Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Northwest Ohio, 1972-73

My earliest memories trace an elliptical orbit around two places: Lima and Upper Sandusky, Ohio.

If you ask me where the first place is that I remember living, my mind goes to this house on North Main Street in Lima:

That picture’s from sometime in 1972-73. (Here’s what the house looked like in summer 2012.)

But I also have many memories of the farm and house in Upper Sandusky where my mom grew up, since we lived there while my dad was serving in Korea in 1971 and ’72. While I can remember several things about being there, I can’t say that I recall having a sense of home in those memories, the way I do about the house in Lima.

That’s me and my maternal grandfather, Reuben Schoenberger. Here’s another one:

The pieces I remember from the farm and the farmhouse are mostly sensory snapshots: The smell of dirt and wood and oil in the barn, and the pile of gravel behind it where I played; sitting on the metal cover to something in the yard (a well, maybe, or a cistern?); the place under the front porch where I crawled with the family dog, Alfie; the pattern on the kitchen floor; the yard and the long driveway tucked into the cornfields.

That’s me and my grandma Joan and Alfie. I can remember that tricycle seeming huge – it had a double-decker step on the back! and needing those block-and-band accessories to reach the pedals. (Those things had a long life: after I outgrew needing them on the tricycle, they went into the box of toy blocks that lasted through me and my brothers.)

Now let’s go back to Lima.

I seem to think this area was just off the kitchen, at the back of the house. I still remember exactly how that rug felt under my hands and knees, and beneath the wheels of my toys. The wooden toy box in the background? My grandpa made it, and I still have it. And I remember taking everything out of it and making a complete mess of the room so that I could sit in it.

This was my parents’ second car (according to the back of the picture). Again, I can remember the texture of the seats. At some point, the Bug developed a hole in the backseat floor, and I wasn’t allowed to ride there. I loved two things in particular about the car: riding with the top down, and pushing the button that made the windshield washers squirt. This latter activity was most fun when carried out unsupervised with my best friend, Alberto – he’s in the middle of the photo below:

Alberto and his family lived next door, and it seems like every interaction I remember between our families involved laughing. Also, I could eat his mom’s homemade tortillas by the dozen. Man, they were good.

Finally, a trio of seasonal pictures, starting with me and mom in winter:

Summer. (I don’t know who that guy is, but I loved that swinging pole thing, and I love the ’70s feel of this picture.)

And fall. Me and my trike and our dog, Punkin.

Punkin got lost for a couple days once. I think I remember dad saying he found her out in a field by some railroad tracks.

Larger versions of these pictures – and a couple others – are in this Flickr photoset.

February 11, 2014 Posted by | 1970s, Family history, Ohio, photos | , , , , | 2 Comments

Upper Sandusky, Ohio, 1976

Click if you really, really wish you had one of these. Or just to see a larger version of the photo.

Growing up, I heard the term “tornado slide” used to describe this piece of playground equipment, and I’ve always loved it. This one’s in Harrison Smith Park in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and I’m pretty sure it’s The Best One In The World.

I mean, look at it. All metal. Three full revolutions. Angle of descent: Approximately badass degrees. Turns tight enough to cause right-leg friction burns on the center pole. An ascent that includes a landing, for Pete’s sake, presumably so you can acclimate to the altitude and get even more scared. Look at the bottom of the slide: I’m pretty sure that kid was kissing the ground out of his thankfulness for having survived – Oh, God, no, wait! Look closely! I think there’s another kid down there. THE SLIDE WAS BAITING US INTO COLLISIONS AND TRYING TO KILL US ALL.

Yeah, I loved this thing. I’m pretty sure it was installed in 1976, in tune with the nationwide bicentennial celebration, and that around the time of this photo, it was brand new. Check out that line of thrill-seekers. I’m one step up from the halfway landing, five years old. That’s my mom – also an adventurous type – right behind me.

Playgrounds have changed a lot in the three-plus decades since this slide was installed, including the park in Upper Sandusky. But the World’s Best Tornado Slide lasts. My daughter’s tackled it. Maybe my nephews, too. Last I checked, it’s still there – visible on Google Maps, even. Waiting.

January 13, 2014 Posted by | 1970s, Ohio | , , , , | 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

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

Heck, Yeah!

My extended family has played “Oh, Hell” at big holiday gatherings since I was little. A boxed version of the game – which came with plastic holders that I used for card-house construction – was kept in a cabinet in my grandma’s living room.

