Cheryl's mother, Jane, was born in Hayden, IN, and spent most of her youth there and at her grandparents' house 30 mi SE in Vallonia. Last night, we rode into her sister's house on the outskirts of Seymour, between the two. Nancy and Glen live in the middle of a corn field, so Shaine and Annie got to ride on a tractor around the grounds. I think they got the idea from seeing so many farm kids, especially on weekend mornings, sitting on their dads' laps mowing the huge farm lawns with a Deere.
This morning, we started out to recreate Jane's childhood. In 1984, we (without Ann, of course), had been back for a visit, and again in 1988 (without Ann and Al). That year, Cheryl's maternal grandmother had invited everyone to Seymour, where she was a schoolteacher for many years, and next to the tracks where her husband worked for the railroad. It was to be a 90th birthday celebration, but four days before the anniversary, she died. She always was a very planful, considerate woman, and in some way she may have been doing everyone a favor by letting them attend her funeral without disrupting their plans and lives.
First stop was Hayden, where Jane was born and lived in a tiny house under a large shade tree. Hayden is literally a spot on the map, but it seems to have survived a century or more by dint of some remarkable people. The setting could not be more idyllic. I was reminded of the 1949 novel, "Raintree County", about a central Indiana community in the 19th century, which remained untouched by the war, the railroads, and the coming of electricity and motor cars. The roads, though paved, are all just lanes, and each house has all the yard anyone could want, with no demarcations or fences between them. Jane reminisced about how she wandered the streets barefoot, where the school was, and whom she played with.
We walked a few blocks to the local historical museum. Roger Ruddick, a young man of the area, has taken this on as his personal project, turning a former chicken barn into a local meeting place, repository for photographs and documents, and a library where children (the "Little Hoosiers") can learn about their ancestors' lives and times. Most remarkable, he has recreated three rooms in the style of the 1950's, the 1920's, and the 1870's, complete with working TV and radio with programs of the time, an icebox, and an indoor pump which needs priming. All this in a town of less than 100 houses.
The chicken barn was donated to the community by Edgar Whitcomb, Indiana Governor from 1969-73, whose birthplace is next door. A contemporary of Jane, he has moved back into his childhood home. He met us at the museum, and we learned a bit about his life. He was a pilot in the Philippines at the start of WW II, was captured by the Japanese, and tried escape three times. Finally, he succeeded by swimming at night for 8 hours, surviving to write a book, "Escape from Corrigedor", about his experience. He went on to become a successful lawyer, Secretary of State, and Governor. In 1971, President Nixon visited North Vernon with the Governor, six miles to the east, near which his mother Hannah Milhous was born and spent her first 12 years. These events are all of course documented in the Hayden Historical Museum.
Ed Whitcomb is still spry and alert at 80, and still has the politician's interest in people, and easy, instant charm. He invited us over to his house (next door), and described his trip around the world, sailing single-handed.
"See, what I'm trying to do is restore this old place," he said. Jane noted, "Kids, this is where Ed grew up; that corner bedroom is where he was born. How many people do you know get to live at Ed's age in the bedroom where they were born?"
The Governor also had a polictican's gregariousness, and didn't seem to want us to leave. "Look, we could all get sandwiches at the store up at the corner. Lowest prices you'll ever find. Turkey sandwich, all the fixins', only one dollar. Lemonade, cold drinks - anything you want. We can sit on the porch, eat lunch, and talk a bit." Jane said, "I don't know, Ed, we've still got a lot we want to see."
Ed knew when he needed to compromise. "I've got some drinks in the 'fridge. What do you like ... grape, apple, Fresca?" He disappeared and brought out drinks in shifts, the apple juice in wine glasses, the grape juice in juice glasses, and the Fresca in soda can with some ersatz Mountain Dew labeling. "Fresca .. that was always my brother's favorite drink," he said as he handed it to Cheryl. "I didn't think they made Fresca any more," she said, sipping from the can labeled "Misty Mist" or something like that.
