Welcome to the Farm!

In the summer of 1962, the Partin family moved to a farm three miles north of the village of Kalida in Putnam County Ohio. Kalida was a small farm community of about 1,000 people in northwest Ohio. It had a few stores, a bank, post office, two grain mills, a school, and a beautiful Catholic Church with a massive spire that could be seen from miles.

The farm of 40 acres included about seven acres of woods and a winding creek. In addition of an old farm house, a small barn and a half dozen, fairly primitive sheds served various purposes. The previous owner persistently used baling wire for most outdoor repairs. It soon became a family joke. “Hmm, loose door? Grab the baling wire.” Of course, that was long before duct tape, which a couple decades later became our go-to solution for most repairs.

Dad’s half sister Lorene (Extine) Bishop lived a mile to our north on the Blanchard River. When we lived in Lima, Don & I, along with Mike, Bud, and other friends, would camp next to the river on the Bishops small farm. We would cut small branches, strip the bark, and lash them to tress, making a frame to hold our large tarp. We had a cooler for food. We’d spend the days wading in the river – it usually wasn’t deep enough for swimming.

The idea of moving to a farm was intriguing. It was an adventure, at just the right time. The family raised hogs, chickens and a few steers and had the crops planted and harvested by a neighbor who split the profits. Dad kept working at what had become Clark Equipment in Lima. The farm was a great learning experience, though it never turned much of a profit. Seems like we always bought pigs at the top of the market and sold them at bottom.

We ordered chickens through mail order, and several dozen tiny chicks arrived in cardboard boxes, delivered by the postman. Most of them survived. We had Chester White pigs. They are pretty smart animals. If they escaped, we would just yell and they’d wander back. Cows were not nearly as cooperative. It was work getting them back in the pen.

Mom & Dad bought our first calf at a livestock auction. The vendor told them to pull around back, and he’d help them load it. He was quite amused when they rolled up in our tiny Renault Dauphine. The little calf had a comfortable ride home in the back seat.

One chilly winter night, I returned home from a basketball game. Mom told me to check on a pregnant sow before going to bed. I did and found pigs were already arriving. I ran to the house, and my parents quickly bundled up and started assisting the sow.

It set a record cold of -17 degrees that night. By morning 16 little pigs had been born. As they came out my parents put them into a large barrel, with heat lamps to keep them warm and alive. One small runt was pretty frail and appeared not likely to make it. When I entered the kitchen the next morning, I was stunned see that runt wrapped in a blanket in the middle of a warm kitchen oven (with the door open, of course). No fancy incubators on our farm. As usual my parents were resourceful and came up with another creative solution. The runt survived and became our pet pig.

We lived in an old farm house, that was poorly insulated, minimally heated, and chilly in the winter. Don and I had separate bedrooms upstairs. That was a luxury after years of sharing bunk beds in one tiny room. This great space seemed luxurious that summer! That would soon change.

Only the downstairs had any heat at all. Some winter mornings, I could easily see every breath roll up to the ceiling. Fortunately, the chimney from the space heater downstairs ran through the wall. I drove a nail in that wall, and put my clothes, including socks, on a hanger in front of the chimney. I had nice toasty warm clothes awaiting me in the morning. I could dress in less than five seconds. Understandably, Don felt cheated, as there was no chimney in his room. But often he did have the sense to just sleep downstairs on the couch, in a totally warm room!

On those cold winter nights, Mom would place several bricks on top of our living room stove that burned wood or coal. She would then wrap them in towels and Don and I would carry them upstairs and place them in our beds. I helped a little for a few minutes.

A few years later, electric blankets hit the market and we each got one. That made a big difference. Don would usually crank his up to maximum heat and leave his windows open at night!

Watering the livestock was a challenge in the winter. The primitive plumbing in the barn quickly froze, requiring us to carry 5-gallon buckets of water form the house to the barn. About half way there, a snow drift usually formed if we had enough snow. We always had enough wind in Northwest Ohio! As soon as we hit that drift, the water would slosh onto our overalls (yes, we had bibbed ones) freezing instantly. Some days, they were frozen so solid they could have stood by themselves.

A Hellish Experience

One skill we acquired fairly quickly was learning how to plow a straight row. I’d have never learned that skill in Lima! Long before either of us qualified for a driver’s license, we were driving the tractor, even towing grain wagons to the mill.