Sometime over the past year, my brother Adam proposed the creation of an annual holiday Oh Heck (which is what my grandma – who has always downplayed her skill at the game while regularly racking up victories – has called it for years) tournament and trophy.

We held the inaugural competition this Thanksgiving at my mom’s house. Format: A two-round contest, the first open to all entrants, the second consisting of the championship round between the five top scorers of the first round. Each year’s champion will receive an automatic bye into the next year’s championship round.

Trophies: To the winner, a small glass bowl with “Booth” engraved on it, and about which nobody in the family knows anything. To the competitor who, in either round, completes the most consecutive successful bids, a weird little brown glass vase with an orange string around it that Adam bought at the flea market for just this very purpose.

Our family is always good-naturedly competitive about Oh Heck, and my utterly terrible track record is legendary.

Which is why nobody was more surprised than I was yesterday when the dust settled after the Thanksgiving Day nine-person competition:

Mind you: Nobody in the family can recall me winning a game of Oh, Heck.


Winning the first playoff round was by itself a shock.

Never winning another game is fine by me: My Sharpie-inscribed name occupies the first spot on the  Grandma Joan Booth Schoenberger Oh Heck Trophy Cup of Awesomeness (I just named it that. Just now. Try and change it.). This win’s for her, and as such, the trophy will spend the next year or so in the esteemed company of my favorite Shazam glass.

November 25, 2011 Posted by | Family history, Games, Ohio, Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Truckin’: Old-school Antarctic Snow Cruiser-style

These postcards are only about five years old, but the photos go back to 1939, when the Antarctic Snow Cruiser passed through – and stopped for repairs in – my parents’ hometown of  Upper Sandusky, Ohio. (And yes, this was before they were born.)

Antarctic Snow Cruiser, Upper Sandusky, Ohio - 1939

Click for larger versions at Flickr.

And the descriptor text, with some nifty statistics and perspective:

Antarctic Snow Cruiser, Upper Sandusky, Ohio - 1939

Click to read larger versions.

I love that kids got out of school, and that Dewey Dillon of “Upper Auto Parts” helped save the day, and that Ohio Highway Patrol car.

Also that, according to those history pages, they equipped this thing – a massive exploration vehicle whose very moniker includes the word “Snow” – with treadless tires. To go to ANTARCTICA.

January 4, 2011 Posted by | Family history, geek, Ohio, photos | , , , | Leave a comment

Things in an empty glass

Shazam! Pepsi glass, 1970s.

I love this glass, but I wish it wasn’t here in my office.

It reminds me of grandma’s house in Upper Sandusky, and it belongs in her kitchen cupboard, where it’s been since I was a little kid.

Unfortunately my grandmother is no longer capable of caring for herself, so she’s moved into a nursing home, and the house she lived in for most of my life has two For Sale signs in the yard and is slowly emptying of furniture and household items and knickknacks and the unseen memory markers and recollection triggers they carry.

Mom and Kelsey and I went to visit grandma last week, and spent several hours at the house that day, too. Kelsey sat for a bit in the small room that was always “hers” when we stayed there, leaning against the wall and holding a knitted afghan from the little fold-out couch. I took a short nap in the guest room where Jenn & I usually slept. Opened the bedside stand drawer and looked into the same round box of spare buttons that’s been sitting in there with grandma’s sewing supplies for as long as I can remember.

There are so many memories in that house – holidays and family and births and seasons and meals – that trying to even pick one to write about right now is like pulling the wrong plastic stick in KerPlunk, setting loose a chaos cascade of imagery and sense associations.

I may find myself in that house again sometime, but the days of pulling into its driveway and carrying our things in for a visit with grandma are over, and that feeling of an ending even hit Kelsey that afternoon.

She brought that blue and green zig-zag-patterned blanket home with her.

I brought the Shazam glass, invisibly and silently overflowing.

January 4, 2011 Posted by | 1980s, Family history, Ohio, Travel | , , , | 5 Comments

A Day at the 2010 Wyandot County Fair

Dragon on the midway

Even though I’ve spent most of my life here in Northeast Ohio, it’s a sure bet that I’ve been to the Wyandot County fair in Upper Sandusky more times than the Stark County fair, which takes place in Canton, roughly 15 minutes from my house.

