Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

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

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

Friends, family

*Update 8/21/11 – The people in this photo are, from left to right: Ann Binau, Glen Shafer, Bud and Peg Orians, Judge Loren Charles “Dutch” and Georgia Schoenberger, Reuben and Donna Schoenberger, and Pete Binau. At the 100th Schoenberger reunion on Aug. 21, 2011, I met “Dutch” and showed him this photo. He supplied this great background to the photo, which kind of puts a lump in my throat: Dutch served in the armed forces from 1941-1946. This photo is from a celebratory night at a tavern in Bucyrus, Ohio, marking the first time this gang of friends and relatives were back together at home after World War II.

There’s no information at all on this photo from our family trunk, but it’s one of my favorites in there:

Schoenbergers, Beidelschieses, and a Binau or three?

Click to see a larger scan.

I know for sure that my maternal grandfather, Reuben Schoenberger, is third from the right, and to his immediate left (so, the second person from the right) is my maternal grandmother, Donna Ruth. And I’m fairly certain that the woman at the far left is my great-aunt (?) Ann Binau. All the remaining faces have a degree of familiarity which will probably resolve into aha! moments if my mom checks this out, because I’m sure she’d recognize most, if not all of them.

Every person in this picture – and if I’m right with my hunches, I’m related to most of them – has always been an “old” person to me. They’re my grandparents and their siblings and peers, and they bring to mind memories of houses that didn’t have any kids’ toys and where complicated card games were played while people laughed and drank things I think I’d later find out were whiskey sours, which would explain why the first time I ever tried that drink, I was thrown back to feeling like a kid underfoot at a grown-ups’ get-together.

But here’s why I love this picture so much: Because when I look at this photo, God, this could be me and Jenn and our friends, or us with my brothers and their wives – and not even the way we are now, but maybe 10 or even 15 years ago, all hanging out someplace and crammed into a corner booth or a table, the food (if there had been any to begin with) long since cleared away while the glasses remained and everyone just kept on laughing and talking.

Maybe that’s not what’s going on here at all – but that’s what it reminds me of, and that’s where it takes me, and it’s funny how now that I’m most likely more than a few years older than the group gathered at this table, I love thinking about how young they were, and even decades later, it alters my memories of them just a little bit for the better.

May 2, 2010 Posted by | Family history, Ohio, photos | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Schoenbergers of Wyandot County

I’ve lived most of my life here in Stark County, Ohio, but the western half of the state has always been special to me. Some of my earliest memories are set on the Wyandot County farm where my mom and Uncle Rob were raised, and we visited Upper Sandusky regularly pretty much my whole life, since that’s where most of my extended family lived.

Mom, cat, chicken, car and cornfield.

Our brief trip over there this weekend put me in the mood to scan some photos from the family trunk and try to capture just a little of the feeling that corner of Ohio sparks in my memory. Even though these pictures come from well before my time, there are threads that connect them with similar snapshots from my own childhood. (Click on any of the photos to see bigger versions.)

That’s my mom sitting on a blanket in what I’m fairly sure is the yard next to the farmhouse where she grew up. I remember similarly sunny days, and the cornfields and the long driveway.

A boy, his dog and his truck.

This, I believe, is my Uncle Rob who got me a boxed set of Lord of the Rings paperbacks when I was in first grade, introduced me to Isaac Asimov, and bought me Ralph McQuarrie’s Empire Strikes Back portfolio for Christmas after my mom had said “No.”

And seriously – how great is this picture? A kid in his cap and overalls with his dog and his Tonka truck and a whole world spread out behind him for the exploring.

Not only can I feel the sun in this one, but I can imagine the cool, still shade of the barn back there, smelling of tractor oil and hay.

Finally, there’s this shot of my grandpa, Reuben Schoenberger, in the yard with my mom. I’ve spent some time over the past year talking with mom about our family history and learning more about her dad. He died when I was in high school, but this smile is very familiar to me. I also love that this picture is taken during what looks like maybe late fall, with the bare tree and the harvested field in the background.

