Stories from the past and present: Mt. Gilead, Ohio
Today’s news is Santa is making the rounds. Old news is from my history book.
From Patchwork And So Forth (c)2005 James A. George, All Rights Reserved
Chapter 5 Genesis
"Carroll is precious, and if you ever hurt this girl, I will kill you. Do you understand?" – Roy Irons remarked to Franklin George
In the beginning Mother met Father. I can picture the handsome blond Franklin back from the Navy where he served as bombardier on a Martin PBM Naval surveillance crew courting the most beautiful girl in town, Carroll Virginia Irons. She had long brown hair and looked like a movie star. While they knew one another in high school, she was several years his junior. The actual "meeting" happened while she was working the counter at Sid's Cleaners next door to the George family-owned Pabst Blue Ribbon Grill where Franklin was bartending.
She told me, "We were running low on change, and we got our supply next door at the Blue Ribbon. I walked in and saw Franklin who still had a tan from his flying around in the Caribbean. My sister Betty had a boyfriend, Jim Boggs, who was also back from the Navy. I asked Franklin if he was in the service because I didn't know. He said proudly that he was an air crewman. I was surely impressed."
She got her change that day, and to just be certain they did not run low, she made daily trips to the "Blue Ribbon." Now, also working at the Blue Ribbon were owners, my Grandpa Oscar and my Grandmother Marguerite. Grandmother worked during lunchtime. They all got very friendly with my mother. Of course, in such a small town, there was a good deal of friendliness already.
Without waiting long and skipping a big church wedding, they eloped to West Virginia and got married. I was already on the way, I think.
Not all was friendliness. Dad told me that Grandpa Roy Irons pushed his strong machinist’s chest toward my Dad's strong chest, both six footers, and warned, "Carroll is precious, and if you ever hurt this girl, I will kill you. Do you understand?" Knowing my Dad, he would surely not physically hurt my mother. He may have been cocky at that time, and with that self-centered.
This behavior would not rest well with my normally shy and humble Irons-family Grandparents. Over time, I saw the chemistry come together largely because my Grandparents were accommodating, and because my Father grew more mature and respectful. Perhaps there is nothing remarkable about this, and yet, the observation holds some truth, and experience that may help any young couple and their families understand one another. Give time for settling in and becoming accustomed.
Grandpa Oscar was familiar with my Great Grandfather William Irons and so was Dad. Dad told me William hung out at the pool hall near my Grandfather George's barber shop. Note that Grandpa George had many occupations: sheriff, barber, barkeep, and more. Great Grandpa William Irons drank liquor all the time, so they said. I have seen a picture of the thin old man who stood tall and straight, and wore a felt hat.
Digging into his past, I think that he was once a machinist. He cared for a large family doing this, and passed these skills to several of his sons.
Knowing that he visited the pool hall, I used to go to the place as a boy, wondering if he could still be there. I didn't have a concept about death at that time, and just figured he was lost. You see how easy it is to get lost telling stories? One minute I am telling you about my birth, the next minute I am reminiscing about lost souls I never knew, though I wish that I did. I am still searching for their souls as if I have the ability to sense them. Just maybe this is so.
The concept of souls intrigues me. One definition of soul makes it the immaterial part of a person. If one subscribes to the chemical view as my friend Dr. Currie, one might not acknowledge the possibility of substance unique to living beings in a state detached from chemical origin. When one dies, to where does soulful energy go? Is it dust for the soul as well as for the body, or does the soul take up residence in the minds of the living and in the artifacts of the dead? Beyond current explanation and science, is it possible that souls exist in another dimension?
Just by thinking about persons from the past, by trying to recreate the image of who they might have been, and by connecting with real memories and artifacts, is this not the capacity to bring them back to life? When prayers are said for all the souls, is this not such an attempt?