As we walked back to her old house, I asked Jane, "How did you get around here, and back and forth to Vallonia? Did you have a car?" "Well, yes, my dad had a car, but it was his, of course, and he wouldn't let anyone drive it, and he never took it anywhere. Didn't want to wear it out. So we mostly walked around here, and I bummed rides when I needed to go somewhere big." She looked sadly at her old house, crumbling a bit with flaking paint. "This place used to have a great yard back here. Now it looks like someone has just scraped the dirt off and used it for fill somewhere. Over there," she pointed at a small shack with the door falling off, leaning a bit into the stream bed five feet below, "is the old out house. And when we had something we wanted to throw away, we just tossed it down the bank below the outhouse." We didn't go over to examine Hayden's waste management system of the 20's and 30's.
From there, it was on to North Vernon, where the grandparents of Cheryl's father, Duke, lived. We saw the jewelry store owned by his grandparents. Incredibly, it's still a jewelry store of sorts, "Bob's Jewelry" is how its sign reads; but it seems more like a down-in-the-mouth pawn shop, if you can imagine such a place. Across the street still sits the train depot where Jane's father worked (his location was later shifted to Seymour). Duke wanted to take us to Miller's for lunch, around the corner, but it was closed on this Friday.
So we went down the road to Vernon (a much smaller place), and ate at the Log Cabin, where, for under fifty dollars, eight of us had huge hamburgers, mounds of steak fries, three side dishes with each meal (bean, green beans, code slaw, fries, etc were the choices), and endless lemonade. All in all, way to much to eat (the "double burger" downed by Will(note from cody and will: we didn't have double burgers, we had the "small" 1/2lb ones), with another shared between Shaine and Ann, was 3/4th pound), but it certainly got us thru the rest of the day.
Next stop: Vallonia, where Jane spent weekdays at her grandparents. This town is just as small as Hayden, but a bit more spread out. It has its own local scenic wonder, Fort Vallonia (site of a definitive battle with the local original inhabitants), which has been restored and serves as sort of a community park. The attached museum is open the first Sunday, 2-5 PM, June-October, so we missed the sights inside, but did sneak a look at the high school "annuals" on the wall. Jane's high school, which closed about 50 years ago, had between 10-20 graduates each year, and the relevant pictures and words were all put together in a frame. Cheryl saw one and asked, "How'd you like to try to have a high school prom in a class with 7 girls and 2 boys?" Jane answered, "I guess you'd have to double up, wouldn't you?
We headed to the rail tracks (naturally), and found Jane's Grandparents' house. Our caravan of a bike-loaded RV and a Chevy rental car caught the eye of two older women, who came scurrying over (as best they could in the 92 F heat) from a front yard garage sale (which seemed mostly to be a picnic for the locals). They were renting the house now from its current owner. We took a picture of Jane in front of the ripped up facade fronted by a dirt and weed strewn yard. "We're here to see my mother's old house," Cheryl explained. "I used to live her with my grandparents back in, oh, the 30s I guess," Jane added.
"Well, we kind of wondered, when we saw the van and all," one of the ladies responded. The other one chimed in, "Yeah, whenever we leave to shop or go to work, the neighbors just start picking away at the house, taking the wood trim and all." I envisioned a pack of Greek widows, all dressed in black with scarves, rummaging over a dead man's belongings like a troop of ants, even before he's buried in the ground, with his own widow looking helplessly on.
"That's terrible. You can't stop them?"
"And I guess the police won't do anything?" Cheryl asked.
"Aw, they don't care," one of the ladies said around a cigarette she was trying to light. The sun could have done the job for her, if she'd just used her glasses for a lens.
Jane was getting into all this now, and she took us over to the rail tracks, where the depot used to sit. It was gone now, but the flour mill next to it still looked like an operational agricultural facility of some sort. She smiled a bit at the decaying remnants of her youth, and led us back towards Seymour.
**Next Day's Journal**