Lavender and Ice Cream Cones

I know we've come a long way,
we're changing day to day,
but tell me, where do the children play.
                                                   Cat Stevens

My daughters have always been precious to me, and I've gone to great lengths to cultivate loving relationships with all three.  While they've matured into lovely, responsible young women, I admit that at times, I miss the little girls they used to be.

I cherish my memories of the girls growing up, as they were some of the happiest times of my life.  When my eldest daughter suggested we visit our old hometown, the place of her youth, I wasn't entirely certain that a trip was a good idea.  Experience has shown that it isn't always a wise idea to go back, physically anyway.  Things are rarely the way you remember them, and disappointment is a bitter pill to swallow.  But, in an effort to please my daughter, I agreed to accompany her on a road trip.

I was eight months pregnant with our third child when we moved to Perrysburg, Ohio, a historically significant little hamlet on the southern bank of the Maumee River, not far from Toledo.  The move was business related, and we knew nothing of the area, only that it was flat and rural. The real estate agent said it was a great place to raise a family, which it proved to be.  We lived there happily for ten years.

So much had changed, culturally and economically, in the fifteen years since we'd left, it was hard to imagine that the community I remembered existed anymore, if it had at all.  The shady side streets, with their sweet bungalow-style homes, and picketed gardens, the grand residences along the river with their Georgian columns and porticos, gabled Queen Anne porches, and expansive, well kept lawns, were part and parcel of my recollection, and I wanted to keep it that way.

Perrysburg was, a little hub of Americana, where the children all marched as wrapped packages in the Christmas parade, trick or treated door to door at Halloween, unafraid of strangers offering homemade confections, and gathered on the grassy battlefield of Fort Meigs, to cheer the Fourth of July fireworks with friends and neighbors.

It was a town where the kids played outside in the summer-time until the street lights came on, and tobogganed on the slopes of the Maumee, in the winter-time.  In Perrysburg, it wasn't uncool to be a Brownie or Cub Scout, and every kid learned to play a musical instrument.

My little girls walked to school everyday, rain or shine, in their tidy little plaid parochial school uniforms, book bags and lunch boxes in tow. I could watch them from the front porch of our house, or from my window in the school office, but I didn't have to.

Such were the scenes I'd played over and over again on that reel to reel in my head for nearly twenty years, and I wasn't sure I wanted to edit the film.

Our little road trip had expanded in scope, to include my youngest daughter, and her two children.  After a very late start, we hit the road, the six of us in a Dodge truck.  By eight o'clock, I was sick of sitting, annoyed with the children and tired of trying to accommodate everyone.  So, when after four hours of driving, I exited the freeway, and spotted our hotel a few yards ahead, I should have made a bee-line for the parking lot and the sanctuary of our two room suite.  But, I didn't.      

Just minutes before, the three of us, sitting elbow to elbow like paper dolls in the front seat, watched as the sun, in a blaze of orange glory, slipped behind a ragged treeline, leaving the sky awash in color.  

Brooke, a bundle of nervous energy, tried to record its descent, before noticing that the camera battery was low.  Regardless, she continued filming out the window, as we drove through the turnpike tollgate, and on beyond, down the next freeway toward our destination.  

The closer to town we got, the darker the sky became, and I began to wonder aloud, just how bad her video would be.  She didn't care.  The recording was incidental.  After fifteen years, she was going home.

I realized as I drove past the hotel, that it didn't make sense to go on, as tomorrow was another day. But, it was twilight, that magical time between daylight and darkness that I like to think of as bonus minutes from mother nature.  If I didn't get lost, there was still enough light to make a run past our old home on Front Street.  If things looked too bad, perhaps they'd been tempered by the imminent darkness.

There were no protests from my road weary passengers, mouths agape with wonder, for they were equally anxious.  I managed my way through a tangle of tree-lined streets until I found a familiar crossroads.  From there, with bated breath, we inched the truck along, and with a final turn, found ourselves in front of the stately Catholic church, our former family parish, the girls' school, and my place of employment.  A spotlight illuminated its towering Gothic steeple. St. Rose was even more beautiful than I'd remembered.

I felt a lump the size of a fist, mounting in my throat. In the eery glow of day passing into night, I could see my three little chickadees standing awkwardly outside the church in their First Communion finery, wisps of hair and veils blowing in an early summer breeze, their angelic hands folded, as in prayer.  I opened my mouth to speak, but the words wouldn't come, only a tearful croak.

I was slightly embarrassed, by my emotional meltdown, but decided to soldier on.  Half a block later, we rolled past our house exactly where we'd left it, standing on its 140 year-old stone foundation.  Time had been kind, very kind. Our house, still looked loved.

I swung the big truck around the corner, and into the alley behind the pink house, where the chained dog had barked endlessly until the day the neighborhood children found his lifeless body next to the railroad tracks, and past the garage of the kindly old man that restored antiques.

The six foot picket fence that surrounded our property, had been replaced with a shorter one, and much of the small backyard, was now covered by brick pavers.  But the friendly kitchen porch, with its wobbly spindles and crooked steps was still there.  A wind chime hung where the flowering basket used to be, but otherwise, little had changed.

The back porch had been the summer heart of our home.  Memories came flooding back, of watermelon and ice cream cones, tea parties and birthday cakes.

I stopped the truck, and we sat for a moment in silence, in the quaint little alley that had been my daughters' playground, before acknowledging that our window of opportunity had closed.  Darkness engulfed us.  

The next morning, I was delighted to find the community of the night before, was just as homey and attractive by the light of day.  It honestly appeared to have been plucked from the pages of a Saturday Evening Post of the late 1950s.

We drove back downtown, and parked in the lot of the recently renovated neighborhood grocery, loaded the kids into strollers, and set out on a walking tour of our old neighborhood.  Brooke quickly spied an aged Mulberry tree, and introduced her son to its sweet, purple bounty.  The girls giggled at memories of running errands to the market, riding bicycles to the ball fields and the community pool, of collecting loose change to be bartered for candy at the concession stand, and of going for ice cream at the local Mr. Freeze.

In the alley behind our house, I breathed deeply the humid air, perfumed with the heady scent of vintage roses, garden lavender and must.  Truly, little had changed.

A few yards down the sidewalk, inside the Catholic church, the side alters, which a former pastor (my boss) had tried in earnest to remove, still stood.  The century old statue of St. Rose, gazed piously down at us from her lofty perch atop the elaborate center altarpiece, where she'd stood witness as my daughters received their sacraments, and sung in the Sunday, children's choir.  We had indeed come home.

We lingered longer than we'd planned in Perrysburg, finishing our visit with ice cream and playtime in the park.  Satisfied, we buckled the tuckered-out babies back into their car seats, filed back into the front seat of the cab and bid adieu to a place that exists not only on a map but, unaltered, in my heart as well.


  1. What a wonderful walk down memory lane. Thank you so much for taking me. I will never forget it.

  2. Great memories.
    I guess I have not been away from my hometown long enough to have that warm fuzzy feeling.