One day Don was plowing in the field on our little Case tractor when he plowed up a hornets’ nest. They came charging after him. He looked back and saw a black cloud chasing him. As he neared, the house his adrenaline kicked in, and he leapt from the seat racing to the back door.

He was safe, after a very close call. Except in his haste, he had not taken the tractor out of gear, and it was rolling past the house and out into the field. It slowly made its way across the entire field, only coming to a halt when it rammed a fence on the far side.

When Dad got home, he asked where the tractor was, and Don pointed across the field. Dad observed, “You could never have plowed such a straight row on your own!”

The Last Crank Telephones

Kalida Telephone Company was the last phone company in Ohio to use crank telephones – well into the early 60s. To get the operator’s attention, we cranked the phone. We would tell her who you wanted to call – often just by name. But we each had a number. Ours was “13 on 1” — the 13th phone on line one. Each phone had its distinctive ring. Ours was “two long and one short” rings. Of course when anyone on the line received a call, all the other phones also rang.

Obviously, you didn’t want to say anything on those phones you didn’t want everyone else in the community to know. It was amusing to say “goodbye,” then pause to hear “click, click, click…” as the nosier neighbors hung up their phones. It was a hobby for some lonely souls.

On nasty winter days, our Kalida school superintendant would check in with our neighbor, Ed Reiman, who was superintendent of the Miller City School District. Then they would decide whether school was to be cancelled. On those mornings, we’d listen in if we heard the Reiman’s phone ringing. That gave us a head start over everyone else, as we didn’t have to wait for it to be announced on the radio.

Kalida Years

In the summer of 1961, the Partin family moved to a farm on Route 694, located three miles north of the village of Kalida in Putnam County Ohio. The farm of 40 acres included about seven acres of woods and a winding creek. Kalida is a small farm community of about 1.000 in northwest Ohio. It had few stores, a bank, post office, two grain mills, a school, and a beautiful Catholic Church with a massive spire that could be seen from miles. Dad’s half sister Lorene (Extine) Bishop lived a mile to the north on the Blanchard River. When we lived in Lima, Don & I, along with Mike, Bud, and other friends, would camp next to the River on the Bishops small farm. We would cut striplings, strip bark and lash them to tress, making a frame to hold our large tarp. We had a cooler for food. We’d spend the days wading in the river – it usually wasn’t deep enough for swimming.

The idea of moving to a farm was intriguing. It was an adventure, at just the right time. The family raised hogs, chickens and a few steers and had the crops planted and harvested by a neighbor who split the profits. Dad kept working at what had become Clark Equipment in Lima. The farm was a great experience, though it never turned much of a profit. Seems like we always bought pigs at the top of the market and sold them at bottom.

We ordered chickens through mail order, and several dozen tiny chicks arrived in cardboard boxes, delivered by the postman. We had Chester White pigs. They are pretty smart animals. If they escaped, we would just yell and they’d wander back. Cows were not nearly as cooperative. It was work getting them back in the pen.

One cold winter night, after I returned from a basketball game, Mom told me to check on a pregnant sow before going to bed. I did and found pigs were already coming. I ran to the house and my parents bundled up and start tending the sow.

It set a record cold of -17 degrees. By morning 16 little pigs had been born. As they came out my parents put them into a barge barrel, with lamps keeping them warm. One small runt was pretty frail and appeared not likely to make it. It was quite a surprise to walk into the kitchen the next morning to see that runt wrapped in a blanket in the middle or warm kitchen oven. No fancy incubators on our farm. As usual my parents were resourceful and came up with another creative solution. The runt survived and we made it our pet pig.

We lived in an old farm house, that was poorly insulated, minimally heated, and chilly in the winter. Don and I had separate bedrooms upstairs. That was a luxury after years of sharing one room in bunk beds. Only the downstairs had any heat at all. Some winter days, I would easily see every breath roll up to the ceiling. Fortunately, the chimney from the space heater downstairs ran through the wall. I drove a nail in that wall, and put my clothes, including socks, on a hanger in front of the chimney. I had nice toasty warm clothes awaiting me in the morning. I could dress in less than five seconds. Understandably, Don felt cheated, as there was no chimney in his room. But often he did have the sense to just sleep downstairs on the couch, in a totally warm room!

Kalida High School: A Life-changing Experience

At the 50th reunion of the Kalida High School Class reunion, I told my classmates who had all grown up in the area, “Kalida shaped your lives; it changed my life.” The unexpected summer move was not a traumatic event at all for me. It was a blessing, a re-orientation, and probably one of the best things that ever happened in my formative years.

