Over Easy: A Tale of Two Cities
This is a tale of the two main places or areas that had the most effect on my up-bringing. And likely moulded my personality and views. The first 14 years of my life were spent in North Easter Ohio, in the township of Burton in Geauga County. Initially in the first house my father built on SR87/Kinsman Road. Close to the West Branch of the Cuyahoga River. Even here on what was considered a main drag, there was only one other house near by. The other side was two large fields and a couple of lots across the street. This was a very rural area and pretty much middle class. No rich folks that I was ever aware of. The rich people at that time live much closer to Cleveland in places like Shaker Heights and Hunting Valley. There were poor folks but no trashy areas that I was aware of. Even the trailer parks were nice.
You must remember that this was the 1950s after WWII and there was still a housing shortage. People lived where they could find and afford. No condos or developments. On a dirt road like Butternut where the second house my father built was, there were ranch style house, a couple of standard wood frame house and a couple of old farm houses. Class sizes were small, like my 6th grade class here. The last elementary school class to be held in the big brick WPA school. After that moved to the new Elementary School on Carlton Street on land my great grandmother Hill [Ristamaki] had her dairy farm. [ That’s me, second row and second from the left]
Social life revolved around 4H, FFA, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and what ever else was held in The Congregational Church in town, which had a huge meeting area in back with plenty of space. This was rural America with rural experiences and rural values. Some conservative some much less so. Definitely NOT THE BURBS. As a kid your friends were those you could bicycle too and visit and play with. The closest movie theaters were a ways away and going to the movies was considered a special occasion. Boy Girl relationships were usually learned in school unless a class mate live near by. In my case most didn’t initially.
From 6th grade on we had dancing in the gym after lunch. Nearly every day. By the time I got to 6th grade a girl named Barbara Mullet had decided she liked me a lot. So after lunch she would seek me out and hang with me. Usually on the dance floor but sometimes outside when the weather was nice. She new I did not know how to “fast dance” [the bop, swing etc. which I much later learned BTW] so we would slow dance and I think I danced every slow dance with her. By 8th grade we knew each other quite well and I visited her a few times. Her family had moved quite close.
Having been though the area a number of times, it has changed and grown. Most of the growth has been to the east and west of Burton township. Their zoning making it difficult for any industrialization. Though most of the old quaint farms and farm houses are gone, replaced by big ranch style houses, subdivisions are few as the zoning states a minimum lot size. The large fields though are still being farmed though. Presumably by some industrial farming as there are also large fuel storage tanks on them as well. Burton township and village has managed some how to retain a good deal of it’s small charm.
But I never got to finish 8th grade there. My father had decided to move us all down to Florida and not only that he did not even know at that time what part of Florida. So in late Oct. we all piled into the family bus and off we went. I was NOT a happy camper but I had learned by that time challenging my father on any decision he made was a very bad idea.
Once in Florida we stopped in Port Charlotte and rented a house there. My first encounter with suburbia and southern bigotry. I only had one friend there and he was racist to the core. I did make friends with a girl there but she was Catholic and the Catholic boys there did not appreciate our friendship and let me know it. My family left the area shortly there after and we headed to Miami/Coral Gables. Apparently where they – my father mostly – had decided to relocate. After a week or so, they decided on a house but my father needed to take out a second mortgage on the house in Burton to buy it, so back up north we went. With a short side trip to Phillie to visit my grand parents there. My mother’s parents. This and every trip to visit them was my father’s idea, not my mother’s. My mother could not stand her parents and if see never saw them alive again, it would have been fine by her.
The return trip to Ohio and entering the school again was very hard for me, knowing it would likely be the last time for a very long time. We were there from Jan. to the beginning to Feb. so my father could take care of the financial thing, then back down to Florida to the same exact motel we were staying before.
Then one day may parents went out to meet the realtor and left me to babysit my brothers and sisters. But they did not come back at the expected time. Lunch time passed and they were not there. Then in the late afternoon a Coral Gables COP stopped by and told us that my father had had a strike and was in the hospital. I knew exactly what that meant. He likely would not survive and later that evening my mother returned in a taxi and told us he was dead. He had died of a brain haemorrhage. I was in shock for at least a day. We all walked down to a phone booth near by while she informed all the relatives. My mother did not drive so my grandfather flew down to driver us back to his place, where we stayed as my father insisted should anything happen to him. Here my mother took care of the financial end and legal end of his estate and finally learned to drive. From Feb through August.
My second experience with suburbia. I made a few friends there. Alec who live in a house that was on property that was part of his grand parents farm. He raised chickens for their eggs which he sold and in the back was were the chickens were. Also stables for his sister’s horses. There was a big empty lot/field across the street that had this big stone barn thing on it. All boarded up to keep people – kids mainly – out. The last remaining part of the farm. I had another friend there, Eric who was a radio nut/geek like I was but he live quite a distance so I visited him less often.
I knew none of the girls there even though there were a couple at the bus stop. The school was quite different. A separate Jr. High and most of the students from middle and upper middle class families.
By August my mother had decided we would move back down to Florida, to Naples this time. We flew down and the car was driven down by some fellow to be picked up at the Fort Myres airport. I very quickly learned to absolutely HATE Florida. The heat, humidity, beaches, sand, salt water. Everything. But I was stuck. My mother decided also to open her own kindergarten rather than go back into nursing. Nursing paid poorly and the hours were horrible. But after a few years she closed it and did substitute teaching and then teaching full time at the local elementary school. But those first few years were tight indeed.
At this time Naples was a small town with one main street and almost completely suburbia. White suburbia at that. Upper crust whites who came from the northern suburbs. There was a small black section made up almost entirely of old black people who were stuck there. The young families had gone some time ago. The black school was closed and made into the county school board offices. All Florida school districts are county based. Yes even Miami. The Dade County school system. I tolerated school by this time and all my friends were odd balls like me. Ducks out of water. In hight school I had no social life what so ever since a social life required transportation and I had none. As a Senior in HS I did manage to get a motor scooter and I also had a good part time job in a local TV repair shop. I knew few girls in school and hung around none of them. I was broke most of the time and they had money and that was that. By my senior year I just did not give a shit. And this disinterest ran both ways.
These days Naples is completely different and by the looks of via google maps, nearly every building and house – if not every house – has been replaced with upscale multi story units going for 1 million dollars or more. The small town charm if might have have once had – and very little of that at best – is completely gone as well. But what it is that supports this ostentatious life style is beyond me. The tech sector software house are gone as well, having folded a while ago. Drugs ? As good a guess as any.
I was a duck out of water. I knew nothing of and was completely disinterested in the suburban middle class life style. I am now almost 66 and this has not changed. Also by my senior year Vietnam hung heavy on my mind. With no prospects and little interest in college and with electronics and radio experience and a short stint in CAP, I decided to enlist in the Air-force. Figuring I would be assigned a tech job. But on the way to see the recruiter I got into a bad accident on my scooter and was hospitalized for over a month and on crutches of another 5 months. The military did not want me now.
After my accident legalities were settled, there was a short stint back up to Cleveland and a stay with my aunt and uncle. Then back down to Florida, central Florida this time. A subject for another tale.
I learned a few things in all of this and one of the main ones is that money – and a background of money. Not necessarily a lot of money, makes a big difference in what you choose to do in any situation. Most specifically on the risks you decide to take or not. Failure and trouble is not as big a deal when you have some money as it is when you are poor.