Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

This is Me in ’83 – Winter, Western New York

My Uncle Rob and Aunt Becky had their second child – my cousin Justin – in the last few days of 1982, so my family began 1983 with a trip to western New York.


That’s me in the middle, and my brothers, who are on skis. My glasses were of the oh-so-cool-automatically-darkening-outside variety.

I don’t remember if this was in Olean or Portville, New York, although there are photos of us eating pizza from the Portville Snak Shak: the restaurant which introduced me – on a later trip, I think – to the deliciousness of buffalo wings.

My grandpa had made the trip from Ohio, too – I don’t remember if he drove separately, or if grandma was there, or if we all traveled together – and I think I remember him playing pool with Dad and Uncle Rob in a basement room of my aunt and uncle’s house.

This trip was either during the last weekend of winter break, or possibly a bit into January ’83, since I didn’t go back to school immediately due to the Lake Local teachers’ strike.

January 28, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Family history | , , , , | Leave a comment

Things About My Grandma

My grandmother Joan (pronounced “Jo-Ann”)  passed away yesterday. This is one of the earliest pictures I can find of the two of us, and I realize today that in this photograph, she is only a few years older than I am right now.

Here are some things to know about my grandma, Joan (Engle) (Booth) Schoenberger, who was always kind of quietly amazing:

She was from Massillon, Ohio and counted Paul Brown among her high school teachers. (For the record, she always told me he wasn’t a particularly good teacher, because he was constantly focused on something else.)

Her first husband – my paternal grandfather – died when he was only 34 years old, so my grandma raised my dad and my uncle on her own, a single mom in small-town Ohio. Only as an adult and parent did I begin to grasp how difficult that must have been.

She moved with her boys from Massillon to Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and became a librarian.

She loved to read. And while my parents and Sesame Street encouraged my reading habit early on, it was visits to grandma and the unfettered access to the shelves of Upper Sandusky’s Carnegie Public Library that fed my addiction. Even though we lived across the state, grandma would let me check out stacks and stacks of books, and I still remember some of them, like The Gollywhopper Egg and all the Bobbsey Twins mysteries. There was an old painting of a man hanging on one of the walls, and I remember grandma pointing out that his eyes followed you creepily. Grandma was also responsible for unknowingly introducing me to Blue Snaggletooth. (This library connection stayed strong: When I was in college and obsessively seeking All Things Ray Bradbury, I went to the Upper Sandusky library on a search for “The October Game,” and found it in a collection there. The librarians didn’t know me, but they let me check out the book despite having no library card and having a home address some 110 miles away, because I was Joan’s grandson. And she had already been retired for awhile.)

Grandma always laughed and said that she wasn’t very sharp, but get her in a game of Oh, Hell and she would begin every hand with a woe-is-me reminder that she had no idea what to bid or to play, and then she’d rack up the points while simultaneously thwarting your bids and insisting the entire time that it was all luck.

She was fun to hang out with.

I was at her wedding: My mom’s father had been a widower since the early 1970s. He and my grandma Joan were married in the 1980s, throwing our family tree into giddy chaos.

Her house was always a special place to visit, whether it was for a holiday, or the Wyandot County Fair, or just because we were going over for the weekend because Mom and Dad needed to take care of something in Upper.

This chair belonged to her.

When I attended Bowling Green, my friends and I would stop in and visit her from time to time on the way to Columbus. She usually offered to buy us dinner at the local bar – The Pour House – which served excellent wet burritos.

I am so very glad that Kelsey knew her great-grandma well, and that the two of them got to share each other’s company for 15 years.

When I read my copy of Giant John – which I’m pretty sure is a library discard my grandma gave me – I will always hear her voice.

November 15, 2012 Posted by | 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, Family history, Ohio | , , , , , | 6 Comments

Veterans Day, 2012

I am thinking of my Dad today.

Richard E. Booth, United States Air Force

Note: This post originally appeared here in 2009.

Despite the fact that my Dad served overseas during the Vietnam War, I never really thought of him as a “veteran.”

He’d been stationed on a base in Korea near the DMZ. He never told “war stories.” I don’t remember groups of old Air Force buddies visiting the house when I was growing up. No medals or mementos around, unless you count the tables and lamps he had shipped back home as gifts for mom.


It also says “Tiger” over one pocket.

I was only two years old when his four-year service in the U.S. Air Force ended in 1972. He came back from South Korea to Lima, Ohio – I honestly don’t remember him being gone, though I do remember being small enough to wear the jacket in this picture – and he and mom and I went about our lives.

