Things I learned on my visit home to Ohio.
— Over the summer, hornets made their home in my mom’s basement in a cubby hole that she had long used for canned foods. The hornets nest is huge — about three feet high and a foot and a half across. There was some talk about “Craig” removing the nest because “the hornets are dead now because it’s too cold.” But “Craig” managed to convince “Mom” that a better scenario would be to hire a professional. Opening a hornet’s nest is not just a metaphor for playing with danger.
— For several Christmases, my family decided to get live spruce trees with the roots intact in an earthen ball, so we could plant them in the yard afterward. Most of those trees survive in my mom’s yard, and — along with several pine saplings I planted when I was a boy scout — are now some four stories tall. The old locust trees in the front yard, which were there when the house was built the year I was born, grow more slowly and look much the same as they did when I was growing up. Their scraggly limbs in winter looking like varicose veins on the sky.
— I was reminded of an anecdote from my youth I’d conveniently forgotten. When my cousin Angela cut her leg on some barbed wire in the woods behind our houses, I apparently decided to put a tourniquet on it (a bit histrionic, I know), much to the horror of my aunt.
The county where I grew up was part of the Connecticut Western Reserve, and was named for the former governor of Connecticut, Jonathan Trumbull, who owned a great deal of land here. It is almost perfectly square, with 25 perfectly square townships. Some of the names of those townships seem borrowed from the pages of a Western Civilization textbook: Mesopotamia, Vienna (pronounced Vye-ENNA, the town where I went to high school) and Mecca, where my mother’s family lived.
My grandparents’ old farmhouse did not have indoor plumbing until I was in high school, when they finally put in a toilet, bathtub and sink in what was originally the pantry. And the house never had central heating. Two wood stoves — one in the kitchen, the other in the living room — heated the house, and the upstairs bedrooms would have ice on the inside of the windows in winter. Uncle Kenneth tore down the old house in the early 90s, and now has a prefab home on the site.
— The outhouse at my grandparents’ home, where my mom and uncle Kenneth grew up, was given to the family from the Works Progress Administration. The WPA was a depression-era program under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The program put people to work to do mostly infrastructure projects — like roads and bridges — and apparently part of that was to give all rural families a biffy.
— My mom’s cousin said she liked to use the outhouse at my grandparents’ place because grandma would put up photos from Hollywood magazines like Photoplay on the inside walls, so you’d have something to look at while you exposed your derriere to the mid-winter cold.
— In spite of long debates over Christmas, my sister and I were unable to determine why we called the stream next to our house the “crick,” and the creek next to my grandmother’s house was the “brook.”