With a full day of reliving family memories and Uncle Dale’s 75th High School Reunion on tap, we ate the Continental breakfast (the one bright spot) at Urbana Inn and took off west towards St. Paris, former home to Grandma Cuba, mother to Uncle Dale and my Mom. At the outskirts of town we stopped in at the Depot Coffee House, the town’s primary caffeine emporium for everyone’s beverage of choice.
Suitably fortified, we rode along Highway 36, two lanes of Ohio blacktop through the heart of farming country and into the outskirts of St. Paris, stopping at the former High School with Uncle Dale pointing out the house next door, the first one they lived in after Cuba and Charlie were divorced. A pattern was now established for the next couple of days, visiting a place of memory, Uncle Dale providing us with a running commentary, our own thoughts and recollections running parallel to his narrative.
From the high school it was just a few blocks to Walnut Street and the former home of Grandma Cuba and her second husband, Harold. Also a stored place of memory, random snapshots fill my consciousness; Cuba’s famous sugar pie, sleeping in the crowded attic bedroom with my brother Chuck, walking to the center of town with Harold in 1977 to get a 25-cent cup of coffee. Here’s how I chronicled it in a song I wrote that trip:
Here in America’s heartland, people like their way of life.
Unfenced yards and a ready smile, kind of think they got it right.
Its country life, won’t you please take it slow, Country life learn to like it you won’t go.
Country life, grows on a man, County life, try to understand.
Down by the greenhouse a cornfield, on a warm night you can hear it grow.
Every house with a front porch, Sipping beer just let it flow.
Its country life, won’t you please take it slow, Country life; learn to like it you won’t go.
Country life, grows on a man, County life, learn to understand.
Sitting downtown at the Falcon’s Nest, Coffee just two bits a cup.
Sure am glad to see you mister, Let me keep that thing filled up.
Cause its country life, won’t you please take it slow, Country life; learn to like it you won’t go.
Country life, grows on a man, County life, live to understand.
St. Paris, Ohio, 6/77
We would learn on this visit that Cuba’s affair with Harold, she long known by all of us as being so straight-laced she wouldn’t allow beer in the house, was the reason for the divorce, but knowing the players involved it was probably best long term for all. We talked at length about the changes subsequent owners had made to the front, the fence that now surrounds the back yard, and the local bar that Harold and my Dad would re-locate to in order to consume that forbidden beer.
We drove back to the center of a town and parked outside an antique store where Uncle Dale engaged the proprietress in a long conversation about his life in St. Paris, his service in WWII and a host of other topics ranging far and wide. We walked up and down the one long block that comprises the downtown district, then departed for the town cemetery to view Cuba and Harold’s gravesite.
After a suitable amount of time spent looking for other family graves and more reminiscing, we made our way to the Farmer’s Daughter for lunch and then an hour or two walking around the four blocks that comprise the town center of Urbana.
With the day waning, we returned to the Inn and killed time until Debbie, Marshall and Uncle Dale, dressed appropriately for the occasion, took off for his reunion. Joanna, Bev and I, having noted the new movie Guardians of the Galaxy Part Two playing locally, drove back to the center of town to the Gloria Theater to catch the show.
Originally constructed in in 1904 by famous vaudeville actor and Urbana native Billy “Single” Clifford, it was the first in Ohio with a street-level entrance. Local business owner, Warren Grimes, purchased the theater in 1941 and at t a cost of $100,000 (around $2 million in today’s dollars), coordinated a complete renovation of the theater, and named it “Gloria” for his youngest daughter.
Sold to a theater chain in 1966, it fell on hard times, closing in 2013 and was purchased by the Urbana United Methodist Church a year later that formed a foundation to operate the theater on its behalf. We thoroughly enjoyed spending time in this old beauty with its custom detailing, comfortable seats and incredibly wide aisles, so much so that a person could pass in front of you without the need to stand up to let them pass. And the movie was very entertaining, well worth watching again.
We returned to the Inn and greeted the reunion revelers, finding out that they had inadvertently gotten the start time for the event mixed up and arrived an hour or more late, barely getting dinner. But it didn’t seem to put a damper on their spirits as we again stayed up late into the evening revisiting places and people of the past.
With a drive to Belle Valley and stop in Columbus on the schedule for the next day, we didn’t dawdle in the morning and set out east to check out the campus at Ohio State University (sorry but I just can’t put a “the” in front of the name). Stay tuned for more adventures on the ancestry tour 2017.
Depot Coffee House: http://depotcoffeehouse.com/
Gloria Theater: http://www.gloriatheatre.com/