April 18, 2010 Posted by | Family history, Ohio, Travel | , , , , | 5 Comments

Small connections, family history.

The “family trunk” sits in our upstairs hallway.

From Johan Michael Schoenberger to, eventually, me.

It’s packed with old photos, school records, birth and death certificates, newspapers, land deeds, keys, coins, pocket knives, class rings, pins and other bits and pieces of lives come and gone and ongoing.

Sometimes I think about what was in it when it reached the United States in 1838; what my 22-year-old great-great-great-great grandfather Johan Michael Schoenberger might have packed in here for the trip he made from Hessen-Darmstadt, Germany to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then, in 1847, to the northwest corner of this state that was just 44 years old itself. (I should note that the assertion that this trunk came over from Germany is pretty much unsubstantiated, and for all I know, every Schoenberger branch – and there are many – has a trunk about which they believe the same thing.)

I’ve written about some of the stuff in there before: The newspapers announcing the 1969 moon landing, for instance; the jacket I had when my Dad was in Korea; the note I just mentioned the other day.

Some of these things kind of tell their own stories, while others – until I do a little brain-picking of people like my mom and grandma – remain just, you know, “stuff.”

It’s pretty overwhelming to imagine working my way through the whole trunk, but much easier to just start with little pieces and write what I can.

Click for a bigger version.

For instance, there are these nested dolls from Japan, which were in a box of things mom recently gave me to put in the trunk. The outermost ones are about 2.5 inches tall.

Now, I can actually remember these from when I was really little – picking them up and taking them apart for the first time in decades, I was kind of surprised at how clumsy I felt, and then I realized the last time I had done this, my fingers were a lot smaller – and I had always assumed my Dad brought them back from his time overseas in the Air Force.

The thing is, though, mom included a note with them that said, “from my Aunt Mary Jane while in Japan in WW II.”

Okay, then, time to ask mom a little more.

Mary Jane was a sister of my mom’s mom, Donna Ruth (of the aforementioned “square meeting” note). And while I suppose it’s possible I met her sometime during my life, I don’t remember it. Mom was also able to tell me her Aunt Mary Jane was a nurse in the Navy, and that her married last name was Davis.

Mary Jane (Beidelscheis) Davis

My great aunt Mary Jane, former Navy Nurse.

I found her obituary – and this picture – archived online at South Coast Today:

FAIRHAVEN — Mary Jane (Beidelschies) Davis, 87, of Fairhaven, formerly of Dartmouth, died Saturday, Dec. 31, 2005, at Alden Court Nursing and Rehabilitation Center after a brief illness. She was the widow of Clifford Sumner Davis Jr.

Born and raised in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, the daughter of the late Harry and Ethel Hope (Justus) Beidelschies, she lived in Swansea before moving to Dartmouth in 1962.

She was a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Fairhaven.

Mrs. Davis was a registered nurse in the Navy Nurses Corps; she served aboard hospital ships during the Korean War until she retired as a lieutenant commander.

She was a member of the Retired Navy Nurses Association. She graduated from Grant Hospital School of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio.

Survivors include a daughter, Susan E. Oliveira of New Bedford; a son, Paul C. Davis of Hollis, N.H.; a brother; Allen Beidelschies of Ohio; a sister, Ann Binau of Ohio; two grandchildren; a great-granddaughter; and several nieces and nephews.

She was the sister of the late John Beidelschies, Paul Beidelschies, Robert Beidelschies, Russell Beidelschies, Donna Ruth Schoenberger and Leah Comstock.

It’s funny, seeing some of those names in a four-year-old obituary from a newspaper a few hundred miles distant, and associating a them with memories of houses and visits and family reunions.

The only connection I can make with my great-aunt Mary Jane, though, is these tiny wooden toys whose origin I only learned within the past few days.

January 17, 2010 Posted by | Family history, Ohio, photos | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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