I’m writing this from the sun porch of my parents’ house in Perrysburg, Ohio. It’s getting on towards late afternoon, but the sun is still high in the August sky, the sky is clear, the leaves on all the trees are that deep green that you see when they know they only have about a month or so before the light begins to change and the air cools in the evening. The trees have to store up as much energy as they can to get through the long, grey winter ahead.
This sun porch is a familiar spot for me. Most of my visits to this house have been in summer, and here is where we have our breakfast over the morning papers, afternoons on the couch with Tiger baseball on the TV, and dinner in the deepening twilight that lasts in summer until long after sunset and the rhythmic chorus of cicadas, katy-dids, and other denizens of the evening compete with the traffic on the street and the trains on the C&O railroad a few blocks over.
This is not the house I grew up in; Mom and Dad moved here in 1997 after living in northern Michigan for a while, but countless evenings were spent on the back porch of another house down the street where the same sounds filtered over the voice of Ernie Harwell calling the Tigers’ games on the crackling AM of WJR 760, the static telling us that somewhere, a thunderstorm was bringing rain and cool air to the cornfields that surround this small town. Lightning bugs danced and glowed down at the bottom of the yard among the yew bushes and rhododendrons, and minty iced tea — and later, Stroh’s beer — made the evening cooler.
Summer, as you might have guessed, was my favorite time of year here, and even with our three weeks up in Michigan on the shores of Grand Traverse Bay, nothing said summer to me more than those evenings on the porch with the orchestration of light, shadow and sound and the scent of newly-mowed grass and drying alfalfa from the grain elevator across town.
But if things go as planned, this is my last night on this sun porch in Perrysburg. Later this fall my parents will begin a new adventure in a new place far removed from this little town that has been our hometown since 1957. It is all good for them, and all of us — my three siblings — are with them every step of the way. They are healthy, happy, and in good spirits as they forge on ahead as they have done with so many adventures in their sixty-five years together. And as I sit here in the peaceful afternoon, watching a hummingbird busily sip from the feeder, I know that letting go and moving on is a good thing. I should know; I’ve done it more times than I can count, and have the license plates to prove it.
In the many times I’ve moved and in the many places I’ve lived, I have never let go of the feeling that this town of Perrysburg will always be my home town. I know the streets and side streets better than any other place I’ve lived, thanks to the bike rides with my childhood friends Joe and Randy and Deke and Trip and Cynny and Scott and Jim and Tommy and Marvin. I still call the stores on Louisiana Avenue by the names I knew them then: Houck’s Drugstore, Mills Hardware, The Sport Shop, Mrs. Piatt’s Bakery, Ken’s Barber Shop, and Norm’s Appliance. That’s where we sat at the soda fountain and read Archie comics; that’s where we bought paint and nails; that’s where Dad bought his duck decoys and shotgun shells; that’s where the smell of bread crossed the street and birthday cakes came the way you dreamed they did; that’s where a haircut cost a dollar; and that’s the place where you lined up between the Norge refrigerators and GE air conditioners to get your driver’s license and license plates because the wife of Norm at the appliance store was the Deputy Registrar for the DMV. It’s where I got my first driver’s license in 1968, typed out on a green piece of paper from a battered Smith-Corona. The stores have all changed their names and sell different things — and Mills is closed, the windows papered over — but they’re still there.
The tennis courts, the swimming pool, the elementary school where I attended kindergarten, the grocery store, the railroad tracks; they’re as familiar as old books on the shelf that you take down and thumb through, remembering the stories they told. The sidewalks still have the same cracks in them, the street signs may be new but the names like Hickory, Elm, Front and Second are still where friends and family lived, and the new car in the driveway is the successor to the Country Squire and Pontiac Bonneville that once parked there, the keys in the ignition, the doors unlocked.
I made sure that as I drove around town on the way to do errands with my parents I took notice of the town. It has changed over the last fifty-six years, but not so much that I don’t recognize it by the sights, sounds, and sense of place that comes with having something become a part of you over a lifetime. And I made sure that I said goodbye with a smile and a nod to old familiar places, echoes of laughter, memories of sadness and passings, and knowing that while Thomas Wolfe gets all the press for saying you can’t go home again, you can visit, even if the place you lived in belongs to someone else and the people you know have moved on.
They’re still there. And so am I.
Our house from 1957 to 1982.