Here is what I know for certain. It was snowing in Galion Ohio that late April day 1948. When it was time to leave the hospital, my little mother and my father drove the fifteen miles to their apartment on East North Street in Mt. Gilead. The apartment was upstairs in a Victorian style house as there were many on this Maple tree-lined street not far from County Courthouse and Jail. I learned recently from my second cousin Lucille Davis that she and her mother, Mary Elizabeth George Hellman lived in the house and sublet to Mom and Dad.
Since I mentioned the jail, I have to say that this is where my Father lived for awhile as a child. When Grandpa was sheriff, he was given an apartment in the jail for his family. My father carved the words "gang" with an arrow pointing to the basement above a window on the south side. When I played baseball in the yard next to the Courthouse, I twice disrupted proceedings as I hit balls through the courthouse window.
My parents told me that their first apartment was very cramped with baby paraphernalia and they had to move as quickly as possible, especially before the hot summer. Good news was that Grandpa Oscar gave to my Dad a piece of empty property that was adjacent and behind his house, also on East North Street. On this property my Dad would place a brand new Airstream trailer. He may have had an affinity with the Airstream trailer because it was manufactured from the same technology used to build the Martin PBM airplane, structural aluminum and rivets.
I don't remember the first few months of my life, though I do remember the trailer. My Dad awoke at 5:00 am every weekday morning because he had a new job in Columbus, Ohio that was fifty miles south. He had to be at work by 7:00 am and that meant showering and eating and being on the road by 5:45 am. I had no concept of time, of course, though I do remember the steamy mornings from the shower inside the canister in which we lived. I remember the smell of oatmeal or fried eggs and bacon. These were good things as they were comforting.
Prosperity struck home when Dad got the job as an aerospace engineer at the North American Aviation formerly Curtis-Wright manufacturing plant. He told me about his first day at work. He arrived in his work jeans and plaid shirt, carrying a black lunch bucket. That would not have been unusual, though the job in which he was assigned was in the office. He would have to buy a new suit, wear white shirts and ties every day. That impressed and motivated him.
We would not have to live much longer in the trailer as Dad would build a dream house on the same property. He did not give up his other jobs, tending bar at the Blue Ribbon, and even selling suits at the Union Department Store. He needed every penny to get the house up that was built by the Levering brothers, friends of his.
Before I was two years old, the two bedroom white wooden house with green shingles was up, and we were in it. I know that the move was traumatic for me because I remember explicitly not being accustomed to my Mother being in another room without me. The trailer was one long room. Now, we had living room, kitchen, and bedrooms, not to mention a large basement for Mother to run off to. I was terrified, initially, and actually got lost in my own house!
For Mother, my Dad’s new wardrobe and work requirements would require diligent laundering, starching, and ironing. She would have to put the Bendix washer into high gear. I remember the washer because I would have to be there next to her when she was operating the machine, putting in clothes and suds, watching the agitator that was positioned in a crude barrel with a ringer attached. There were laundry tubs too, and a lot of processing, soaking, and rinsing by hand.
There was a lot of water on the slick concrete floor and that made for good sliding. I would take a run and slide across the floor. Mom didn’t want me doing it, though was tolerant as I had to do something while she was washing. One time, I took a good run and slide and ended up chin first into the concrete block wall. That required my first emergency doctor visit and four stitches from which you can still see the scar today.
Mother did not have a car at home, and had to locate my Grandfather Oscar to drive me to doctor Ingmire, the same doctor who delivered me into this world. I remember the pain, and bleeding as I held a cold wash cloth with ice to my chin. By the time that we had reached the doctor’s office, my pain had subsided though the bleeding persisted.
Inside the office, Doctor Ingmire took me right in accompanied by Mother. He said that I would need some stitches. I remember seeing a needle and thread. I don’t know how he numbed my chin, though I do remember some stinging while he performed the stitching.
We went home where I recovered from this experience and had something well worth showing off to the boys in the neighborhood. I bristled with my stitches and liked them.
Then a week later would come the disappointing news that I would return to the doctor to have the stitches removed. “Would this hurt?” I asked Mother. “Not much,” she replied honestly.
