Childhood memories keep family farm alive

Day by Day:
Childhood memories keep family farm alive

By LIZ THOMPSON
June 14, 2020
This Week News

The sound of the cooing mourning dove at the beginning of summer takes me back to my grandmother Page’s farm and the lazy summer days I spent there, waking to the sound of the dove as the sheer white curtains blew softly in the morning breeze.

I remember waking and listening to bird song and sniffing the summer scents. I would look out the window and through the tall trees to see her vegetable garden.

Once downstairs, the large kitchen smelled like flowers, cinnamon, coffee, toast and homemade jam. Each day held the promise of adventure and time with my grandmother.

My grandmother lived on a farm built in 1854 in Groveport (Ohio.) The property originally consisted of about 750 acres, and the largest section, the bottomland, ended where three creeks came together: Alum, Blacklick and Big Walnut. They named the farm Westbank.

The bricks for the house and the outbuildings were made from the land, and the wood came from the trees.

I am told that from the kitchen pantry to under the front porch was a tunnel that was part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War.

By the time I was born, the acreage had decreased, but the beauty remained. The time at the farm was more about being with my grandmother and enjoying time outdoors.

Sadly, the farm was sold to developers in the 1970s, and the house burned down in the early 1980s.

But the mind is miraculous. I can easily walk through the large house and around the land in my mind. I see my young self crawling under the shade of the tall trees to find carpets of wild violets.

I often sat on the large, cushioned swing on the screened porch and listened to my mother, grandmother and aunts talk as their knitting needles clicked.

On hot summer evenings, adults moved the cloth lawn chairs to the large yard, hoping to catch a breeze. My siblings and I, and often our cousins, busily would catch lightning bugs in jars.

The summer kitchen smelled of earth, clay pots and all manner of gardening utensils.

Music floated in the air when my grandmother played her piano.

It’s important to appreciate what we have while we have it. Our childhood memories can be glimpses of the real thing, yet the feelings, scents and mental images sustain us when life gets too complicated.

I wrote a poem 32 years ago about the farm, called “September Night Play.” In part, it reads:

Knitting needles clicking and conversation humming.
The citronella candle and the swing gently bumping.
Lightning bugs and laughter, and children running after
With a jar and lid with holes punched through to let the captured breathe air, too.

The weeping willow is a grand hiding place
But it is time to go home and end our night play.
So goodbye to Grandma, she must return to her porch
Who will have a new sweater to keep them warm at night
While catching bugs in a jar to watch their green, glowing light?

It’s so easy to become complacent thinking everything will stay the same.

I’d like to think I didn’t take the farm for granted, but I was 20 and living in California when she sold the farm. When I was there last, I assumed I would walk through the doors again. Maybe walk down the lane with her to get the mail or spend a summer day or Christmas Day with her.

We often do take things and people in our lives for granted without realizing it. But we can change that starting right now.

Irish poet and author John O’Donohue wrote in his book, “Anam Cara,” “Explore memory as a place where our vanished days secretly gather … and the passionate heart never ages.”

As I listen to the dove cooing, I close my eyes and smile. I let the sweet memories of childhood at the farm and in small-town Westerville tumble through my mind aimlessly, almost like a child doing summersaults through the cool grass on a summer evening.

Grandmother Page’s farmhouse likely taken in the 1940’s.
I remember in front of the screened porch she had roses, not bushes.

Early lessons live on even as memories fade

Day by Day
Early lessons live on even as memories fade

By LIZ THOMPSON

September 2018
This Week News

In September 1956, I stepped into the basement of the Masonic Temple in Westerville. (Ohio) Most likely I was wearing a dress my mother made, with saddle shoes and a bow in my hair.

Here, I would begin my public education. Mrs. Sleeper was my teacher. Years later, she would see me as an adult and call me by name. She said I had not changed.

My guess is Mrs. Sleeper followed many of her students’ lives and could call us each by name, even years later.

My black-and-white photo shows four rows of tables with eight children at each table.

Mrs. Sleeper handled all of us mostly by herself. We became members of our first club here — the Bow Knot Club — when we tied our shoes by ourselves. My next club membership was the Mickey Mouse Club with a photo membership card.

Many of these same classmates would see Westerville grow from a village to a city. We would see the farmland surrounding our city disappear.

We would walk side by side at graduation at the single high school 13 years later.

I remember the names of all my elementary teachers: Whipkey, Camel, Freeman, McGlish, Sweazy, Clapham. Once we began seventh grade, we had a teacher for each subject. No more recess; the only break came in walking to each class.

Remembering all those teachers’ names now from middle and high school is based on what happened in the classroom, both positive and negative memories.

Mr. Franklin was my seventh-grade geography teacher. His thick gray hair represented knowledge to me. I loved his class for what and how he taught. Here, we had our first real homework. I don’t recall the topic for my assignment, but I used an encyclopedia to get information.

Mr. Franklin called me forward when he passed out our graded assignments. The conversation went something like this:

“Elizabeth, where did you get your information?”

