Define Family: Is It Blood Or Is It Loyalty? South Amherst, Ohio

I’m from small town America, in the true sense. And I graduated from a country school…literally…in the middle of a corn field. We even had tractor day…still do. That’s where you drive your tractor to school . Generally this was and is led by FFA. Future Farmers of America, which is a credit class offered by the school.

As a kid, it was next to impossible to just go ‘next door’ and find a friend to play with. It more or less required a phone call, a scheduled play date…and even if your buddy lived three houses away….that could be several miles down the road.

21272573_1653373171363790_5384306685006980464_n

My daughter on a morning hike.

And yet even tasked with such a feat as getting to the nearest house, there was a unity. A mindset, if you will. One where given that we were all out in the middle of nowhere….it was common sense, to help thy neighbor.

Many years ago, Firelands (my district), merged with South Amherst (the neighboring district). And we became one unit. To give you an idea of how Firelands is set up, it’s one of the largest districts in the state, with the smallest amount of students. It covers over 100 square miles. But given that it’s farm country, it’s so spaced out, it brings the actual student ratio way down.

And one thing that comes with all those fields, open space, the  occasional deer carcass  and …well….that ‘fresh’ country air…is a sense of family. Blood doesn’t even have to be part of the equation. It’s the common ground that unites people.

My dad is originally from West Virginia and my mother is from a neighboring small town in the area. Neither one has ever had an itch to live in the city. Dad grew crops and he was an electrician by trade, until he retired. He was a graduate of the South Amherst District long before the merger.  My mother worked at that country school I just mentioned. She was the counselor. They both retired a few years back. My Aunt and Uncle, live right smack in the heart of it all as well.

And way back when, I didn’t really notice what was going on around me. I was caught up in trying to find a car to get me ten miles down the road to my friends house….or a tractor…either would do. Or even Cinnamon…{that blasted batty horse that would run you straight out onto the road and under branch, just to get back to the hay}. But outside  my own little teenage thoughts, I drew a blank. I failed to notice the quiet, but insanely strong  heartbeat that echoed all around me.

Smack in the heart of South Amherst, there are two pubs. They’re directly across the street from each other. Train Wreck Tavern and Whiskeyville Still & Grill (formerly Wiley’s)…..or “The Hatfields and the McCoys”…no seriously.

hatfields_and_mccoys.jpg

 

The funny thing is, while there’s always been a competition….there really isn’t…and there is….I know…weird. These aren’t your ordinary pubs. In some towns, there’s so many bars and restaurants, you’ll never see the same face twice. That might be good for a night of bar hopping, but there’s no real unity to it.

In South Amherst, these two bars...are it. There’s a couple further out into the country, still within the district and but part of the original Firelands prior to the merger. Crossroads and Czech Point; but they’re not lined up like the other two are. However, they have the same heart. When I tell you there was a tractor parked at Crossroads last month, I mean there was big fricken tractor…parked out front. And while those pubs require a further drive, the locals are more then willing to make the trek, pull up a stool and catch up on old times.   When the folks  come in to Whiskeyville and TrainWreck, they park at one and walk back and forth. As a result, there’s always been competition. And of course…..the occasional prank.

(Although…the lawn chair and work boots on the roof of Train Wreck last week…well….that was done by one of the locals….I have it narrowed down to one of two…and both have a heart of gold, a never ending supply of laughs and would give you the shirt off their backs. But they’re ornery as hell!

In a place where people are so far apart, the local pubs serve as a gathering  place. To catch up, help each other out, talk about Riddler’s baby soft fricken hair (how does he get it like that?!?!) and to share both sorrow and joy. It doesn’t seem to matter what may be going on in their own personal lives….in that momenttime stands still…they will set it all aside to be a source of comfort for friend in need. If someone had a bad day, the whole pub rallies around them. If someone needs shelter…they provide it. If someone needs a ride? It doesn’t matter if the driver’s going the opposite direction, they’ll get’em home.