Among Dad’s pictures from overseas is a shot of him yelling across a crowded bar that always reminded me of a scene from M*A*S*H, and in the background is a sign reading, “Pardon me, sir, but you’ve obviously mistaken me for someone who gives a shit.” I always liked this picture because a) Dad looks like he’s having fun, and b) the sign said “shit,” and swearing was funny, especially when I was little.

Richard E. Booth, United States Air Force, Korea

After this recent post, my mom commented that she and Dad were supposed to get married in October of 1968, but they had moved the wedding up to early September after Dad was drafted.

This was news to me, and didn’t seem to make sense, since he’d been in the Air Force, so I visited mom yesterday morning to find out the story.

It goes like this, give or take:

Dad graduated from Upper Sandusky High School in 1965 and took a job at a manufacturing company, painting auto parts: one of the pieces that held the grill of a Pontiac Tempest in place, Mom thinks.

On the job, a piece of heavy equipment fell on his ankle and lopped off that bone that sticks out the side. He had it fixed with a pin, but the injury was enough to earn him a deferment when his number came up in the draft for the first time.

He spent a year at Bowling Green State University, but didn’t have the money to keep attending, so he returned to Upper Sandusky and got another job.

Mom, who went to nursing school right after high school, remembers the U.S.S. Pueblo’s capture in January 1968, and said suddenly it took a lot more than a pinned ankle to get a deferment, and when Dad’s number came up after that, he chose to enlist in the Air Force rather than be drafted into the Army.

He was barely six months past his 21st birthday.

When he was doing basic training at Sheppard AFB in Texas, Dad decided he wanted to be a medic.

This was an odd choice: All through her nursing school education, Mom said Dad never showed any interest in medicine.

In fact, he had apparently always planned on being an accountant. (This image of my Dad as a numbers-cruncher is so out-of-whack to me that I have trouble drawing even a remotely appropriate parallel.) Mom says Dad had even begun correspondence courses in accounting, and they bought an adding machine which she stuffed into his duffel bag so he could keep up with his schoolwork when he went into the service.

So now, here he is calling to let her know he checked the “medic” box, and her mind is immediately filled with images of Dad hauling injured guys from the battlefield under heavy fire, and she kind of freaks out.

After basic, they were transferred to Kincheloe AFB in Michigan’s upper peninsula, where Dad met a guy who told him about this thing called “anesthesia,” and about how being an anesthetist looked like a good career choice, and that’s where Dad decided what he’d do after finishing his Air Force service. (He also got papers to deploy to Turkey while he was at Kincheloe, but those were rescinded due to me arriving on the scene in November 1970.)

Not long after that, Dad wound up serving in South Korea, but I’m a little fuzzy on where, exactly. I always thought he was stationed at a place called Kojin – I have a baseball-style cap embroidered with “Kamp Kojin Korea” on the front, “Doc” along one side and “Commander USAF Hospital” on the back – but I can’t find any references to such a location online. Another cap I have says “USAF HOSP Osan ’71-’72” on it, and along the back edge, “Johnny”, “Rich” and “Pam.”

My Dad, Richard Earl Booth, returned home in 1972 and became an anesthetist and a tremendously awesome father of three, and


This coat even made a goof like me feel cool: Thanks, Dad.

despite his pre-Air Force aspirations always referred me to Mom for math advice once I was past Algebra I.

When I was about 16, he gave me the heavy wool Air Force trenchcoat he got when he enlisted, which I absolutely loved.

Dad died of complications from kidney cancer on May 12, 1993, one week after his 46th birthday. I think of him regularly, though until this year, for some reason, never really in the context of Veterans Day.

He always gave the impression that his time in Korea was no big deal; that he never did anything “heroic”; that he only did what he needed to do to take care of his family in the long term.

But what gets to me now, as a father coming all-too-rapidly to the end of my thirties, is thinking about the choices Dad made when was only 21, and then having to leave Mom and me an ocean and a continent away, and comparing that to where I was when I was that age, and wondering how in the world he ever did it.

I miss him. And I’m thinking of him today trying to truly appreciate what that choice meant.

November 11, 2012 Posted by | 1970s, Family history, Ohio | , , | 2 Comments

U.S. 30 – There And Back Again

Earlier this month, my mom and I took a day trip across the state – mostly on U.S. Route 30 – to catch up with some friends we haven’t seen in a long time.

Oddly enough, I started my day here

Cairo, Ohio

– then drove several hours and wound up here:

Cairo, Ohio.

Driving to western Ohio with mom can be fun, since it gives me a chance to pick her brains about growing up out in farm country, and talking about my earliest memories.

