18 March 2009

Ohio

I always think of Ohio as bedrock America. It sits four hundred miles west of New York City, beyond the Appalachian chain and south of Lake Erie. It's not a state that tourists would automatically flock to. Ohio is a hard-working state of blue collar workers and busy families but it has also produced no less than seven presidents. They call it The Buckeye State after the American buckeye trees that grow there producing buckeye nuts that are rather like Europe's conkers.

In 1800, only 45,000 people lived in Ohio, now there are eleven and a half million. The biggest city is Cleveland with a metro population of some 2.25 million. Many of the original white settlers were of Germanic origin and you just have to scan surnames in a phone book to see that the Germanic links remain. In Ohio, there are no less than eighty eight counties. Just as the state itself is like a separate country within the USA, so within the state these counties have their own identities and regulations and Ohioans can be fiercely loyal to their counties.

The two counties I know best are Cuyahoga and Mahoning. When I was a student, I thought - Christ, I can't work at Butlins again, nor the turkey farm or the agricultural chemicals factory - I'm going to apply for camp counselling with BUNAC (British Universities North America Club). My application was successful but you had no say at which camp you'd end up - it was all luck of the draw. I ended up in Cuyahoga County, Ohio at the now deceased Red Raider Summer Camp. It took in the sons and daughters of the well-heeled dwellers of Shaker Heights and other exclusive suburbs of Cleveland. Marvellously, it was also a day camp so the little darlings went home at four thirty making evenings and weekends free for the camp staff. I wasn't complaining.

I got to see the Cleveland Indians, Neil Diamond in concert, Barry Manilow. I went to parties and got invited back to palatial American homes. I played guitar and sang in a local club for twenty bucks and as much beer as I could drink and I became a regular at Skip and Ray's or Chuck and Janine's laughing the night away. I fell in love, fell out of love, camped out in the forest with my group of Wyandottes, ate well and relished every day. It was so good I can't tell you. I went there two years in succession.

Once a week we would travel east towards the Pennsylvania border through Ohio's Amish country. I never knew such people existed alongside the freeways and the supermarkets - a simple and rather enclosed religious community almost frozen in time. They would gather under the trees in Russell with their horses and traps, wide brimmed hats and beards, women and girls in austere long dresses and bonnets. It was so weird. We were going canoeing with our kids on an Amish farm which had a small boating lake. From the verandah of the Amish farmhouse, an old woman watched us suspiciously from a hundred and fifty years back. One Wednesday she gave me a glass of homemade lemonade. It was delicious. She had never met anybody from Europe before - but that was not uncommon in Ohio in the mid seventies.

I found so many people I met in Ohio to be very friendly and down to earth. They were in the true heart of America and the American dream wasn't only possible it was there within their reach. Once I borrowed Chris's Mustang - like you do - and I was moseying on down to Columbus or some place else one Sunday morning when I picked up a leather jacketed hitch-hiker of around 19/20. He was going to a moto-cross meet. After a few miles and some conversation he said, "Hey man you gotta strange accent. Where you from?"
"England."
He paused. "England?... Ain't that somewhere over near Maine?"

Amish eastern Ohio

13 comments:

  1. Good post, YP!

    The hitchhiker (in American dictionaries it isn't hyphenated) was obviously thinking of NEW England (Maine is one of the six New England states), but still....

    You inadvertently gave me an insight into why you are the way you are. It was the revelation that in your youth you worked on a turkey farm. I had to pass one every weekend during my college years as I went home from school to do my laundry for free. It (the turkey farm) really opened up the old sinuses. Worst thing I have ever smelled. Repeated exposure to the aroma of the excrement of a few thousand turkeys just has to have a deleterious effect on one's mental health.

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  2. MR PLAGUE Are you trying to say I am a lunatic? My attorney will be contacting you in the morning... Mind you after reading your blog, I would say you probably breathed in more turkey dung fumes than you realised!

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  3. I love autobiographical posts and I really enjoyed this one, thank you.

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  4. Your Ohio blog brought back great memories YP. I fondly remember the nights at Skip & Rays where I first heard you and Ian raise your glasses to "cheers" as mentioned previously.
    I was with you at the Indians baseball game, when your recent romantic break up lead to some serious alcohol intake. Some of the other memories: camp olympics, talent contest, snapping turtles, burning car, high dive above lake, camp fire stories & horse riding.
    The summer of 77 was one of the defining moments in my life, and it was hard to return to real life after that magic summer.

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  5. Your memories of your time in America makes me feel strangely proud to be American. It's an odd feeling; I'm starting to get used to it.

    I went to college in central PA, where we had tie-ups for Amish buggies outside the Burger King. At the newspaper I worked at, I sold classified ads to a Mr. Stoltzfuz, who made leather goods. He only be reached for one hour a week, when he sat next to the phone in his neighbor's kitchen.

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  6. I enjoyed this snippet of your past coupled with a lesson in history and geography - my you do a good job teacher!
    Happy Days

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  7. Great post, Mr. Pudding.

    Having grown up in Ohio, I appreciate many of the comments. I still find the Amish a fascinating people, and there are no shortage of them in Ohio. Very simple people.

    I grew up near Lake Erie, and I still love going to the lake to fish and to visit the islands. Put In Bay is known as the Key West of the North, and Kelleys Island is a more laid-back experience, have you been?

    You might be surprised to learn that Columbus became Ohio's largest city about 5 years ago. Cleveland is an industrial city, whereas Columbus is more service-oriented, which probably explains the different growth patterns. Columbus is the capital of state government, home of the Ohio State University (largest university in the USA), and world headquarters for many businesses, mainly insurance and banking.

    Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) still has about 120,000 more people than Franklin County (Columbus), but as for the cities themselves, Columbus has about 200,000 more people than Cleveland.

    It's hard for me to imagine living anywhere but Ohio.

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  8. I never once used the L-word.

    But if the shoe fits.... :)

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  9. YP, RWP - play nicely boys! :)

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  10. DAPHNE My autobiographical writing tone is not a patch on yours which seems so very natural.
    GODDESS You should be proud to be an American. As as I have said before, even though it may be unfashionable to say this in Europe, I am an Americophile and in so many ways the USA remains the greateest country on Earth.
    DELWYN Thanks. By the way, teachers sometimes have to put naughty girls on detention.
    BIRT I am getting really confused now. Please put me out of my misery. Are you Gus?
    SAM Yes I do realise that the actual city of Columbus is now bigger than Cleveland. Gerhardstein - now that proves my point about Germanic origins...
    RHYMES I admit. I am a lunatic. Ninny noonny noo! Tom's a cold!
    JENNYTA You could be the refereee and quite literally come between us. Appealing image.. at least to a lunatic like me.

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  11. Although Sheffield is formally twinned with Pittsburgh, it is the post-industrial model of Cleveland that Sheffield leaders have tried to follow for Sheffield's future.

    If I ever went to live in the US, it would have to be in a post-industrial area like this, as I always imagine the culture hopefully would be similar to the north of England?

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  12. Three lovely posts YP, just caught up on them. You do write well. For a loony.

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  13. With a namelike Yorkshire Pudding I had to come and say hello - my Bro called me Pud many years ago, so I felt an immediate kinship....Hopefully not battered?

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