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500 Miles and 50 Years Ago

Submitted by Bethany on Fri, 05/31/2019 - 10:00

Today we have a guest post written by someone special to me - my very own father! This story of driving home explores the ideas of family, memories, and what it means to preserve our heritage. I hope you enjoy! XOXO, Bethany

Memorial Day weekend 2019 was spent on a journey both back in time and back home. The purpose of this trip was to deliver and return various artifacts from my ancestral home farm back to their origin in Paulding County Ohio. Paulding is a farm community in northwest Ohio about 30 miles east of Ft Wayne IN. This is ~500 miles from my home in Des Moines, Iowa hence the 500 miles reference & not a reference to the famous 500-mile race on the same weekend. I graduated from High School about 50 years ago and had not been back home much since. Hence the 50 years.

In 1984 Paulding County, thru an estate gift from a county resident, built a historical museum across from the fairgrounds in the county seat - Paulding, Ohio. The original building has morphed into 3 additional structures that contain a plethora of history from the county and this region. One building was just recently completed due to the success and volume of material they have received, restored, and preserved over the past 35 years.

Paulding County originally was part of the ‘Great Black Swamp’ in northwest Ohio. A millennia ago this area was the lake bed of an ancient Lake Erie. As the lake receded to its present-day location some 80 miles east to Toledo Ohio, the remaining portions of northwest Ohio became flat swampland. Subsequently after centuries of work and lots of drainage this area has become a major agricultural region. The topography is FLAT, actually beyond FLAT. There is no appreciable rise in topography across the entire county. As I would explain to people about my home area and its flat nature, I would relate the only rise in elevation was the overpasses built for some four-lane highways. Truly, these are the highest elevations in the entire county! By the way, to build those overpasses they would dig ponds and the soil (heavy thick clay) removed was used to make the overpasses. Indeed, to make a land elevation in this county one must first make a hole and then make a hill!

Back to my journey home. My wife decided as we enter retirement that some downsizing was in order. In the early 1980s as newlyweds, while we assembled our household, we realized we both enjoyed the rustic nature of the farm. My wife collected (and saved from likely destruction) various home farm artifacts to use as décor. Such things as a chicken crate turned into a ‘coffee table’, cow stanchions planned to be full-length mirrors but never quite got complete, numerous farm tools like scythes, a crosscut saw, chicken feeders, a wooden pitchfork, and even a black powder rifle, to name a few. Add to this many ‘soft’ items like aprons, table cloths, and so on. To be certain, we had a van full of farm memorabilia from years gone by.

One of the curators of the museum met us on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. My wife had been in contact via FaceBook describing our various ‘gifts’ to the museum so we knew most items would be welcome and accepted. Not unexpectedly, a few of the items were duplicates of things already on display and not needed by the museum. However, the curator stated her daughter, who actually lives on my ‘home farm’ site, would be interested in receiving any duplicate items. Their ‘new’ home is built on the exact location of our original farm. My family sold that land in the late 1990s and new homes were subsequently built on the site.

The original ‘well house’ of our home farm was retained and restored by the curator’s daughter and son-in-law. This is a functional brick structure that once enclosed the water well and was also used for storage of canned goods and vegetables. The new residents have turned it into a mini-museum and gathering site. The ‘well house’ has been used in recent years for many graduation and wedding photos. It was so satisfying to know that some of the farm tools and artifacts were actually going to return home to the exact location from which they originated. Truly a homecoming in the purest sense.

This journey back home served to remind me of the importance of 1) remembering one’s roots, and 2) the significance of returning artifacts to their origins and their preservation. These items could have ended up in possibly some antique shop or at worst in a landfill. The journey home to return these items to their rightful origin was both gratifying and satisfying.

Have you thought about your origins, your home town, or your relationships from grade school to high school? Have you thought about the preservation of artifacts and your history?

After our trip to the museum, my wife and I visited the gravesites of my parents in northwestern Ohio and her mother in northeastern Indiana. We rejoiced in the memories of our loved ones. While Memorial Day is primarily devoted to those we have lost in military service, we must also take time to embrace our own memories.

I hope you had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, I know I did- 500 miles and some 50 years later.

Roy Michael Johnson