I went from being a small fish in a big pond to a big fish in a small pond. After several dates with my wife-to-be, Jan, in her freshman year at BGSU, I showed her my high school annual. She read that I was on the varsity basketball and baseball teams, was senior class president, president of the student council, had lead roles in two plays . . . . Wow! She was impressed. Then she counted. “There were only thirty-two in your class!”

It’s true it was a very small school, with many fewer options than I would have had in Lima. All the classes were small, many with fewer than 15 students. I pretty well knew everyone in the high school. I felt my teachers genuinely cared for me, and I don’t think any were armed with paddles.

From the very first day my classmates welcomed me. I think they saw me as the “big city kid.” I actually only lived in the Kalida community for three years before leaving for college, but they were the most formative ones of my youth. The supportive environment of teachers, peers, friends, and family allowed me to blossom, take risks, develop some social skills, and feel accepted.

The first day I tried to register for nine classes, though we only had an eight-period schedule (Two were semester classes). Wisely the principal wouldn’t let me. I really loved going to school every day.

Don Makes the News

When Don was in the fifth grade he had to go to the Cleveland Clinic to have a hole the size of a half dollar in his heart sewn up. This was one of the earlieDon car 1955st open heart surgeries on children, and garnered a lot of attention in the local newspaper.

Mom overcame a tremendous fear of flying to take Don on an airplane from Lima to Cleveland. (Good luck finding that direct flight these days!) Several local organizations collaborated to solicit about 30 blood donors, who traveled by bus to Cleveland the day of the surgery. At that time, blood donors had to be at the hospital in the room next to the patient. It was no small sacrifice for all these volunteers.

The surgery was a tremendous success, and Don was fairly soon back riding his bike, climbing trees, and pursuing a pretty normal childhood. I think he missed about the last six weeks of school that year. I don’t recall him complaining a whole lot about it.

In later years, I think that experience encouraged me to become a regular blood donor. I just completed my 60th donation. As my blood is  O-negative,  the universal type, the nurses tell me it usually goes to babies or on EMS vehicles, as the responders can use it with anyone. I think donating blood is one of the most rewarding and satisfying things I do. I miss it when we travel to places like Costa Rica which disqualifies me from giving for a full year.

In one other interesting way, donating blood has been rewarding. Several years ago, Jan received a call from the Red Cross announcing I had won an iPad. She skeptically responded, “Yeah, what’s the catch.” The caller finally convinced her to take his number and have me return the call. It was legitimate, a totally random drawing. I got my photo in the newspaper and an electronic device I probably never would have bought, and to which I am now totally addicted.

Junior High School Survival

Transition from elementary school to Central Junior High was somewhat intimidating. I was a confirmed introvert. I had a small circle of friends, and joined several clubs. There were 100s of students, some pretty rough. Schoolyard fights were not uncommon. I remember one when José, clobbered the star football player, without receiving a scratch. It was quickly broken up by teachers, who ushered the winner off for due punishment.

A few months later, I got involved with the YMCA and got to know José pretty well. He was always very nice to me. Later he became the Golden Gloves Champion of Lima.

One odd thing about the YMCA: they required boys to swim nude in their pools. Supposedly, for sanitary reasons. Everyone did, and I don’t recall seeing anything kinky. I was always swimming with groups of my friends. It really was the national policy, and many schools did the same until the 1960s.

Discipline

Some long for the “good old days” when teachers ruled with an iron fist. Not me! Remember the book, Up the Down Staircase? There really was such a thing at Central Junior High School! I once witnessed the female dean of students grabbing a boy at the top of the wrong staircase and angrily tossing him head over heels down the entire staircase.

In the seventh grade my math teacher, Miss Whitley, taught the entire class – from the first day to the last – with a piece of chalk in one and a paddle in the other. It was used routinely.

She collected paddles! Had a variety of them of all shapes and sizes hanging from the walls. My agenda was survival!

A big part of every class involved board work (could be “bored” work), where we took turns standing at the chalkboard, and working on assigned problems. Miss Whitley would stroll along the lines of calculating students, and monitor accuracy and honesty. Roaming eyes would be met with a quite flick of the wrist on the offenders butt. I may have erred on many math problems, but escaped the paddling. It kind of ruined my taste for math for a while.