“The encyclopedia.”

“You do know you are not supposed to copy word for word, but read and tell me what you learned.”

How did he know? He must have seen my confusion.

“There is a hyphen in this word.”

I remember looking at my paper and knowing I was caught. I had copied a word that was only hyphenated because it fell at the end of the column and continued on the next line.

“That is called plagiarism, Elizabeth. Cheating. Using someone else’s words.”

He was not angry; he was teaching. I learned and never did that again.

In a small town like Westerville was in those days, sometimes the teachers or principals were neighbors or members of your church.

Recently, my church’s school at Beautiful Savior in Grove City installed a new first- and second-grade teacher. I mentioned to her that I still remember my early teacher’s names. I said the early years of school are uniquely important, setting the base for all learning.

Her enthusiasm was contagious. It gave me assurance that one day her students might remember her, much like I remember mine. That is the type of legacy we all long for.

Schools continue to teach English, mathematics, science, language, art and music. History, government and geography are called social studies. Hopefully, physical education remains a class, but sports have become a type of replacement.

Encyclopedias are not a temptation for students to copy from anymore — the internet has entered the picture. In my day, we did not have word processing or computers. We hand-wrote, in cursive, all of our work. Since cursive is no longer required, that probably sounds antiquated to today’s students.

The edge of Westerville is no longer farmland and the district has three high schools.

I no longer wear saddle shoes and most definitely have changed since 1956. But when I look in the mirror, I still wear my hair similar to when I was 5. No bow. No longer red, but white — sort of like Mr. Franklin’s was. My hope is I have passed on some wisdom I learned from my teachers.

Memories certainly are fogged with time. I choose to cling to the good ones.

Mrs. Sleeper’s 1956 Kindergarten class

Memory Lane provides lovely place to stroll

 

Day by day

Memory Lane provides lovely place to stroll

By LIZ THOMPSON

September 19, 2016
ThisWeekNews

 

The passing of time makes me more emotional than anything else.

Markers such as birthdays, graduations and weddings cause me to look back at the memories. I have photographs as proof — oodles of them — that these events happened.

Some time ago, I gathered all our photo albums and loose photos stashed here and there. I had high hopes of organizing them into new albums. What surprised me was how many photos were duplicates.

Remember ordering double prints for pennies more? One for me, one for Grandma? And the negatives — envelopes full, as if we would order more prints.

These hundreds of photos span from our baby years — duplicates our parents had, all black and white — to when we had our own children. Then when we became grandparents, our daughter sent us duplicates.

We had photos of the many houses we lived in, from Ohio to Arizona to Washington and back again. Twice.

I also found pictures of flowers — in one instance, five photos of the same flower. Landscapes. Gardens. Buildings. Vacations. People I could no longer identify. The trash can became full with many of these latter images.

What started as a simple organizational project became a long walk down memory lane.

I saw many different hairstyles on me and others as well as clothing that has come back into fashion but likely would not fit anymore, even if I had saved it. My young figure was much different than that of a woman my age.

Some of the most precious photos are when we were holding our newborns, and later our newborn grandchildren.

Click, click — I can almost hear the cameras whirring, flashes quasi-blinding me. Our first grandson was tolerant of all the pictures taken by grandparents, aunts and uncles but became shy around cameras later on. I can’t blame him.

What I really hold dear is remembering the feel of a child in my arms — the softness of the skin and the sweet fragrance of new life.

Later, memories more important than a photo were things such as my child calling out, “Mommy!” when she saw me or needed me. I recall easily her first day of school and my crying all the way home because she waved and walked into the room perfectly composed.

It was like a flash-forward as I realized that one day she would be on her own, not needing a mom all the time.

Time did zoom onward without my bidding. I can still see many of the events in my mind, as mental snapshots and three-minute movies spliced together into a full-length film without commercials.

As parents, we were finding our way, often like a toddler taking her first steps.

I’ve heard it said that children are born without instruction manuals. Each child is unique. From the first moment we hold our children, the main thing we need to remember is to love and care for them.

When they’re scared, hurt or sick, we hold them gently. We teach them morality, discipline lovingly and love unconditionally. I firmly believe we should do our best to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

When we make parental mistakes — and we will — we hope our children will someday be forgiving with their memories. We hope we spent enough time simply being there with them. That we were predictable, maybe even boring, in their eyes.

Children need to know we will be there when they fall, when they succeed, when they have tough questions. We need to be there cheering them along.

Author Connie Schultz has a good suggestion: “When you’re in the thick of raising your kids … you tend to keep a running list of everything you think you’re doing wrong. I recommend taking a lot of family pictures as evidence to the contrary.”

No one had to tell us to take pictures, and I’m glad we did. I finally did get the photos in some order. The stroll down memory lane reminded me of what we came through together.

If ever the unthinkable happened and these photos were destroyed, I know I don’t really need pictures to remember the years gone by. All I need to think or say is, “Let’s take a walk,” and the memories appear — or I become a storyteller.