Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Along the road to Detroit--Defiance, OH

(At the end of the post you can click on a link to view the slide show)

Everybody's so different, 
I haven't changed.
Joe Walsh, lyrics from Life's Been Good

Defiance is about an hour upriver from Toledo, about the same distance downriver from Ft. Wayne. It is in an area, in northwest Ohio, which played an important role in the early growth of this country. I knew nothing of that history when I went to live there in October 1965. The town’s existence then, as it has remained, was primarily due to a large General Motors foundry. Coming from rural WV, I was impressed with the wealth, the dark turquoise color of the new Plymouth police cars and, what was presented to me as fact, that a tornado would never land in Defiance because it was at the confluence of two rivers, which created a special magnetic force.  Fortunately, in spite of my hillbilly twang, I was able to blend in each time I returned to go to school there. I moved away after sixth grade, came back for the last couple months of seventh. Moved away again, came back for last couple months of eighth. Moved away again, came back as a freshman and stayed through graduation.

I have lived in lots of places, but Defiance is my hometown, primarily because it is where I found stability in family life and schools. It is where I attended my first two years of college, met the perfect girl for me and got married, and visited nearly every year for over forty-five years.

This is not a story about growing up, or coming of age, rather it is a tale of realization, a lament of sorts. I was there recently and, much like those days of October 1965, the weather was the same tease, chilly and misty one day, sunny and sixty the next. The town has changed. I suppose it has remained true to that great ‘50s and ‘60s word that so many places in America promised to be, “Progressive.” The population is roughly the same, but Defiance has grown in boundary and business and has done so through homegrown talent. For all that, I am proud of the place.

Throughout the decades of visits, I continued to view the changing of the town and the people I know as just that—everything seemed to be changing but me. Physically I  was changing, that I understood, but mentally I was the same old Steve, the same kid, student, quick-witted guy of satire and fun, but others were growing older and leaving behind all the things that needed unpacked for the journey forward. Events and happenings from the ‘60s and ‘70s that were shared and remembered with good laughter only twenty years ago are now remembered with, “I don’t really remember that. I am glad you can!” My lament is more than someone forgetting a minor incident; it is the look in the person’s eyes. It’s the very slight squint and glance downward, followed by a nearly unnoticeable shake of the head, as they can’t recall. Then they give the “Do I know you?” look, the one that’s almost always a conversation killer. “Hey, been really great to see you again!” What can I say other than, “Same here. Hopefully we can talk again before ten or twenty years or more fly by.”

So, forty six years and one month after I arrived, I have finally left. Not forever gone, not completely-washing-my-hands-of-the-place gone, but gone from the youthful spirit that kept me attached so closely. I finally realize that I was little more than a passerby, like Tecumseh, Pontiac, General Anthony Wayne, travelers on the Miami and Erie Canal or the huckster who came in the wagon and sold elixirs and liniments.

Like many, I chose to leave, not knowing that each day would make “the good old days” a little more remote, always thinking that the life I had there would never end and having no idea that in actuality it might become the life that never really was. The combination of gray days and age, along with midnight streets and empty benches, has a way of getting a person to set his calendar to the proper year. During my last day there I thought about my visit and did not want to go home and wrap up any writing with the old clich√© You can never go home again, so I picked up some stones at the new reservoir, held each one and thought about special times before heaving it into the water. The stones sank and will be there for ages; the memories will fade with me.
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  1. Steve:
    Going back like this with the narrative and photos, you get the mood just right. Last time I was there, I stoped in Magg's Cafe for their hot beef sandwhiches. They still make them, but the place wasn't the same. It felt a bit like the attick of an old house.

  2. Steve, I so enjoyed reading this expressive story. I left Defiance in 1998 and have not been back. I know when I do return it will be exactly like you have described in your story. Thank you for writing this memoir.