Study Hall

I had a close call in the eighth grade. We had a huge study hall, corralling at least 100 students, anchored in long rows in the old wooden desks with flip-up seats attached to the desks behind. All desks had ink well holes (No, we didn’t use them). Teachers in charge of study hall were never in a good mood. The man in charge of this one had a short fuse. First week, I saw him sneak up behind a misbehaving guy, and grab him by the hair (The “hoods” all had long hair. Elvis was in!). He whipped the guy’s head back cracking it on the next student’s desk!

They arranged us alphabetically, so I sat behind Nancy Nieschwander. She was a cute girl, and I had no ill feelings toward her. But one day, as we were assembling, I did something rather stupid. I stuck my foot under the desk, and caught the back edge of her seat, which was in the down position. Unfortunately, my timing was perfect. And as she started to sit, I flipped her seat up – resulting in her butt hitting the floor with a thud. I was horrified. But she was quick and pulled her seat down with my foot still in the crack, bringing me up over the top of my desk. Fearing the hall monitor’s whiplash treatment, I did the only sensible thing: beg for mercy! Fortunately, the evil monitor was busy at the far end and didn’t notice my inappropriate behavior. Close one!

I had another close call in the ninth grade though. [What does it say that my most vivid junior high memories involve paddles?] I had a really good algebra teacher, Mrs. Amstutz, who rekindled some interest in math. She was also my homeroom teacher, very kind, and consistently encouraged me. I think she kind of liked me.

There are rules though! And one was no talking during homeroom, occasionally enforced with the ubiquitous paddle. (She only had one but at least kept it in a drawer). Just after the bell rang, I turned to ask the student behind me if I could borrow a pencil. Mrs. Amstutz, who was working at her desk, looked up as she snapped, “Who’s talking?” Oops, time to lose my paddle virginity!

She ordered, “Ron, out in the hall, now!” I knew I wasn’t getting away with timeout this time. She grabbed her paddle from the drawer, and marched to the hall behind me, slamming the door. As I braced for the worst, she lowered her paddle, smiled a bit, and whispered, “Relax. I’m not going to paddle you, but I can’t let those hoods think I’d let you get away with something.” She drew the paddle back and cracked it on her calf a couple times, and nodded for me to return to the classroom. She followed me back in with a scowl, briskly returned the paddle to the desk, and slammed it shut. We had a special bond for the rest of the year. She would be high on my list of my five most influential teachers.

[Confession: It is only fair that I admit that I remember these stories so vividly because I retold them 100s of times in my academic role training 1000s of teachers and counselors.  But I think I got their attention, and hopefully my experiences helped their students have a more pleasant learning environment.]

Bookstore Memories

Mr. Dennison owned a small used book store across the street from the junior high school. I was fascinated with history, particularly the U.S. Presidents. (By the time I was in the third grade, I impressed adults by naming all the U.S. Presidents in sequence. It was a lot easier in those days!)

I started dropping by the bookshop after school to browse his collection, and even bought a couple books. I loved the smell and aura of a room of old books. We would chat about different historical events and the presidents. Experiencing an adult show genuine interest in what I had to say was both novel and satisfying. Then he began saving special books for me. He inscribed each one with his name. I devoured and treasured those books..

Wouldn’t it have been special if I had found him years later and let him know what an impact he had by his small compassionate gestures!

A Missed Career

As I neared the end of the ninth grade, I began to ponder what I wanted to do in high school. Lima Senior High School was fairly new, and had a broad curriculum with many academic and vocational tracks. I was planning to enter their Printing Program.

Why printing? I guess it is connected to the book attraction. Everything about the printed word fascinated me – including the process of how it was done. As a kid, I printed calling cards on little rubber printing presses, even bought a couple used mimeograph machines. There were a couple printing shops near the junior high school. I began dropping by to watch. Their small presses fascinated me. The workers tolerated me, answered my questions, and gave me all sizes of paper cuttings.

I was fascinated by our neighbor, Ray Moore’s, sign making. He even gave me some old calligraphy pins. I thought printing might be an enjoyable career path. That changed in June when my parents announced we were moving from Lima. As we packed, I had totally unaware of how much my life was about to change!

An Open Home

After we moved into our first house, I can recall few times when someone wasn’t staying with us. Sometimes they were kin, sometimes people I hardly knew. When Uncle Jim Bishop had polio in the 1950s Lorene and the kids stayed with us for weeks. I remember different charities delivering loads of toys or clothes for them. Mom loved having people around. We only had three bedrooms at that time, but we all slept somewhere.

