Thursday, June 02, 2011

Ode to the Wild Frontier ... Or Something

The place where I grew up -- that would be Milford, Ohio -- has one claim to fame if any. It is the home of the first Methodist class (mission) in what was once known as “The Northwest Territory” beginning in 1787. To this day, a few of the Methodists still think they own the place. But enough about them ...

After the end of the Revolutionary War, and the disbanding of most of the Army and Navy, the government had a problem paying those who fought. Unlike today, they couldn't simply print more money and/or borrow from China. No, they had to pay the senior officers in land. And there was lots of it west of the colonies for the taking (and we all know from whom, but that's another story). The Territory in question was parceled into ... well, parcels, and most of those in turn were eventually further divided and sold to speculators and other businessmen. Many of the older towns and cities, whether along the rivers or major land routes, in what are now the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota, were settled in this way. The town originally known as "Hageman's Mill" was settled in 1806, and was eventually incorporated as "Milford" in 1836. (The southwestern part of Ohio was once settled by Amerindians of the Miami nation, and the Hopewells and Adenas before them.)

Now, Milford always knew it had a historic past, perhaps even a fairly interesting one if you're into that sort of thing. But from what I remember, they didn't really do much about preserving it until sometime after I left. I know this, because as a kid, I was practically the only one who ever checked out a particular local history book from the town library, a building made of stones from the original toll bridge. I even invited Mr Hartford, a tall, stately gentleman who was the unofficial town historian, to our Scout meeting.

We have heard of how Memorial Day isn't celebrated much anymore, not like it was up until the 1950s. But we had an excuse to play it down before most others, and that was because another parade was in the works just three days later.

The annual “Frontier Days” festival begins tonight, with a parade down Lila Avenue/Main Street (US Highway 50), a route of about a mile and a half. Thousands of people with nothing better to do, turn out for what is the biggest event the town has all year. The parade route ends at the festival held at American Legion Hall, down by the river near downtown. There will be carnival rides, games of chance, hot dogs, corn dogs, root beer, and real beer. It will also be the largest convergence of young (mostly male) white trash from a three-county area, especially on the first night. It gets pretty wild, and yet even wearing a Scout uniform while working the soft drink booth for the Legionnaires leaving them free to hang at their clubhouse and be the sorry drunks that half of them were, no harm ever came to me while I attended. In fact, I had quite a following of kids -- yes, including girls -- who just loved a man in uniform. (Trust me.)

One year I tried to get an old-time mountain band booked for the entertainment on opening night. I had this idea that the kind of music that people actually listened to, back when the town was settled, would be appropriate. Oh no, the guy told me, he was gonna book "something the kids would like." It turned out to be my old pals the Otten brothers, while still in their obnoxious "Jesus freak" phase. (I still miss those guys.) Last year they had an Appalachian clog dance demonstration, something actually reminiscent of the era. No such luck this year. But there will be the Cornhole Tournament, a venerable Cincinnati-area tradition. Don't ask me why.

I must admit, I get homesick just thinking about it. Someday I'm going to take Sal to this soireé, just to see how she reacts. At least she won't use the term "redneck." I had to break her of that in, uh, certain situations.

("No, hon, these aren't rednecks, these here are GOOD OL' BOYS!")

No comments: