Ohio Summers And a Sense Of Belonging

There is nothing like summer in the Ohio Valley. Corn on the cob, watermelon and garden tomatoes warmed by the sun. Evenings by the fire roasting marshmallows for s’mores and watching the mesmerizing blinks of lightning bugs to a droning soundtrack of dog-day cicadas. Refreshing dips in your favorite watering hole on blazing hot days. Community festivals, county fairs and weekly concerts by local musicians in the most picturesque parts of towns up and down the river and beyond in the hills and hollers.

As I mentioned in last week’s column, when I was in middle school and high school I lived in Florida, but I would spend a week or two in Belmont County each summer visiting my dad. Although there were days that rivaled Florida in the humidity department, the cool mornings and evenings and the glorious sticky-free days were intoxicating to me. I spent 50 weeks a year in the Sunshine State but dreamed of Ohio ceaselessly.

So, other than the low dew point, why was I so obsessed? My Florida friends often asked me this question, weary of my whining and pining. Most of them had grown up in Florida, although they were born in various northern states. They’d never seen snow and never walked painlessly barefoot through soft grass devoid of fire ants and sand spurs. I tried to describe the grass — lying down in it, picnicking on it, rolling down hills padded with it. They just didn’t understand.

Florida, of course, has many wonderful qualities. For adults who have slogged through decades of cold, dirty winters, Florida is paradise. No cinders, no salt, no slush, no ice, no shoveling, no potholes, no heavy coats. I get that. It’s way less hassle. Florida summers, though, are as inhospitable as Ohio Valley winters, what with the heat index, mosquitoes the size of raptors and daily afternoon lightning onslaughts, among other inconveniences.

But as I continue to reminisce about my adolescence, I am grateful to have spent my formative years in a place with considerable racial, ethnic and cultural diversity, at least compared to our little neck of the woods here. It was normal for me to see people from many backgrounds and walks of life in close proximity every day, and I learned our country is big enough for all of us.

I also feel incredibly fortunate to have lived in a city — Dunedin — that takes its Scottish heritage so seriously that it has a bagpipe program in its public schools. I learned at age 12 to play the pipes from a premier professional piper by way of Scotland and Canada, for free. I will say requiring kids to wear the traditional Scottish wool band uniforms for August and September football games was nuts, but you know what they say about any hardship that adults force kids to endure: It builds character.

Nothing can convince me, though, that I don’t belong in Belmont County, Ohio. My roots here go back six or seven generations, with my dad’s side of my family settling in this frontier country in the 1700s. (My mom’s people came in the 1800s, I believe, but I’m not positive.) There’s a tiny cemetery in Goshen Township where my great-great-great-great grandparents are buried. I recently played pipes at a funeral in Rock Hill Cemetery in Flushing, and paid tribute at the graves of my great-great grandparents.

I didn’t know when I was a kid in Florida that I had such deep roots in Ohio. I just knew that whenever I was here, I felt I belonged. I’m grateful that I am rooted in this beautiful part of the world that my ancestors chose more than two enturies ago.

I know my daughter may not feel the same way I do, and that one day she may find her sense of belonging in another part of the country or world. Many of our children and grandchildren do, it seems. But I do hope she will always feel at home in the Ohio Valley.

Betsy Bethel is the Life editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register and the editor of OV Parent magazine. She can be reached at bbethel@theintelligencer.net.

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