Around 1957, Mom’s brother, Harold Westbrook, broke his leg and it became too difficult for my great-grandmother, Lula Ritter, to handle; so Mom invited him to come stay with us. He had three horses, and offered to bring one if my folks could find a place to keep it. Of course, Don and I thought it was a done-deal. Bring it on! We had visions of a corral in our back yard (probably about 70×50 feet at best). We were disappointed about the lost opportunity, but enthusiastically welcomed Uncle Harold to come live with us.

Most immediately, it meant expanding our tiny four-room house. Dad and Harold added a bedroom and an utility/TV room. Don & I continued to share our bunk bed, though he frequently ended up in Uncle Harold’s bed.

Shortly after Uncle Harold came to Ohio to live with us, he laid down on the floor and let Don and I shave him. We were using a regular safety razor and had nicked up his face pretty bad by the time were done. He didn’t complain a bit; in fact he seemed to rather enjoy the experience.

Uncle Harold and Dad bought a dump truck together. They hired a driver to haul stones, dirt and asphalt for small, contracted jobs. Whenever he was unemployed, Dad drove the truck. They split the income into thirds, with the driver getting a third, a third covering expenses, with Harold & Dad splitting the remainder. My first experience driving was in that dump truck out at the Bishop’s farm.

When Don or I were sitting in his chair, Harold would say, “Trade places with me, boy.” Of Harold Westbrook 1957course, he was standing, so it didn’t sound like a very attractive proposition. He also introduced us to pizza. When he brought our first one home, and Mom put a piece on my plate, I quickly shoved it across the table, spurting, “I don’t want any of those goose-gut goodies.” It looked pretty gross to me at the time.

Uncle Harold quickly found work at Fritchie Asphalt & Paving Co., and soon became a supervisor. We loved riding on graders or rollers with him. I can still smell the kerosene scent of his pick-up. Sometimes Don or I would make the evening rounds with him, as he had to light the lanterns at their construction sites. One job benefit was our street got plowed early after snowstorms.

Uncle Harold bought four baseball mitts, for himself, Dad, Don and me. That seemed really special at the time. New toys were pretty rare, usually only at Christmas and birthdays. Harold was a large man, approximately 6’ 5” and over 400 pounds. When he died they had to order a special oversize casket. Don and I shared may fond memories of the time Uncle Harold lived with us.

When tragedy happened, Mom was at her best, and not just for the short-haul. My cousins Bruce Partin & Penny Partin stayed with us for many months. Others regularly came and went. When Jan’s father was invited to spend nine months at Harvard on a sabbatical from Gulf Oil, his Mom, Cora Davis, went to live in a nursing home. A couple months later, on the way to the Outer Banks, we stopped to visit her. She was so miserable, alone with no one to visit her. I immediately called Mom and asked her if she would be interested in taking in grandma. I was not the least bit surprised when Mom said, “Sure, bring her.” We stopped on the way back to Ohio and picked up Grandma Davis.Cora Davis, Matt & Brett

Grandma Davis loved baseball, and Jan has many fond memories of watching the Pittsburgh Pirates with her grandmother on the television. Cora was frail and small, but mentally very sharp. The doctor suggested she would benefit from drinking one beer each day. My mother typically didn’t tolerate booze in the house, but grandma’s “medicinal” beer was an exception.

Cora Davis had worked as a seamstress in earlier years, as had my mother. When arthritis gnarled her hands, she covered many wire clothes hangers with yarn and gave them as gifts. We still have many of those hanging in our closets.

She lived with my parents for about a year, until Mom was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and Grandma Davis went to live with her sister Dolpha White in Kansas. (We did take the boys to Kansas to visit her the following summer.)

When I called Dr. Kidd to ask about Mom’s condition, he said it was pretty bad and there wasn’t much they could do. Maybe she had six months to live. I made some calls and we made an appointment at the Henry Ford Hospital in Ann Arbor. That doctor said, “We can operate.” They did, and she lost her voice for about six months, and could only whisper. She fully recovered and lived a couple more decades. A resilient woman, she was!

Mom’s open-house policy continued through the rest of her life. When Dad’s mother, Ida Extine, became extremely ill and had to have a leg amputated, she moved in with Mom & Dad. She stayed in a hospital bed in the dining room until she died many months later.