We spent a few hours in Columbus Grove, which took a big hit from that summer storm that plowed through the Midwest:

That’s wind damage. Wind damage – and not from a tornado, either. The town also lost enough trees that a week later, there was still a pile of debris a couple stories high waiting to be shredded.

We also had a good time talking with people who’ve known me since I was born – and my “aunt” Judy made it nearly two hours before bringing up the time that they invited me over to attend a demolition derby and her son Brian and I spent a few subsequent hours destroying his Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars by slamming his heavy bedroom window frame down on them. (“…we’re playing DEMOLITION DERBY, that’s what!”) I can’t blame her – from a parent standpoint, it’s a good story, and if I was her, I’d bring it up every time I saw me, too.

Since we were in the area, after mom and I left, we drove down to Lima. I last drove through here in the early 1990s on another trek around the state.

Here’s the first house I remember calling home:

The house was gray when we lived there in the early 1970s – in fact, I’m pretty sure it was the same gray as the garage in the background.

But the neighboring house – where my best friend Alberto lived – is the same red as I remembered it:

And here’s another place that sticks in my memory (although I’m pretty sure the building was just a home back then, and didn’t have the addition on the back) –

Albert and his siblings and I used to play in this yard on the other side of his house. Apparently, one day we were playing cops and robbers and we were loud enough to disturb the woman who lived here, and she came out and told us something to the effect that if we didn’t quiet down, she was going to go get her gun and she was going to play, too.

I don’t remember any of that. What I do remember is my dad carrying me around our driveway while I was crying because I was scared of the police who were called to the scene.

Other memories of this place are better: My tractor-tire sandbox in the back yard, and the swingset, and the homemade tortillas Alberto’s family used to make, and playing with my Evel Knievel motorcycle on the front sidewalk, and Alberto and I playing with the windshield washers on my dad’s VW bug, and our families goofing around and laughing together outside.

Mom and I wandered through Lima a bit finding our way back to Interstate 75, then picked up some ice cream cones and headed east on U.S. 30 again for the return home.

July 19, 2012 Posted by | 1970s, Family history, Ohio, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Backyard, then and now

I’ve been fascinated for awhile now with “Looking Into the Past” pictures and manipulated photos, so I thought I’d give it a shot this afternoon.

I live across the street from the house where I grew up – my youngest brother and his family live there now – and my mom kept volumes and volumes of family photos, so the resources were close at hand.

Two things I learned: 1) The whole hold-the-picture-out-with-one-hand-and-shoot-with-the-other thing is difficult for me, but it didn’t occur to me until awhile later that I could also 2) take a new photo, scan the original, and put ’em together using the computer.

No big deal. At any rate, here’s the result of my hour’s worth of work (which included looking through the photo albums for a suitable test shot):

Ohio backyard

A few things:

  • Original photo is from the late 1970s or extremely early 1980s
  • Yes, this is a composite. I took almost the exact same photo twice. In one, the old picture was in focus, and the “real world” blurred. In the second, the reverse was true. The angles were close enough that I combined the in-focus portions.
  • What may be difficult to tell from this picture is the degree of change in the background. Although the trees at the top center of the photo might seem at first glance to line up with the treeline in the old photo, if you could see the horizon line, it’s pretty close to lining up. Those treetops you see above the edge of the old photo are actually the full-grown pines that are barely visible in the old picture. Not the mid-sized pines you see in the mid-ground, mind you – there are two rows of extremely young pine trees just beyond those, and it’s those two rows now standing sentinel at the field’s edge.

I had enough fun with this that I’ll try it again with other pictures.

May 20, 2012 Posted by | 1970s, 1980s, Family history, Ohio | , , | 2 Comments

A fistful of pennies

OhmygoshOhmygosh, I cannot believe this still exists:

Easter Straker's Birthday Chair - Lima, Ohio

Photo: Allen County Museum

Honestly, it doesn’t match up to my memory, but then again, I’m pretty sure I was only three (maybe four) years old when mom took me to the local TV station in Lima, Ohio so I could climb into the Birthday Chair and stick my hand in the Penny Jar. I had seen other kids do this on TV – it was a locally-hosted kids’ show – and the fact that I was going to be ON TELEVISION just blew my preschool mind.

Of course, I didn’t actually get to see myself on TV, but I think I remember Dad telling me he had watched, and I tried to imagine what it had looked like on that black and white TV in our living room.

