“Back” Home

I grew up in the Steubenville, Ohio area and still enjoy making the 3 hour drive back home to see the old haunts now and again.  I don’t do it as often as I should or that I would like. Whether it is a family reunion or a class reunion or a holiday or just because, home is always home. It is amazing how often I am reminded directly and specifically of home through encounters that happen 150 miles away.

I spent countless hours as a child and teenager in my back yard with an old basketball and an older backboard and rim bolted to yet an even older tree/pole. I was not an athlete in school. With a little bit of effort and a lot of perseverance, I may have been able to ride the bench on the school basketball team, but I was more interested in the less structured “backyard ball”.  I still remember that old hoop that my uncle — Tom Beany — put together years before. I suppose it was for my older cousins when they were boys, I don’t really remember that far back.  He found a perfectly straight tree with a “Y” shaped crook at about the right height and bolted a backboard and rim onto the crook bracing it with a 4×4 block of wood. I was just a kid when my cousins had outgrown it or lost interest and I had always begged my parents for a hoop, so somehow I ultimately inherited that old wooden pole hoop!

I still remember helping my dad to dig a hole in the ground near the edge of our yard.  Dad and Phil Lunger, who lived across the street, raised that behemoth pole into place and I spent thousands of hours over the next decade plus hoisting up shot after shot at that rim.  I recall that the very first shot of the day would often clank hard off of the backboard and usually sent a poor songbird screeching away in terror after my rude and unannounced intrusion violently rocked her nest — improvidently constructed in an old tree crook with the added protection provided by a large flat board to one side of her nest and a 4×4 block of wood on the other side.  I often started my marathon basketball sessions with a sprinting heave of a shot from 25 feet away with little to no chance of going in, but a strong likelihood of a jarring collision with the backboard!  It wasn’t until after the bird’s angry departure that I would remember she lived on the other side of that hoop! Ironically, even though my intrusion was a regular occurrence, that same bird (or one just like her) continued to build/return to that same nesting spot year after year.  I guess my rude interruptions were a forgivable tradeoff for the other security the spot provided.

Not being a participant in school athletics, I didn’t develop very strong relationships with any of the coaches in high school outside of the classroom. I had several coaches as teachers over the course of my four years in high school: Yanok, Radakovitch, Opatkin, Bahen, Farrar… They each had different teaching styles and varying limits of what you could “get away” with in class – other than Coach Bahen. He was an ex-Marine and there was absolutely nothing you could get away with in his class! I could probably tell stories about each one of them, but that’s not really what this blog post is about.  I had Coach Farrar for an Economics class my senior year.  I recall him being a fun teacher and generally not too harsh.  Maybe just ‘coincidence‘ but the two independent memories I still recall from Coach Farrar’s Economics class 25 years later have nothing to do with economics or any course instruction, but instead relate to getting him off topic.

One was the time someone in class managed to get him off topic when he spent almost the entire class period discussing stories about his prior employment as a security guard at the amusement park in his home town of Sandusky, Ohio. I think this ‘strategy’ happened more than a few times! Of course, that park is now one of my family’s summer “go to fun spots — we are patiently awaiting the new 2016 Cedar Point season opening only a week away!

My other Farrar memory was the time all of the boys in the senior class not on the football team wore flannel shirts with the required uniform neckties (in place of our uniform dress shirts) on the day that our football team was to play Jefferson Union High School. J.U. was a school that drew its students from a more rural part of the county — many of whom were farmers or at least lived in predominantly farming communities.  So someone came up with the idea of wearing plaid/flannel shirts to school on game day as a school spirit/joke kind of thing.  The team always wore their football jerseys to school over top of uniform clothes on game days, so they weren’t really included in the event.  We didn’t have specific uniform clothes colors that we had to wear — just a shirt and tie and dress pants. So plaid flannel shirts were technically still within the dress code. So all of the non-football players wore their flannel best that day to school.  Being an assistant football coach, I recall Coach Farrar having a good laugh and a very positive reaction to our showing of support and solidarity, while still remaining within the spirit of the dress code.

I don’t specifically recall my final grade for Economics that year, but I remember that I did fairly well.  I’m not sure how much longer Coach Farrar taught at CCHS after 1989, but at some point during or soon after my college years, he’d moved on to another teaching job in some other location.  To be honest, I didn’t really keep in touch with many of my teachers after high school — I probably had a stronger ongoing relationship with the cafeteria lunch ladies!

