Mabel Snider Vail
I have not written anything significant since returning to Ohio. Am I really a writer or was I just walking down memory lane in California and trying to keep everything I remembered about Ohio from slipping away. From dying forever. Returning to Ohio, it is all dead and gone and buried and will never return again. The fact of this is too difficult to bear. I must bear it because I don’t have a choice in this matter. Yet, I yearn for better times, more decent times. I yearn for people to remind younger ones of these things and for them to listen. But they don’t because their parents don’t teach them to have respect for their elders.
There is so much to learn from your elders. So many stories, history, life in simpler times, ways in which people behaved, values, and there is strength in learning these things and a sense of pride that you begin to embody when you know this. When I look at our life today, it is as if everyone has given up and retreated into social media caves that they daren’t go out and behave like civilized people in society. And yet, they will attend an event, if it means a social media “moment.” Everything must be a social media moment in today’s culture because we can’t just enjoy that time with our friends or even complete strangers as we grow and learn as people. Everything must be shared. Perhaps they want to make sure, like I do, that history isn’t forgotten this time. And yet, history, what we do know and what was documented is precious simply because it is rare – the documentation – and only certain things were preserved. Certain things lasted because it was stored properly or because the universe deemed we would have this memory and somehow, miraculously, that one thing survived.
Lazarus women at work, Columbus, OH
I want to remember the smell of the grass out in the country, which seemed to smell differently when there were no chemicals in the ground (from Monsanto type companies) and it was just pure and native and normal. When cornstalks were not tightly grown together and you could actually walk through the fields of corn and play hide and seek or have a romantic lover’s tryst. I want to go to bed listening to the crickets in the field and let this be my lullaby rather than my Ipad playing synthesized music on the meditation app. I want to see young girls dressed in little dresses with black patent leather shoes, hats and tiny purses just to go to the movies or shopping with grandma. Not girls who wear generic clothes that look like they are from the thrift shop so that no one can guess what their sex is or because mom doesn’t care because no one cares. I want to go out in clothing that says “Me” and makes women envious and men turn their heads. And yet, I want to compete with other women as we admire each other’s choice of style and fashionable creation. Instead, everyone dresses like slobs in jeans and t-shirts and men look like a plumber or a farmer or a factory worker. Though in my day, no factory would hire them dressed like people are today. You wouldn’t even be hired as a farmer or an electrician because a guy dressed like he is today would be seen as irresponsible and lazy and weak and they would be right.
I’d like to go to a fair where it is just simple and people are laughing and older women have their summer best dresses on with hats and simple shoes and are walking and talking together about their times long ago. Young people are with their parents (2) learning the rules of what will happen that day and how many tickets they can [afford to buy] for rides. The families walk together, children respecting their parents and waiting to see what decisions their parents will make. Eager with anticipation of what is allowed or not.
I’d like to walk around to a store that I can get to from my house. A store that I walk to, simply to get out of the house and take a walk. Maybe I look around, maybe I buy something, mainly I talk to the shopkeeper about the town and what has been happening that week. I might stop at the grocer’s and pick up something I need. Instead, I drive to the gym and workout and take my shower. I drive to the grocer’s, too far because it is the better neighborhood for shopping and I trust the produce there. I will be with decent people here and not the one’s closer to my home. My home is in a nice neighborhood but on the outskirts of our little village it is not. It is dangerous and not a fun place to walk and go shopping. The stores in walking distance probably sell drugs on the side, or their customers do and I don’t want to be near this or associated with this. I wasn’t raised this way and I’d rather read about it in the police news as to what action they accomplished for the week. Reading this news helps me to feel safer in my little nook of the world. From the time I was able to ride my two wheel bike (without emergency wheels), I was running errands for my mom in town, where we lived. I felt so free and independent doing this shopping and being held responsible. I would see other children doing errands for their parents and we waved and acknowledged with a look that we were aware of our important deeds for the day.
I would love to go in a business and see professional people working there. People who take their jobs seriously because they are glad to have a job. Environments where the customer is taken seriously and looked up to because they are the key to the business becoming bigger and stronger. The customer is key to the employee proving how good they are at what they do. Instead, I see people dressed like slobs who could care less whether you are there or not. They make their obligatory “welcomes” which you feel are inauthentic just by the way they pronounce the words “Can I help you with something?” They could really care less about helping you, they are just counting the minutes to break or lunch or closing time so they can get home and follow their media. Of course sometimes, you can see people in businesses looking at their media when they are supposed to be working. They don’t even wait to go home because media is more important than their job. When you went into a business, in the past, you felt you were wealthy and important. The butcher, the baker, the retailer, the TV salesman, they were all greeting you in a spontaneous and unique and authentic way that was meant for you. If they knew you well, they were greeting a friend and you would have a chat without even mentioning what you were there for, for quite some time. Your friendship was equally important to your sale. If you bought something, you might get a discount or a little extra.