It stung a bit, though the redeeming thing is that I now had a scar to share. “You may have this scar all of your life,” said Dr. Ingmire. Unlike stitches, they could not take away my scar.
In 1950, I had a brother on the way. We had a dog already and his name was Rex, a coon dog as my Dad was a hunter. This German short-haired pointer was much larger than me, and I remember him distinctly licking my face. At only two and half years of age, I felt secure with this giant animal which Dad kept on a leash and in a pen next to our chickens. Yes, on the edge of town, I guess Dad thought we could have some degree of self-sufficiency and like many of our neighbors, we had chickens.
The yard around our house was not really a lawn yet. Grass was slow to grow. One day, Mother went to the pen for eggs and let me wander in the yard in my red rubber boots. Rex took off across the yard chasing a rabbit, and I chased after him until I became stuck in the mud and could not move.
Hearing me and the dog yelp, Mother juggled the eggs in her basket and came to my rescue. With one arm she pulled me out of my boots where they remained for some time. I could see them out there from my bedroom. She did not lose a single egg.
I could see other things from the bedroom. In fact, I can recall from my earliest new house days lying on my back and look outside at window level to see a spectacular view of woods and something that I did not recognize. I would learn that there was a dam on Whetstone Creek that was built with the help of my Grandfather Roy Irons as it was a WPA project. I could see Mt. Gilead State Lakes park from my bedroom window and I wanted so much to see it up close.
We were already surrounded by rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, and occasional skunk and even deer. Our address was 191 East Elm Street and right in front of our house were several mature Elm trees providing shade when we needed it. Dad planted poplar trees to the east. There were plum and apple trees in the back, next to the chickens. A retired palomino race horse was kept in a small pasture across the street as it belonged to Louie Goff.
Louie was a slight man who I was told actually jockeyed race horses. Funny thing is that this small man raised bantam chickens that are also small and lay small eggs. We got our chickens from Louie because I liked eating the small eggs.
Eating has always been a delightful experience in my life. From the beginning my favorites included beets, pears, peas, and carrots in that order. My mother said that I would not eat anything until I touched it first, and there was a lot of touching. I can imagine the beets being everywhere.
When my brother Tim came along, I can't remember being surprised. I don't remember it being a competitive situation as we both got plenty of attention from parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I do remember very early on how much I appreciated having a brother. It is so convenient to have your best friend at your side all of the time. By the time I was five years old, I had plenty of things to show Tim who was only three.
"Come on brother, grow up with me," I thought. "We have a lot to discover."
"Jim and Tim" was like a one-word label. We both had the same middle initial, "A." What did it stand for? "It stands for nothing," my Dad says repeatedly.
"OK, I am James A (nothing) George," and so went that tussle. 'Dad, I see where the "'A' came from. It is from Grandpa James Almond George, his middle name."
"No, he replied stubbornly, "It stands for nothing because I meant nothing by it."
"OK, Dad, it means nothing."
Tim and I had very blond hair and were dressed pretty much in the same cloths, blue jeans, and striped shirts, JAG and TAG. Oh, yes, Dad is FAG.
Up to this point, I discovered earth and probably thought heaven was the same thing. Maybe it is. Living in my Grandpa Oscar's back yard was most convenient for everyone with a few exceptions. You have to picture the situation to appreciate it and so I will describe how the house was situated.
Facing the front of the house where there was a front porch and you are facing south. Elm Street runs in an east and west direction in front. To the right and up the hill, there is a water tower. This is the highest point in Mount Gilead and it is next door.
There is a gravel driveway that runs perpendicular to Elm Street and it extends all the way to Grandpa Oscar's garage (barn) that is directly behind my grandparents back porch. The driveway also services the neighbors adjacent my grandparents and sometimes there were disputes with vehicles and space as a result.
The driveway was approximately a quarter mile long. Between the village's water tower to the west and the drive was an empty field that sometimes supported a garden when anyone decided to plant it. Usually, this was a small corn field.