Fast forward ten years to 1999.  In the summer or fall of that year, we had our ten year class reunion and it was a good time getting back in touch with some friends I hadn’t seen in quite a while.  As everyone shared their updates and experiences, I relayed my news that I had recently graduated from law school and was living and working in Sandusky, Ohio.  I got a few responses along the lines of: “Oh yeah! Coach Farrar was from there! You probably go to Cedar Point all the time, don’t you?  Remember the times he would spend entire class periods telling stories about working there as a security guard?”  I had to admit to everyone that I had not really visited Cedar Point at all because all of my free time was devoted to studying for the bar exam!

I am a bit fuzzy on the exact timing of the next event because I have no independent recollection of it and the details come from my mother. At some point over the next several years, my parents were up to Sandusky for a weekend visit.  If you know anything about Sandusky’s geography and layout, you would know that Route 250 is the main thoroughfare in town for shopping and dining.  Route 250 snakes generally in a southeast direction from Sandusky through the heart of Ohio amish country, and ultimately through Cadiz, Ohio (Clark Gable’s birthplace) which is about 20 miles from Steubenville — so most trips to and from Sandusky/Steubenville are spent traveling Route 250 virtually the entire way.  This is a beautiful summer drive if you’re ever looking for one!

At the time of that visit from my folks, I was living in an apartment a few blocks away from 250 just beyond a local Sandusky church.  The weekend ended and dreaded Monday morning arrived. I got showered and dressed and left for work and my parents gathered up their things and started their trek back home on 250.  But just before they got to 250, they saw a church bazaar advertised at that church just beyond my apartment complex.  On a whim, with no hard schedule deadlines, they decided to stop and browse the tables of wares.

As mom tells the story (dad has since passed, and even alive he would not have remembered the details), she was at one end of the pavilion area and dad was at the other end enthusiastically waving her over to meet someone.  It was not uncommon for my dad to strike up conversations with complete strangers for no particular reason, so it was not surprising that he was talking to this woman he had never met before. The best my mom could remember, he somehow started talking to this woman standing behind one of the tables, probably with an opening line something like: “We’re not from around here, we are just visiting our son who lives up here, he’s an attorney.”  Maybe he volunteered, or maybe she asked, either way – she discovered that my parents were from the Steubenville area.  She then likely replied that her son used to teach at a Catholic school in Steubenville and my dad ultimately discovered that he had struck up a conversation with one Mrs. Farrar.  Upon my mom joining them, they then proceeded to talk for several hours — as mom tells it, at least as long as it would have taken them to drive home had they not stopped “just for a few minutes to take a look.” Through the course of that conversation, Coach Farrar’s mom told my parents that he was teaching/living in a small town on route 250 (which coincidentally is just about the exact midpoint between Sandusky and Steubenville).  She apparently told my parents the exact street and house where he lived and even encouraged them to just stop and ring the doorbell on their way past — that he would be so happy to get a visit from someone from Steubenville.  My dad, being the way he was, probably would have stopped and rung that doorbell without a second thought… but they really only knew of him and didn’t actually know him on a “stop unannounced many years removed” basis.  So that 250 reunion never took place.

I cannot recall whether I have blogged about my wife’s chronic back problems, but it is something that she lives with everyday — some days are better, some days are worse.  She is able to treat it with medication and massage therapy and periodic chiropractic treatment.  She has been treating with a local chiropractor, Dr. Marty, for a while and at some point a year or two ago, she went in for an adjustment just before or just after a difficult car trip to Steubenville.  That drive came up in discussion during her treatment and the doctor told her that a friend of his from high school used to teach in Steubenville… (Yep, same guy!)  He had been down to Steubenville a few times when Coach Farrar was still there, so he and my wife have since periodically swapped Steubenville stories.

Mom came up to visit us for Easter weekend this year and we discussed with her some short and long term plans for her house and the possibilities of downsizing to an apartment with less maintenance and yard work.  She ended up taking our daughter back home with her on Easter Monday to spend her spring break week with Grandma.  That same week, I began treating with Dr. Marty in effort to alleviate some leg and foot issues I’ve been having.  So during my treatment visits I’ve discussed my former high school and hometown with him as well.  I had a Friday afternoon treatment a month or so ago, with the plan to drive down and pick up my daughter immediately after my appointment at the end of her week visit with my mom.

I drove down and severely tweaked something in my low back while moving some furniture for mom on Friday evening, which put me out of commission for the rest of the weekend.  It was in discussing my chiropractic treatment with mom and Dr. Marty’s friendship with Coach Farrar that she reminded me of the above story with Mrs. Farrar and dad.  We talked some more about downsizing her house and things that could stay and go if she moved into something smaller.  One of the things we talked about was wall space and her large framed scenic paintings, some of which she was still trying to decipher the artists’ signatures. There is a beautiful waterfront/sunset scene on her living room wall that I always liked, but wasn’t sure of its origins.  Just out of the blue I asked her “Where did that painting come from anyway?”  She laughed and said that she and dad bought that painting/frame when they were in Sandusky at the church sale when they met Mrs. Farrar. How’s that for a coincidence?!?

