My mother's sister lived in Warren, Ohio during the 40's to the 60's and we used to go to visit her for a week in the summer. She and my Uncle Joe had a dog named Pooch, a water spaniel who had a "liver spot" coat. Pooch was a wonderful dog and my favorite Ohio companion. I had a playmate named Norma Gipp, who lived around the corner. She had a huge cherry tree in her back yard and it was always in full fruit when we visited. Shaking the tree would bring down showers of fresh cherries and I would come back to my aunt's home with my face, hands and clothes smeared with red cherry juice, oh - and a very full stomach!
Norma had one thing she used to say to everyone; she would ask us to spell her name and add the word funny. I was amused to see that it was "G-I-P-P funny.
(Remember, I was 8-12 years old.) At the time, I wished I had such a neat name! One year while we were there, Norma's school had not let out for the summer, so she took me to school with her. The kids in her class wanted to know if I grew cotton and peanuts "way down there in WV". I asked them if they had ever studied geography - or looked at a map. I could not believe that they really thought WV was that far south! They teased me for saying "you all" and I had nothing but scorn for those who said "youse guys".
My aunt was a world-class cook, and I have written about her prowess before. She and my uncle Joe loved to fish, and they always cooked whatever they caught and she made it taste like manna from Heaven. She took me on my first fishing trip at age six to Lake Pamatuning (it might be Pymatuning) which is in or near PA, not far from where she lived. I had beginner's luck; catching several sunfish that first time. I was so proud.
We used to go to Lake Erie to swim and have amazing picnics, which had to be the forerunners of modern-day tailgaiting for all their elaborateness. I think I may have already written about them too. I loved going to the lake; I had not been to see the ocean, but I didn't see how it could be any bigger than Lake Erie. The water was clear back then (I understand it is not so clean now) and it was fun to wade out for what seemed like a mile on the clean, soft sandy bottom. When we tired of swimming, we would walk out onto the long rock jetties which jutted out into the lake, and pretend we were going to catch a cruise ship to far-away lands.
My aunt's house had a big, wide front porch. The house was built in the craftsman-style, a bungalow. I loved to sit after dinner in her cushioned glider or in the swing, talking and asking questions about the "olden days". All the children on the block came out at night to catch lightning bugs in vented mayonnaise jars. Those bugs were so plentiful back then you could catch 10 every minute without even trying. That was before the advent of DDT, whih I suppose was a good chemical for some things, but it also killed many beneficial or harmless bugs.
Across the street from my aunt's house, there was a huge parking lot used by the employees of a business that eventually became Hewlett-Packard, if I remember correctly. On weekends, when it was empty, we could ride bikes to our heart's content without our parents worrying we would get hit. Of course, I always had to borrow a bike from someone nice enough to share, but nice people were not in short supply back then.
Sometimes we would play croquet in the back yard. One particularly nice Fourth of July, my uncle was grilling Italian sausages and hot dogs on the "new built-in barbecue grill" and I was helping to set up the croquet game. Barefoot as usual, I stepped on a bee in the grass. I howled; it hurt soooo bad. He stung me on the arch, in a tender spot. I was grounded for several days, as I could not put foot to floor without wincing in pain. That didn't dissuade me from going barefoot, though, which I did nearly everyday (at least in the house) until I cut my toe in the lawn mowing accident. After that, I had to wear shoes to protect that delicate digit, which I would invariably hit on the base of the kitchen counters. Talk about pain! But I digress.
My summers in Ohio were a wonderful part of my growing up and learning how people who lived in other places differed from my family. I thought at the time they were very different, but I came to realize that we were alike in the ways that mattered most, and the ways we differed just made us more interesting to each other. I learned tolerance for those differences, and for that, I am grateful.