I would love to see children playing outside, like the ones across my street. Mom sits out on her lounge chair, with her bathing suit and portable stereo next to her. The kids drench each other with the hose and laugh and scream when the cold water hits them. They run around and play tag or they skip rope or play hopscotch or ride bikes in circles in front of their house – all within the view of mom. When we got older we went out on our own in sets, pairs or groups and we talked about people that we saw around us. We might also sit in our backyards and pretend to get a tan, even though the sun would burn us and give our friend a nice olive complexion. We’d gossip about boys and talk about other girls and what they did and didn’t do. We’d share activities we had gotten up to with our families. Sometimes we might scold each other for a way in which we had behaved and teach each other what would have been more proper. We’d envy each other’s clothes or shoes or the way the other did their nails or their hair. We’d talk about our futures. This was what friendship was for. It was real and in person and honest and silly but sacred. No one knew about what happened except the person or persons who were right there in that moment. It didn’t matter.
I loved going to restaurants where the level of cleanliness was taken for granted, not something you had to be careful of. The food was homemade by some immigrant from a European background. You dressed for the style of the restaurant and the waiters and waitresses were in uniforms – no matter where you went. Your order was important to them and they took care to get it right. Their boss would always be observing and noting and remarking to them later what they needed to do differently. It was a place you went to on a special occasion, not because you were too lazy to cook. You treated this outing special and you knew to behave special. Everyone had their place and their role.
Marzetti’s restaurant Columbus, Ohio
In fact, no matter where you went, people wore uniforms and knew their place and their role. Whether it was carpenters or garbage men or postal men or waitresses or secretaries or receptionists, you wore a professional uniform or style that was indicative of the business you served. These employees had respect for themselves and showed this in their manner of dress. By dressing in a decent way, even if you were the trash man, you appreciated your job and took pride in what you did for a living. Even the gas station attendant wore a uniform and smiled authentically as you pulled your car up. They were happy to look under the hood. Often these were young people doing the services of the day. Their first jobs and they knew it was not forever or even if it was, they had dreams of what they would accomplish one day. They might take over the gas station once the old man retired. They might go on to study some trade at school or college; once they earned enough to help their parents pay tuition. They might just be thinking about buying their first car or taking that special someone on a date. The job was a place of building and creating yourself. Your boss was someone who showed you the way and one day you would go back and thank him or her for that first start out in life.
Even though I don’t go to church anymore, because I am not of that faith, I admired the way we all diligently walked in the door and sat in our “assigned” seats. Everyone seemed to have a certain time in which they arrived and a seat that they liked the best. I always enjoyed passing other churches on the way to ours and observing the styles women chose for that day. I secretly envied the shoes and made notes in my head as to what the style was should I ever be able to afford them. In church, there were unwritten rules. You didn’t turn around to see who had just come in (but kids did). Some older folks still followed rules of women on one side and men on the other. Some did not. Some were widows or widowers and they were fond of little children. After the service we went downstairs and socialized and drank coffee (the adults did and from a tall percolator). They discussed their lives or the sermon or matters of the church. The kids ran around. Sometimes we might be allowed to walk down the street to the bakery and get a donut. One, mind you, per person. Church was a sacred place that people respected and they respected themselves and the manner in which they arrived and dressed. Now it is a jeans and flip flop place with guitar players instead of organists and it is about fitting in with society rather than having values that had been passed down from one generation to the next. It gives people a sense of belonging but has fallen apart. Churches are shutting down all over the country and are in such disrepair. No matter how desperately they try to fit in, ultimately, there is no need for them when it is easier to stay home and sleep in. To not have a belief but to self-soothe with too many cookies or candy or soda or chips and have the waistline get larger and larger. Single parent families are more and more of what is normal because there were no values taught to them in the first place. Marriage is about sex and having fun rather than waiting and building a foundation.
Women’s Guild, Hungarian church, Columbus, OH
I miss going to grandma’s house and seeing the aunts and uncles sitting around her, waiting their turn to speak. Her home was where you knew to behave differently than your own home. You behaved like you were in a castle and the queen had walked in the room. She dressed nicely, you had the best manners, you ate what you were served, you played quietly, you spoke when you were addressed. It was formal but taught us to respect ourselves. When I look back on these times now, I see that the discipline was very important in making me the person that I am today. While it may have been a little too strict at times, I still value the meaning of the lesson. I know it can be taught in a nicer way now and even a strict way without the use of belts and paddles. Yet, people don’t do this. They entitle their children because it is easier to pacify them rather than stand firm and set limits and teach boundaries and begin to watch them grow into responsible people. It takes too much work to build a fine young man or lady. You can’t let the child get away with anything. When you do, it is too late and they will continue to take advantage. Teaching children how to behave gives them a sense of respect for themselves, for you, for society and helps them to know their place in the world. They grow up to behave properly around others and have respect for their environments and dress professionally and decently while in public. Grandma was our matriarch and we all talk about her now as if she were a saint. We laugh at those moments where she had let her guard down, just a little. I remember the fan in the room. It sat there blowing that much needed air to keep us all cool on hot summer days. I remember my uncles taking turns standing in front of it. The noise it made as background music while the adults were discussing the challenges of the day.
I miss grandma because she was that person you admired from afar as she was not the type to coddle you. You knew that she had the wisdom and whatever she said was the right answer. It was right because all the adults told you it was right and explained that you had to revere her. If she said you could dress a certain way, your parents acquiesced. If she said a movie was acceptable to watch, you went. She managed the family and made sure they were all good parents who raised their children the way she had raised them. We listened.