I had a followup visit with Dr. Marty the following week.  He was able to fit me into his schedule one morning before I had to be in the office.  I had a court appearance scheduled for that afternoon — just a minor routine matter for a local church which took all of five minutes, but courtroom decorum still requires wearing a suit jacket and tie for those five minutes. Rather than get fully formally dressed (who wants to get on the chiropractor’s table in a dress shirt and tie?) I arrived at my appointment in sweat pants and a t-shirt, which prompted Dr. Marty to ask if I had the day off.  I explained my outfit and that I intended to change into a suit after my adjustment.  I told him about my back injury the weekend prior and about my mother’s story of meeting Mrs. Farrar.  As I was finishing up my visit, Dr. Marty’s next patient came in — a deacon from the church I was representing in court that very afternoon!  When he realized we knew each other, Dr. Marty commented on how funny it was — living in a small world where we are all interconnected.  Perhaps his comment also had something to do with the fact he was leaving for Florida for a few days to attend a friend’s wedding and was going to be in roughly the same area where our older daughter now lives and works.  He had been a regular at the local Applebee’s restaurant where our daughter worked before moving to Florida so they knew each other well.

Not to be confused with a popular sit-com that ended a couple years ago — in the precursor to this web blog, I tell the story about how I met my wife.  The short version is that we worked on a retreat team together at church.  I’ll never forget my first experience with that retreat ministry in 2001.  This was before I met my wife.  As a participant, I was assigned to a table with a few other people.  I briefly touched on that retreat experience in a blog post from several years ago, but left this part out.  Even though it was a God-Incident, it did not really add to that particular story, but it comes into play here…

In 2001, I was still a relative newcomer to Sandusky.  I’d been here a few years, but most of my circle of friends still came from the few people I worked with and some of the people who attended my church. As I encountered different people through my office duties, I had some interaction with an attorney, Nancy, who worked as a magistrate at the county courthouse to help mediate civil cases.  It turns out that Nancy was also a member of Sts. Peter & Paul and she was part of the spring 2001 retreat team when I was a new participant. As part of the early “ice-breaker” sharing, everyone was encouraged to introduce themselves and give some basic personal information. Nancy had lived most of her life in Sandusky, but for whatever reason, she commented that she was originally born in Steubenville!  I was a little bit surprised, so after introductions were done and we were invited to get a little more familiar with those at our assigned tables, I commented on how ironic it was that Nancy mentioned being from MY hometown.  That was when Ford said, “Wait a minute, you’re from Steubenville too?”

Ford then talked about how his family moved from the Steubenville area up to Sandusky many years before. He asked me about my family and some other details.  He didn’t recognize the Lucas name, but when I told him my mom’s maiden name, which isn’t very common, he asked if she had a “Tom” in her family.  It turned out that Ford’s dad and my uncle, whom I have to thank for my hours upon hours upon hours of backyard basketball, were very good friends in their younger days.  Ford later remarked that he wasn’t even supposed to be at the retreat that weekend.  Someone else on the team had gotten sick at the last moment and they needed Ford to step in to take his place.  Had Nancy not mentioned her Steubenville connection, had the other gentleman not fallen ill, had I been assigned to a different retreat table — I might have never known Ford’s connection.  (I later learned that he was also related in some way to my mother’s best friend from grade school through high school and still to this day lives right down the street from mom).

Last week I had another pre-work morning adjustment scheduled with Dr. Marty. We talked about his Florida trip – unfortunately unable to make a connection with our daughter at the Florida Applebee’s she transferred to.  At some point, somehow our conversation turned to the topic of high school class reunions and our various experiences with them. Dr. Marty’s next patient came in while we were talking.  I had my back turned and my eyeglasses were not yet back on my face (I can’t see far away without them so I couldn’t see the face of the next person coming in).  Dr. Marty said, “C’mon back, Ford.  I’ll be with you in just a minute.” as he continued to talk to me about his last class reunion.

Ford heard the conclusion of our conversation and volunteered that he had a class reunion of his own coming up pretty soon. He said he would be heading back home to see some friends from his old alma mater — J.U.  Yes, it certainly is a small world, isn’t it? Don’t forget your flannel shirt, Ford!

Praise God!!!

2 thoughts on ““Back” Home”

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