A very early memory of riding in the family car on the way to a picnic.
Looking over the backseat of a ‘36 Chevy is not an experience kids get anymore. I stood, holding onto the back seat and peering over it, across my parents’ shoulders. We were probably on our way to my Grandpa’s house on the other side of the small Ohio town, the place where my entire family lived. It was probably 1949, just post war.
The car had probably been grandpa’s, and was the sort of hand-me-down + all-in-the-family cash-deal that families did a lot of in those days when so many young men were home from the War, and jobs were hard to find.
“Hold on,” Mother always said. Maybe she’d repeat the story about the inattentive kid who got his teeth bashed out when the car he was riding in stopped suddenly. This reminded me to pay attention. In 1945, that was good mothering, sufficient to the time. We probably never drove faster than 25 mph to get to Grandpa’s. As I've said, it was just across our little town, and the streets were busy in those days with an uneasy mix of college students and farmers.
I remember a tall stick shift protruding from the floor, and the strength it seemed to need to move it. My Mother could manage shifting as well as Daddy, though, a thing which gave her potency in my eyes, even though she was short. She put a cushion on the seat when she drove, which she did like a champ. I remember her small broad saddle-shoed feet stomping on brake or clutch while she shifted with great dispatch and authority.
Even as young as I was, I knew it was bad form to grind the gears, although you could hear people doing that with some regularity. Not my parents! As the car had been Grandpa’s it was probably in excellent shape, and my Father, studying to be an engineer, was every bit as good at taking care of things.
It was summer, so I think we might have been going to a picnic at Grandpa’s house. They had a big white four-square home. Out back was a beautiful red brick patio he’d laid himself, flat and smooth, surrounding the largest, shapeliest sugar maple in town. It was a lovely shady spot, always cool and filled with birdsong.
Sometimes my Aunt Jeanie and her husband, Richard DeWine, would be there with Cousin Michael, who was younger than me. He was only two, but interesting to have around anyway. If it was a special occasion, Richard’s parents, George and Alice, might be there, or perhaps our Aunt Judy would have come home from Ohio State. Mike and I both liked our lively Aunt Judy, especially the way she laughed.
A table with a checkered oil cloth waited for whatever was about to be served, a lot, if I’m remembering correctly, of fried chicken, either with biscuits or delicious homemade bread. There was probably pickles, coleslaw, baked beans and potato salad, but kids don't eat that stuff, and I can't "see" them when I try to remember what was on the table.
There was certainly home made cake or fruit pie. Grandpa grew strawberries and raspberries, and so summer brought many delicious desserts to the table. If we were really lucky, we'd have Grandpa’s ice cream, from the churn that all the men took turns cranking. This was so good that even the stubbornest kid knew it didn’t have to be chocolate.
Another Nirvana-like childhood dining experience came from the time Grandpa and George DeWine cooked morels. These I’ve never had since, but I’ve never forgotten them, the Holy Grail of Mushrooms, fresh, tender, and lovingly sauted in butter.