To the east of the drive was a stone wall made of limestone rocks. The wall supports tulips, sedum, various flowers, and even prickly pear cacti. It also supports an apple tree. The apple tree had a transformation of sort when my father grafted a pear branch to the tree. It eventually supported pears and apples.
Also on the east side of the house there is a hill that drops precipitously and continues downward for a half mile to the Whetstone Creek. This slope made sledding on Elm Street excellent in the winter. Even in the summertime, the hill can pose interesting problems.
One day, I heard the milkman at the back door. My job was to get the milk into the refrigerator as fast as possible as no one likes sour milk. The milkman, Dick Jaggers, was at the door when I opened it and he said that I should get some help because there was a gallon of milk, cottage cheese, and a couple of gallons of ice cream.
"Mom, I need some help!" I called. She came to the door; grabbed some items and everything went into the refrigerator. All the while she was chatting with the milkman who was always talkative and trying to sell more products. (Not to mention that he probably noticed how cute she was.)
He was praising the beauty of the irises planted along the side kitchen porch when I noticed his truck inching down the hill. His brake was apparently not fully engaged. I called Tim, "Hey look. There goes his truck!" I exclaimed.
Tim and I watched along with Mother while Mr. Jaggers ran after the truck. Before he got to it, the truck picked up a head of steam and barreled down the hill. The good news is that it veered off the road, slowed down in the neighbor's thick grass, and rested next to the bushes in front of the house. Since that was his next stop, there was no problem that day.
You know what, though, this was not the first time that this would happen? In fact, it happened so many times that we could hardly wait until milk delivery day just to see if the truck would go all the way down the hill.
There were lilac bushes along the drive and they were attributed to my Grandmother. There was a garden behind the now abandoned trailer and this was also Grandmother's except the horseradish belonged to Grandpa.
Grandma Marguerite grew yellow tomatoes, onions, potatoes, green beans, cabbage, and peppers. There was a small apple orchard with five trees. The apples were wormy but I loved them and would eat them green when they were very tart.
There was a very long clothesline strung between poles that would accommodate both Grandparents and our clothes at the same time when washing was done on the same schedule. One day, my Mother loaded up the entire clothes line. That would not have been a problem except when Dad made the clothesline; he put the pole across the drive with one end blocking the driveway when clothes were hanging.
Grandpa Oscar, being very impatient, was blocked in his car. He honked and no one came out, so he drove his car right through the clothesline, soiling Mom's clean clothes. When she saw this, she was furious and a fierce battle began. The battle was about respect - man for woman.
What did Mother have over Grandpa Oscar as leverage? Very good cooking and homemade ice cream became barter for good behavior. After the clothesline incident, invitations to dinner were doled out like America giving foreign aid. Things got worse before they got better.
Recall the slaughter house trips, there was a lot of kidnapping as Grandpa and I would be off exploring such things as banks that had gone out of business. After a bank closed its doors, Grandpa got permission to examine and remove the left over papers. Often, he would find correspondence and stamps. He was a stamp collector and this was a good source.
More often, we would just disappear under everyone's' noses such as the time that he took me into the crawl space under part of the house. We entered via the basement, and then crawled under the front porch to look for termites and other things. We set a few mousetraps too.
My job was to crawl into spaces into which he would not fit. You must feature a fifties aged man who was a little over weight squeezing into this small crawl space with his six-year old grandson. The space was dirt-covered and when we came out we were filthy.
Imagine the next step when I had to come into a clean house completely soiled. Poor, Mom and poor me; she had to wash more clothing and I had to take another bath.
A more exhilarating event was helping Grandpa to paint the house. One summer day he was high up on the ladder painting the fruit that adorned the front of the Queen Anne's style house. I was holding a bucket and brush.
He encountered a wasp nest. As George's sometimes have lapses in judgment, he decided to paint over the nest instead of removing it. That of course gave cause for him to yell, "Run Jimmy, run!" as he clamored down the ladder.
We both took off, though he took a couple of stings before we escaped. I slung paint all over the grass leaving a yellow trail. After awhile the nest fell to the ground and the wasps went away. From this experience I began to realize, a great protector he was not.