While I only have one specific memory of the latter – the year I talked dad into taking me into the Freak Show tent (the paintings on the banners outside turned out to be far more entertaining than the actual faked freaks) – if you ask me to visualize a county fair, the one I build in my mind’s eye is the one I’ve been going to since I was little, across the street from Upper Sandusky High School, in the shadow of the town’s water tower, a cluster of big old trees and white buildings and a grandstand and a dirt racetrack.

My parents both grew up in Upper Sandusky, and my grandma and other extended family still live there, so Jenn and Kelsey and I have tried to make it over for the fair ever since we moved back to Ohio in 1999.

How small is the town, people-connection-wise? The first time I ever took Jenn over to the fair – just the two of us, mind you – when we got out of our car in the grass parking lot, the police officer who’d directed us to our spot said, “Hey, you’re Pam and Rich Booth’s kid, right?”

I ran around these fairgrounds when I was younger than Kelsey is now, hanging out with the kid who lived next door to the house where my grandmother raised my dad and my uncle. I climbed on the farm equipment the dealerships put on display. I remember being on the track one year for the tractor pull when the grandstand was packed to capacity, dad and I sitting in a couple folding chairs leaning against a metal guardrail.

Kelsey and I made this year’s trip with my mom and stepdad, Jeff. My youngest brother and his wife and their three sons drove over, too. We all met up at grandma’s house, and she joined us for a few hours.

Fall traditions

We spent the afternoon touring the livestock barns – Kelsey and I watched the auctions for a few minutes – and, yes, turning the kids loose to climb on these apartment-sized machines that lose their scale when you see them out in those expanses of corn or wheat or soybeans.

Baa-bey Road

SIXTH? I was robbed.

Red and black

Mom and Jeff and Grandma left after awhile, so my brother and his wife and I took turns with the kids on the midway rides. Though I no longer do well with horizontal spinning rides, I’m still enough of a rollercoaster fan that something like the Screamer is just fine by me, so Kelsey and I went for some loops.


We eventually took a break for some fair food dinner (Philly steak sandwich & fries for me), and then as the sun started to set, my brother & sister & nephews needed to call it a day, so it was just me and Kelsey.

Of course, we did the ferris wheel (which still gives me slight gut butterflies) and enjoyed a nice sunset as well as a peek at the tractor pull:

Riding into the sunset

Tractor pull

And we paid two bucks to go in the ridiculously painted and terribly lame musical-themed fun house.

We parked ourselves by the fence near the track to catch some of the tractor pull – I can’t explain why, but when those beasts get thrown into gear and the engines rev to earsplitting, I get this electric thrill down the back of my teeth and neck and I can’t stop myself from smiling. And seriously: jet turbines on a tractor. I mean, come ON.

Our final fair-food treat of the night was an order of deep-fried Oreos (they plunk ’em in funnel cake batter, then into the fryer for a couple minutes) sprinkled with powdered sugar. I’d never tried them before, but >shudder< were they tasty.

We visited the barns one more time, and then headed out the gate for the walk back to grandma’s house, where we could still hear the track loudspeakers and the roar of the tractors over the treetops.

I’ve never been more than an average photographer at best, but I really like the shots I managed at the fair this year. You can find bigger versions of all the pictures here, plus others, in this set at Flickr.

September 21, 2010 Posted by | Current Affairs, Family history, Food and Drink, Ohio, Travel | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

President Taft, Extinction, Annoying Whistlers, and the Infinite Forms of Cooperative Industry

My office is an utter disaster area, and having met my big immediate deadlines, I will be spending much of the afternoon cleaning and organizing. In the meantime, please look through this time window to more than a century back:

The (Upper Sandusky, Ohio) Chief Union, Feb. 23, 1910

100 years, two months and 13 days ago. (Click for bigger scans)

It’s century-plus old page from The Daily Chief, from Upper Sandusky, Ohio, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 1910. As of right now, that’s some 3.1 billion seconds ago.

May 6, 2010 Posted by | Family history, Ohio | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


I love living in a place where the phrase “going over to Upper” makes perfect sense.

You’ve got to give kudos to a small Ohio town that has connections to a 1980s Infocom text game, The Shawshank Redemption, Neil Armstrong, and a tombstone made famous by Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

Take a Flickr tour.

And yes, as a little kid, I did in fact play at this playground and go down this elephant slide.

April 17, 2010 Posted by | Family history, Ohio, Travel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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