Growing Up Gilliom – Memories of an Idyllic Childhood

This blog post was begun in 2011 or 2012 and sat, unfinished, on my PC for years. I would come back to it from time to time to try to finish it, but it just wouldn’t cooperate.  Finally, I posted it in its original form on my Facebook page last week.  My cousins told me, “keep writing,” so I did.

I’ve always said that I wanted to write a book. Between my adventures with my cousins and my many childhood neighbors, I truly have enough memories to fill a volume.  I’m not sure they would interest anyone who wasn’t involved, but they would truly be a joy to write.

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Growing up Gilliom

Once upon a time, a lawyer sat on the living couch, still in her pajamas at a time when all respectable people are hard at work, sipping her 4th cup of coffee.  Avoiding the land of “grown-up people,” she posted on Facebook, “I feel like writing a story.”  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

She’d had in mind a short narrative of a wooden box that held nothing but dreams, and the magical places that the box took its owner – but fate had another idea.  From a thousand miles away, an online voice invoked memories of real magic – and a childhood that few children in today’s busy world will ever enjoy.

A few lines of memories slipped out onto the internet, and an instruction to “write that story, cousin,” turned the task on its head.

The cold, gloomy morning slipped away, and the writer was transported to the countryside outside of the little town of Ontario, Ohio – near Mansfield – where sunshine lit up a hot Saturday afternoon in late June somewhere in the early 1970s.

My mother was one of seven children.  Roy and Esther Gilliom were blessed, during the Great Depression with six daughters…followed at long last by a son.  My mother was the third daughter, and the only one to have moved more than two miles away from the homestead.

It was always a happy thing on an early Saturday morning to hear, “We’re going to Grandma’s.”  We would start the hour-long journey in the family station wagon, anxiously anticipating the adventures ahead.  From the back seat, my brother and I would identify landmarks, such as the “hot pants station,” (a gas-station where the attendant in hot pants sold us ice cream sandwiches), or the narrow bridge/tunnel where the car horn would echo when Dad tooted it when we begged.

Summer or Winter, we would sing, “over the river and through the woods,” because, you see, to get to Grandmother’s house, we would cross over rivers and through woods in our trusty car, which, if it had only been a Pinto, would have been a perfect fit to the lyrics.

When we reached our destination, we were in little kid “heaven.”  Grandma and Aunt Betty lived in the first house.  Next door were Uncle John and Aunt Miriam and four cousins.  In the third house were Aunt Helen and Uncle Jim and their three daughters.   Not far away were more Aunts and Uncles, and more cousins… and we would often all end up together.

After running in to give Grandma a quick hug and kiss, we would be set free to run and play.  There were dogs and cats to play with.  For a while, there was even a horse.  We would play with Laddie or Dutchess, Reb or Tobie.  Behind the three houses ran a creek with a stone bottom where we would find crawfish, and build dams of stones that would wash away after an hour or two.  When our feet were blue from the cold, clear water, we would run to the top of the hill, where we would get a drink from the hose attached to the artesian well that ran day and night – and sometimes hose down an unsuspecting cousin or two with icy water.

If we were really lucky, we would all get to cross the creek and walk back the lane surrounded by woods and wildflowers.  Not far down the way, the trees would subside into a giant clearing where we had a whole lake to ourselves.  Mom and the Aunts would take a picnic lunch to the pavilion by the water’s edge.

Piles of black innertubes from car, truck and tractor tires sat waiting for us to float the day away.  My favorite had a bulge where the rubber had grown thin.  One could never rest too comfortably, though, as a cousin or three was always waiting for the right moment to swim up under a tube and flip the unsuspecting occupant into the cool water.

We would swim to the little bridge that crossed over to the island (but I dared not go to the island – because my cousins had convinced me that it was full of snakes!)  Cattails grew by the water, and we would pluck them and tear apart the fuzzy heads.  Dandelions grew by the thousands, and we would dig the leaves so the adults could have their salads with hot bacon dressing.

From the beach, off to the left you could see the steep stairs going up the hillside.  Above them, a thick rope, anchored high in the trees tempted young and not so young alike to yell like Tarzan and plunge into the center of the lake.  On the opposite shore sat the diving bell (or as I called it, the submarine) that my cousins built to explore the depths of the lake.  My cousins could build anything.  I sat in awe of John, Rob and Rick.

When we had burned off our energy running, swimming and climbing, lunch would be waiting in the picnic shelter.  There was no shortage of food.  All of the Gilliom ladies were (and are) excellent cooks.

Between the houses and the lake was the creek lined with rocks of all sizes.  My cousins taught me to skip flat stones across the surface of the creek.  My record was 12 bounces.  I’m looking forward to teaching that trick to my grandchildren, but they’ll have to settle for Lake Erie on a calm day.

On rainy days, we might change locations to Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Jim’s barn, where we would build tunnels out of hay bales and try to catch the half-wild barn cats.  Only the bravest of the brave would attempt the feat of crossing from one side of the barn to the other by climbing on the metal rafters twenty feet or so above the barn floor.

We had the luxury of a large family.  My cousins were my first friends.  We didn’t have technology.  There were no text messages or snap chats to distract us from our games of statue tag or hide and seek.  Our imaginations were well-exercised.

Nick, Carolyn, Rick, Ted, Andrew, Joe, Shawna, Dawna, Melody, Jim, John, Bill, John, Rob, Kristi and Lori, I love you. Collectively we have travelled the world, raised beautiful families of our own, and had experiences we could never have dreamed of while we were eating slices of watermelon that had chilled in the springhouse forty-odd years ago.

How blessed we were.  How blessed I am, now, to spend a rainy Saturday morning recalling those times.

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Author’s Note: Dad, too, was one of seven. The Fulk cousins and I had other wonderful times.  That part of my family, too, is cherished.  The memories are no less fond – but deserve their own post.

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