The relationship between my Grandpa and Mother reached a low point when we went away for a family vacation. I was about seven years old when we traveled to Virginia to visit my Great Grandmother Pearlie Hale Bedwell, Mother's Grandmother.
My Grandpa George was never fond of the color of our kitchen, nor was he fond of the color of our living room. So, he decided to do us all a favor while we were out. He painted the interior of our house.
Now, this would not just be turning our white kitchen to turquoise. No, it would include painting the living room beige. If that was not enough modern treatment, he decided to mix white beach sand with the beige paint and trowel a permanent pattern all over the living room walls.
You must know from my telling you that Grandpa Oscar did not have a mean or ill-intentioned bone in his body. He just had no view of the world other than from his perspective, and that somehow was either superior, or more than likely, just unwitting.
He believed in his heart that he had performed the best of good deeds while we were away. I can see him trotting toward the house from the far backyard, approaching and all excited.
In my other eye, I saw my Father blocking the entrance to the kitchen, holding back my Mother so that she did not see it all at once. It was a hopeless standoff as Mother burst in and exclaimed, "What did he do to my kitchen? Oh my Lord, what has he done to my living room?" then she burst into tears.
Grandpa made it to the kitchen door and yelled, "Do you like it?" My Dad shook his head as he avoided confrontations with his father.
Two sets of eyes locked together, one set red-eyed with anger and disappointment, and the other seeking approval. I began for the first time in my life to experience tragedy in the making. Neither had bad intentions, nor did they really dislike one another, though values, expectations, and behavior clashed like I would surely see again and again. Such is life.
There is no greater strain than the breathless convulsion felt when love is lost so senselessly.
It is as if that growing from within the heart cavity had been accidentally removed.
Leaving stretched and swollen a gaping nothingness so heavy it strikes paralysis on the mind.
Losing ability to think of the past and hopelessness of tomorrow, I am crushed by my self-affliction.
James A. George 1978
When I shared these stories with my Mother-in-law, she said, "Your Grandpa Oscar was a mean man." This caused me to think about him as I have many times. No, he was not mean in the sense that he set out with bad intentions.
Yes, the consequences from his actions could be interpreted as mean-spirited, yet I have looked deeper. Unthinking, and self-centered, certainly describe some of his behavior.
Grandpa's tiny universe was all that he knew, and in this narrow window on life, he wanted to control what he could. I can't make excuses for his behavior. I can now laugh at it as being outrageous. Then again, it provides insight into my Father and his behavior. It provides insight into my own. Self-knowledge leads to self-control, and self-control to self-respect. Therefore, I must continue.
My life is filled with constant tussle: Be an artist or be a technologist.
My wife has the same conflict: Be a fine artist or be a commercial illustrator.
Our daughter seems to handle the situation differently-albeit with help.
Be a new genre performance artist and expect to live on the edge.
The difference is accepting life on the brink and developing the capacity to navigate the edge, or else teeter nervously until a fall into the cavern of mediocrity.
One may survive poverty, though surely not mediocrity.
James A. George 2000
Where was Grandma Marguerite Shoewalter George during all of this? Most often, she was working at the Union Department Store, "Morrow County's Only Department Store" as the sign read on the side of the brick building called Levering Hall, Italianate, built around 1875.
My Dad said that he saw plays performed in the building during the Great Depression. He was watching the performers and in one scene an actor was eating a saltine cracker. Dad said he was so hungry that he went back stage to see if he could find the uneaten crackers.
When I knew the building it was a multistory department store, with a meat market in the basement, farmers and menswear in the front, women and children on the second floor. Grandpa George sometimes worked as a butcher in the basement, and Grandma, for as long as I can remember until she retired worked in the ladies' department.”
Today’s News from Mt. Gilead Ohio
Santa stops to greet parade spectators Saturday on his way to Santa headquarters where he heard the wish lists of local children and posed for a free photo.”