I’ve seen both tears and laughter emerge on any given day. Mostly …..laughter. These are people who work their fingers to the bone. They bust their ass  and they don’t quit until the job is done. The pub floors during happy hour, typically have remnants of drywall, sawdust, roofing material, dirt and sweat. It’s blue collar America through and through. Many are Ford workers, who believe ‘Made in America’ truly means something.  These aren’t people who are looking for a free ride. These are folks who know the meaning of ‘blood, sweat and tears’.

And this is so much so…..that these folks make it a damn POINT…to go to BOTH pubs…..EACH AND EVERY TIME! Why? Loyalty to all the pub workers and friends on each side of coin. I’ve seen it time and time again. “ok….I’ll be back….gotta run across the street….don’t want the barmaid to think I forgot about her”. But they actually mean EXACTLY that, when they say it. It’s not a joke! 

At Train Wreck there’s a lovely barmaid the regulars call mom. She’s a shoulder to cry on when you need one. She watches out for basically….everyone.  A few times, the barmaids have switched bars. Like the one at Whiskeyville now, used to be across the street at Train Wreck. And whenever there’s a Poker Run, both bars are on the list.

And of course…..whenever there’s a feud ….both bars are involved. Now mind you…by feud…I mean the good old fashioned kind. The kind where folks are alive and shaking hands the next day. These men aren’t cowards. Cowards fight with guns and knifes. These folks…prefer hilarious pranks and ok…the occasional ‘duke it out’ match in the parking lot. Followed by an instant replay of the cameras the next day…just for another round of laughs. And in all honestly, it’s probably one of the safest places to hang out…anywhere! Hell, if you set your wallet on the counter at either pub and walk outside…it’s got a pub full of honest townsfolk keeping an eye on it. If you set your cell phone down though…that’s a different story. You’ll get home and find a ton of ridiculous photos in your gallery. I’m not saying that happened to Jason last week…cuz I didn’t see anything…. (Bob).  But hey…at least you’ll have something for Instagram.

There was that time that one of Whiskeyville’s barmaids took off for a few days and decided to leave her jeep in the parking lot. Of course nothing was stolen, but the guys had a grand ole time filling her car with their empty Budweiser cans while she was away. Yeah…we all know who did it….but it’s like Vegas round these parts….Brad. Actually, I think they were considering renting out the jeep as a motel for a couple days there…but that’s another story entirely.  AND EVERYONE…I mean EVERYONE knows your name. It’s like “CHEERS”….but country style….times two.

Whiskeyville is the larger of the two pubs. It has two bars, a catering hall and they serve  food. Both Whiskeyville and Train Wreck,  have outdoor patios/decks. And Whiskeyville holds a Sunday liquor license. Since the bar has recently come under new ownership, it’s getting a remodel. So they’ve added games, slots etc…while keeping the old town feel.

TrainWreck is the smaller of the two, but it has a cozy atmosphere. They also serve food and just like Whiskeyville, run  decent beer prices. Both bars have a jukebox and have live musicians etc…

Of course, both pubs have the some of the best people I’ve ever met…ready to greet you with a smile. And one thing they both have in common, besides the amazingly strong group of people that frequent them….is the revenue they have the capacity, to draw to the town. And if there is one thing the townsfolk love above all else….it’s their kids. That’s everywhere…in the heart of us all.

South Amherst Middle School sits about a half mile down the road from the pubs. And while the merger with Firelands was able to keep South Amherst school district afloat, the school buildings themselves are in serious need of repair. The South Amherst building literally has holes in the floor.

“You drive by at 35 or 40 mph, it looks fine,” he said during a tour of South Amherst Middle School, 152 W. Main St. “Come inside and I can show you a couple of things.”

Von Gunten praised school custodians for their upkeep of the 81,210-square-foot middle school built in 1910, but said it’s falling apart. The school was grandfathered in to meet fire codes, but lacks a sprinkler system and smoke detectors.

