next morning into a thin, oval foil of copper. My brother and I didn’t hope for, but would not have been surprised to be awoken by, the screeching crash of a derailment caused by those pennies left on the rail. Could our pennies cause such a thing? Even that fantastical possibility didn’t stop us from our escapades.
While we never saw one, Grandma’s stories of “gypsies and hobos” hitching rides on the train or traveling by foot along the tracks during the Depression and stopping by her house for a handout led to many of our own yarns. Our stories were spun as we, ourselves, walked those same tracks with images of shabby men with no particular place to go warming themselves by the occasional remains of a camp fire we would find along the tracks.
There was a mummy, our first cousin told us, laid to rest in a large culvert pipe that traveled a lengthy way under the tracks. At least it seemed like a long way to our young legs and the pipe was large enough that we barely had to hunch over to travel along its dark and subterraneous depths looking for that mummy that according to our own legend was a murdered hobo killed for his beans.
We never found the end of that pipe — or the mummy — but blackened empty cans of beans with the lid still attached as a handle to be used over a fire confirmed our suspicions that our first cousin was right.
Just as all those experiences were right at Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Bedford, Ohio in the 1960s. The freedom we had as young boys to dream and imagine and explore and to be out of sight if not out of mind for hours on end, well they formed us as kids and, really, ultimately as adults.
I wish we could give our grandkids the same. But, alas in this case at least, time marches on.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.