I remember only snapshots of the experience: Only the faintest memory of host Easter Straker, and over the years, the chair had morphed in my memory into something like one of those red and gold Santa thrones. I have a vague recollection of finding it odd that the studio was kind of a plain room with just this one corner decorated for the show. But I do remember reaching into that penny jar, and being disappointed that my fist couldn’t scoop up a jingling mini-pile of coins, Scrooge McDuck fashion.

My post about Giant John brought the memories to the surface again and inspired me to do a quick Google search for something like: Lima + Ohio  + TV + show  + birthday + chair, and I was just amazed when it returned that page from the Allen County Museum.

Better than a fistful of pennies.

May 8, 2012 Posted by | 1970s, Family history, Television | , , , | 2 Comments

Giant John

I’m pretty sure this is the first book I remember reading, or having read to me.

Giant John by Arnold Lobel

And yes, this is my actual copy, which I’m pretty sure I’ve had my entire life.

It goes back so far in memory that I have no specific recollections to connect to it – what it triggers in my brain are vague but encompassing sensations of times and places and the feeling of a particular era.

Giant John by Arnold Lobel  - castle

It’s the early 1970s, Lima, Ohio. My parents rent a house on North Main street, and we have a black-and-white Zenith TV in our front room, and a convertible VW bug in the driveway. The soundtrack of the time includes “Band on the Run” and “Billy Don’t Be A Hero.”

Though I’m sure both Mom and Dad read this book to me countless times, I still hear it in my grandma Joan’s voice. She has a slight Midwestern accent, and her librarian’s cadence and careful enunciation is mixed with a storytelling grandparent’s sweetness and tone of wonder that ends every sentence with the unasked question, “What do you think is going to happen next?”

I’ve written a lot about growing up in the 1980s, but over the past couple years, I’ve realized how much I absorbed from the early-to-mid 1970s, and how bits and pieces from those times are lodged in the back corners of my mind. I’ve been meaning to mine that territory a bit more, and Giant John has been there the whole time.

May 6, 2012 Posted by | 1970s, Books, Family history, Ohio | , , , , | 4 Comments

Happy 15th, Kelsey!

Photo by Jim Carchidi

It’s my daughter’s 15th birthday today, and she is celebrating it in awesome fashion: performing with her high school orchestra at Walt Disney World. In lieu of cake, I believe there will be generous portions of Star Tours, Tower of Terror, and Rock’n’Roller Coaster served.

You make me proud every day, Kels.

(And hey, movie trivia buffs: Kelsey shares a birthday with her stunt double (5:32 – 5:48) in The Meat Locker.)

March 26, 2012 Posted by | 1990s, Family history, Ohio | Leave a comment

Old Rocking Chair’s Got Me

I’ve recently added a chair to my office here at home. It’s not pretty, but it had always been in my grandma’s house, so I’m emotionally attached to it. Also, it’s a swivel rocker, and deceptively comfortable, especially when paired with a shut-up-I-love-it 1970s dark green vinyl footstool.

Just a guy in a chair

A couple weeks ago, I found this picture of me sitting in the same chair:

Little kid in a chair, 1971

This is actually in the house in Upper Sandusky where my dad and uncle grew up, on South Fifth Street. It’s December 26, 1971: A day after my second Christmas. I’m a little more than 13 months old.

(Title of the post? Hat tip to science fiction luminary Suzette Haden Elgin‘s short story, which is well worth tracking down.)

January 22, 2012 Posted by | 1970s, Family history, Ohio, science fiction | 4 Comments

Dusk at the edge of Upper Sandusky

My mom, my daughter and I drove to Upper Sandusky on Thursday, Dec. 29, to visit my grandma. We spent several hours with her, going out for a late lunch and hanging out in the big sun room of the facility where she lives. My nephews were there, and my brother and sister-in-law, and my aunt and uncle, too.

On the way home, mom and I talked about her childhood in Upper, and she asked me about my earliest memories, which go back to living in the farmhouse where she grew up. We stayed there with my grandparents during some of my dad’s service in the Air Force. We were both a little surprised to find that I have an accurate memory of the kitchen tile floor pattern, even though I was less than a year old when we moved in.

More than usual – maybe it was the early sunset, maybe it was the bare, harvested fields stretching into the distance – Upper Sandusky felt very much today like a tiny outpost on the edge of a vast gulf of land and sky and constant wind. It’s not an unfamiliar or unpleasant feeling, but it was particularly strong this afternoon.

Upper Sandusky sunset and moon

Upper Sandusky sunset

Upper Sandusky - tree

Upper Sandusky - clouds and cornfield

December 29, 2011 Posted by | Family history, Ohio, photos, Travel | , , , , | 1 Comment

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