THERE'S GOLD IN YOUR
HOME FROM THE HILLS
The autumn has always been my favorite time of the year, with the vibrant colors, the crisp air and the sense that, just around the corner are the Holidays that bring family together and foster joy and happiness. So every year, since I was a boy, I rejoice in and welcome Fall with open arms and excitement. Growing up in the fifties the few blocks that I called my neighborhood were festooned with trees lining the streets and the houses stood together like soldiers lined up for inspection, front porches with swings, heavy wooden front doors, always open, and sounds of families echoing down the streets and alleys. It was not unique. Every block held the same sights and sounds, and year round you would hear the children of the neighborhood playing outside with cap guns blazing and the imaginary horses galloping. It was a time of both innocence and turmoil, a time of simplicity and sophistication, and a time that I miss.
In the autumn the streets came alive with the colors of the season. The trees that lined the streets were alive with every color imaginable, the gold of the oaks, the warm glow of the maple; you would look out the front window and be overwhelmed by the beauty. It was the time of the year when summer slowly slipped away as the days grew shorter and cooler. Back then we didnít have air conditioning. The breeze that came through the open front door seemed to be enough and cooled the house. How did we manage without air conditioning? Or bottled water for that matter! We just drank from the tap in the sink and, believe it or not, on some occasions we even used the garden hose to quench our thrust, amazing! Fall was that very special time.
Throughout the week, it would be school and running the back alleys of the neighborhood exploring all the nooks and crannies that opened up to an inquisitive and adventuresome boy. Dad was busy with the store six days a week, leaving before dawn, always home by 6:00p.m. for dinner. Sundays were for family, a dinner with aunts and uncles. My motherís sister and her family lived next door to us and we were always in and out of each otherís house, but Sunday would see the other brother or sister arriving for a family dinner.
Momís mother and her second husband lived with us so family was the core of the home. I would spend hours playing checkers with my Grandpa Charlie while Mom and Grandma would be cleaning or cooking, or in the autumn putting up preserves, boy do I remember that smell. The peaches and green beans on the stove, the canning jars all being prepped, the paraffin softening to make just the right seal, it was a process that would go on for days, and be appreciated all winter on those Sunday dinners.
On occasion a Sunday would be set aside for a trip, not too far away, but a special time nonetheless. We had a 1948 Dodge sedan, black with plush wool and mohair interior. The dashboard was a warm brown tortoise shell with cream-colored knobs on the steering wheel and radio. I would sit between Mom and Dad with a keen eye on the road. We would have many adventures in that car, going to the farm to buy eggs and chickens. (I wonít go into detail as to what happened to the chickens, however, I will tell you that my grandma could wield an ax!) On special Sundayís we would all go to a restaurant for our family dinner. This was rare because Mom and Grandma prided themselves on being good cooks and very few restaurants could match their abilities. In the Fall the trip I looked most forward to was our journey to the Hocking Hills region of Ohio.
The Hocking Hills are located due south of Columbus about sixty miles. We would pack up the car, and begin by driving the back roads, with the first stop in Lancaster, a historic town just on the edge of the Hocking Hills area, best known for being the birthplace of General William T. Sherman. We sometimes would have an early lunch at a small family-owned restaurant and then head on down into the "Hills." We would always stop first at Old Manís Cave, one of the most picturesque sites in the region. My grandpa told the story of an old man that used to live in the cave with his hounds, and he would tell me that at midnight, when the moon is full, you could hear the hounds howling. Now I have always been fascinated with the old Universal Monsters Ė Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf man, so this tale resonated with me. Fortunately, I have never been at Old Manís Cave at midnight, let alone when the moon is full, so I canít tell you if the story is true.
The region was home to the indigenous peoples of America, from the Paleo Indians that came through the area as nomadic hunters after the Ice Age, to the Adena (mound builders) and Fort Ancient Indians. All have left remnants of their life in the rock overhangs that dot the landscape throughout the area. The last of these peoples were the Wyandot tribe that inhabited the Hills in the mid 1700s. They settled on the banks of the Hocking River and their name for it was "Hockhocking" meaning "Bottle River," hence the name of the region today. With the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, followed by the Treaty of Greenville with the tribes of the area in 1795, settlement became possible and the land yielded an abundance of natural resources ideal for farming and the creation of small communities. The area prospered and flourished, and by 1820 the area had two thousand residents.
It wasnít until the 1860s that what are now the caves and park areas became popular as picnicking and hiking spots, but with the poor roads and little access the beauty was restricted to only local inhabitants. This would change, as did almost everything else with the advent of the automobile, and in 1924 the State of Ohio purchased the first parcel of land, encompassing Old Manís Cave, and the Park was officially established. It wasnít long until the sound of the Fliver was heard coming down the winding roads with the "city folk" in tow. The problem was how to accommodate all the new tourists to the area? It wasnít until the 1930s under the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt that improvements to the Park began to take shape. With the advent of the WPA (Works Progress Administration) trails, stone steps, bridges, improved roads, and most importantly, parking areas, were constructed and are even today in use.
I remember making all the rounds, to all the various caves and outcroppings that comprised the Park. Cantwell Cliffs was one of my favorites. From the parking lot you could climb the side of a very steep hill where, at the top, was an outcropping that I was sure offered refuge to bears. I would sit on top of the cave and look down on the parking lot and imagine how the Native American peoples might have felt basking in the warm Autumn sun. Then it was off to the Rock House, or Conkle's Hollow, or one of the many spots that comprise over nine thousand acres. As a boy I would return with my family every year. It became a ritual that I couldnít wait to return to.
As a teenager I would spend time alone with the Park and the solitude that it offers, walking the paths I would escape into the wilderness where off in the distance I could hear the splashing of a waterfall, the sound of a whip-poor-will singing in the trees or the whisper of the wind in the hemlock. It became my sanctuary, my place for quiet reflection and careful thought. I would return again and again, only this time riding the Ridge Road from the Apple House in Laurelville where you drove on the ridge of the hills until you reached the Park. I would only take selected guests with me, one became my wife and together we would take up the pilgrimage each year as the leaves began to reveal their colors and the air was crisp and clean. Our daughter became acquainted with the journey and it has become yet another family affair.
As a boy I remember leaving the last stop in the hills, just as the western sky filled with the autumn sun, we would slowly and carefully travel the winding roads that led to the two lanes that took us home. Arriving on that tree-lined street with the beckoning front porch we would make our way inside, a bit weary, a bit dusty, but refreshed in body and soul, knowing that, while winter was on its way, we were home from the Hills.
REMEMBER, UNTIL THE NEXT TIME, THERE'S GOLD IN YOUR ATTIC, HAVE FUN AND HAPPY HUNTING.
Watch for Michaelís new books; STATE AND HIGH; GROWING UP DOWNTOWN, as well as ALONE ON STAGE; THE HISTORY OF THE ONE PERSON SHOW.