What’s round on both ends and high in the middle?
reprinted with permission from Lillie Suburban Newspapers
That was the question I loved to ask people when I was a fourth-grader moving from the Columbus, Ohio area to a Chicago suburb.
And at age 9, I really liked it when people didn’t know the answer so I could smugly tell them: “Ohio!”
Besides the riddling potential of the state it’s in, I’ve always had good memories of the Columbus suburb of Worthington, where I lived from age 6 to 9.
I have memories of my old house where lilies of the valley grew in a raised garden around a big tree in the backyard, of the neighborhood picnics there, and of the woods across the street where I’d climb on a big log or hike around to pick violets for May Day baskets and hold buttercups under my chin to see if I liked butter.
For much of my life, I’ve wanted to revisit my idyllic childhood haunts. So just recently I did go back, and my daughter, Kate, went with me.
“It’s always fun traveling with you,” Kate said. “It was interesting for me to see how sharp your memory was about where you grew up and to see the places still standing.”
I guess Kate was impressed that I could still reel off my old address so we could get a map and directions on my smartphone.
Funny how the things you learn when you’re young — and don’t have a digital device to rely on — stick with you.
In the Buckeye State
In Worthington, we pulled up in front of my childhood home, which was framed by newly fallen snow, and took photos. I was hoping the owner would come out and wondering if I would dare ask to peek in.
Across the street, a helpful neighbor paused while shoveling snow and offered to take pictures of us. Then I pointed up the slight hill to show Kate where I learned to ride my two-wheeled bike with my father holding onto the back. It wasn’t as steep as I remembered.
I told her about another woods where I caught tadpoles and collected buckeyes that had fallen off the trees. The homes that were built in “my” woods after I moved to Chicago look so settled there it’s hard to picture it any other way.
I remember the pool in Worthington where I learned to swim. I still bike and swim, and for many years did triathlons. Now I’m delighted to be in the pool with grandkids, watching them learn to swim.
But the present-day Worthington is different from my memories.
So do I keep the old pictures in my head and superimpose the new ones? Give up the old ones altogether? Have two separate sets? Already, the new mental pictures are gaining power.
Following the map in my head, Kate and I drove along the curvy, hilly road past big old lilac bushes where I used to walk or bike downtown. The area once had woods in several directions but was safe for an 8-year-old to bike or hike alone.
No one had fears of children being kidnapped or harmed back then.
Historical district offers trendy shops
Worthington’s old downtown was a combination of familiar and new.
St. John’s Episcopal Church, the first Episcopal Church in the Northwest Territory, was founded in 1803. Inside, it seemed a little smaller than I remembered when I was marching up the aisle in the choir at age 9 singing “What Child Is This?” for Christmas. The old red brick church and adjacent cemetery are now on the National Register of Historic Places.
When my family moved away, the town was getting ready to celebrate its sesquicentennial. I liked the way that word rolled off my tongue and found it a history lesson on the Westward Expansion.
Worthington was older than Chicago and much older than Minneapolis.
The shops downtown are now more trendy – wine, gifts, ice cream and candle shops, and a French bakery – but the Victorian-style Worthington Inn is still there. It dates back to 1831 and at one time was the home of a wealthy family and later on, a travelers’ inn. We ate lunch in one of the rooms decorated like yesteryear.
I told Kate about getting our first TV. I came back from visiting my grandparents in Michigan and saw the antenna on the roof and could hardly believe my eyes. I knew what it meant.
Before that, I remember listening to the big floor radio or watching shows on the neighbor’s TV.
Budding interest in politics
Worthington is also where my awareness of politics began. I remember talking with schoolmates about the upcoming presidential election between General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson and the ditty that the kids sang about them.
My love of drawing began in Worthington. I remember visiting the Ohio State University campus with a friend while her professor father stopped by his office. We sat drawing horses and trees.
Kate and I stopped at Ohio State’s Wexner Center for the Arts to see Leslie and Abigail Wexners’ amazing personal art collection, including Picasso’s “Mother and Child” and “Woman Seated in a Garden,” Edgar Degas’ “Little Dancer Age 14” statuette and many other works of art I had only seen in photos before.
When I look back at my four years in Worthington, I see the beginnings of some lifelong interests: biking, swimming, drawing, art and politics.
After the visit, I’m trying to combine old and new memories and wondering how they will all fit together.
Seeing my childhood setting again reinforced for me how much the past influences the present. And being able to show Kate all those places, with the vivid memories they sparked, was a special experience for both of us.