Some windows don’t open or easily stick and the building lacks air conditioning, leaving students broiling on hot days. The second floor is creaky and the hallway is too narrow for the 420 students at the school.

The cafeteria kitchen is clean, but it stank Thursday from raw sewage leaking out of rusty old pipes. Von Gunten said water in the pipes over the weekend comes out discolored from the rust. He said tests show it’s safe to drink, “but I would argue otherwise.”

Von Gunten said the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission in 2006 determined renovation wasn’t cost-effective. It said renovation would cost about $13.2 million, and replacement would cost $18.7 million.

The commission made the same determination about Firelands High School, 10643 Vermilon Road, Henrietta Township. It said the 91,400-square-foot school, built in 1954, would cost nearly $16.4 million to renovate. The school, which houses about 600 students, would cost $22.3 million to replace.

“We’re talking about buildings that are pretty much at the end of their useful life,” School Treasurer Brad McCracken told about a dozen residents who took part in the tour. “We’re struggling with the middle school and the high school.”

Von Gunten said the high school would probably be demolished. He said asbestos in the middle school would be abated and school officials would discuss with South Amherst officials whether to occupy it or raze it.

http://www.chroniclet.com/education/2015/10/30/Old-Firelands-school-buildings-falling-apart.html

 

In this village, lies the answer.

A while back, Amherst had the same problem. For those who don’t know…Amherst borders South Amherst, but they are not part of the same district.

Amherst wouldn’t approve of a merger with South Amherst way back when, so Firelands agreed to do it. (That’s that beating heart I was telling you about earlier….) And when Amherst couldn’t pull the revenue from the voters for things in need of repair,  they found it another way. They may not realize it, but they did. The Park Ave strip brings in thousands of dollars of revenue daily. And the revenue from the strip, was instrumental in restoring the city to it’s former glory. So while on multiple occasions, levy’s were voted down…the people paid regardless, just by going out and having a good time.  They paid into their own town businesses,  thereby returning money to the town.

The same idea holds true for the pubs in South Amherst. While the competition and feuds come and go….the people are a constant. They’re a given and the life’s blood of both pubs. Just like Amherst was able to do, South Amherst has the building blocks to do the same. The owners of both pubs, could in all reality, join together and create something incredible. And just like Amherst was able to do with their yearly ‘Dancing In the Street’ event, South Amherst could potentially bring in a massive revenue, by simply working together and paying back into their own town. They have the main ingredient at their disposal….the hearts and minds of some of the best people you’d ever meet….(yes…even the crazy ones….Clow…cough, cough…Seth…excuse me…had to clear my throat…lovable bastards)…in spades! 

And I use the pubs as the catalyst for the revenue, because quite simply….it’s where people gather. And I’d tack the gas station smack in the middle of town in there….if they ever actually had gas! (Could someone tell them to actually put gas…in the ground….so that fuel….can actually be pumped into the vehicles past say…3pm? ….yeah…that’d be great.) And there’s the town pizza parlor, the Karate Studio, Piggy’s and a few other places scattered throughout downtown. Of course further out, you hit all the produce stands. Homegrown and priced just right.

Over the past few months, I’ve met some extraordinary human beings. What started out as  just another simple chapter in a book….became so much more. I’ve seen true unbreakable bonds…..Sisters at heart….Faye and Sharon.  Shattered stereotypesWayne Strength through great sorrowT-Bone. A gentle soul beneath a father’s voice...Frank.  Dedication through charitable work (Don’t let him catch you throwing out those beer tabs. Those are funding Ronald McDonald House.) ….Gallagher. CommitmentLarry. Courage in the face of the unknown….Ray.  That ornery smile at just the right time...Mark……and so many more.

If just a handful, can radiate that much compassion…what can the voices of many accomplish?

It’s time pull up our big boy panties, pull together and get’er done. And….if someone could stop throwing rolls of paper towels in the toilets …yeah…that’d be great. And where are the rest of the lawn chairs from Whiskeyville?!?! Do I even want to know?

 

Advertisements