Wednesday, January 30, 2013

“Don’t it make you wanna go home ...”

We interrupt our normal blogcasting, to admit we've been on the road lately.

IMAGE: Aerial photograph of Milford, Ohio, looking northeast, from around 1957. The old downtown is at the lower left, while the postwar development to the east (including this writer's "old" neighborhood) is at the upper right. Photographer unknown. From the Alexander Family Archives.

Right now I'm sitting in the home in which I grew up. For the past eleven months, it has been subject to a good going over, as possessions of the last five and a half decades are found in the dark corners of the basement storeroom, and old cedar chests that we attempted to open to our peril, until now. And so, some of our regular features will not be making an appearance this week. But we do have one irregular feature, which is expected (with our fingers crossed) to see the light of bandwidth tomorrow.

I left Ohio in December of 1980. People ask me how long it took me to get used to living in the DC area, and this is what I tell them: “The first twenty years were the hardest.” It was only after that long that I really had a sense of home. There were other factors as well; making somewhat of a name for myself in one field of endeavor or another, buying a home, and ... well, maybe Sal had a lot to do with it. But even then, there is a familiarity that comes with having been "bread and buttered" in one place. There is even a Facebook group for people like us called "You know you're from Milford, Ohio, if ..." Milfordites both residing and expatriated gather to compare memories and look up old friends and neighbors.

When I drive down the main drag (which would be US Route 50), I have to remind myself of where I am, and where I ain't. The pace of life is more moderate here, and so the temptation to drive 35 or 40 on a four-lane road must be resisted, as the speed limit is only 25 because it's in town, and I know where they might be watching.

The idea of moving back to the Cincinnati area when I retire (probably around 2020, at the end of which I will be sixty-six) is on the table, but I don't know if I could actually move back to Milford. It's nice to come back and visit, but Milford has changed, and I've changed. The old downtown area is now the domain of antique stores and overpriced restaurants, with any number of strip malls and office buildings hanging "For Lease" signs in front for months, even years. The city's leaders (to use the polite term) are annexing one cow pasture after another, and bending zoning laws to the limit to encourage development, when the city can't fill the commercial space it has now.

But when I drive down main street, a part of me doesn't see a collection of stores, most of which sell things that most people could probably get along without (other than the coffee bar where the jewelry store used to be). I see the old A&P food store, the hardware store, the furniture store, the gas station where my dad would hang out for want of something better to do (as it was either that or the bars, and he got his fill of hanging around drunks as a boy), the old village hall -- that's right, people, these yokels actually moved it completely outside of downtown into some innocuous looking office building -- and, get this, the "Odd Fellows Hall." Every small town has at least a few of them, and they have to meet somewhere.

You can see in these illustrated maps, the path of I-275, what was once called the "Circle Freeway." When the eastern section was completed by the mid-1970s, the nearest access to Milford was on a flood plain near the East Fork of the Little Miami River, so environmentalists put up a fierce battle for years. Eventually they lost, and now there is development at the "River's Edge," where nature never intended it. The fields we wandered playing baseball and collecting arrowheads, the creek where we went swimming and building makeshift dams, all replaced by a giant "athletic park" and a collection of strip malls and big box stores. Still, it was too little too late, and the real development took off to the south (roughly where the map says "Summerside" and which is actually called "Eastgate"). A shopping center a mile inside the "circle" has been at least one-third empty since practically the day I left. It was simply not close enough to the freeway to get the big traffic, and that which is in town was simply not enough.

Milford has changed, and I've changed.

In the early 1990s, when I lived in Georgetown, I got used to city living, and being able to walk to work, to the grocery store, the hardware store, to the movie theater, and to church. I have that for the most part where I am now, and I can't imagine it any other way. I would only want to live in a small town if I could still do that. For all the pretensions of whomever makes the decisions around here, to make it seem otherwise, a small town is all Milford will ever be.

Ain't nuthin' wrong with that, don'tcha think?

Or don'tcha?

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