Neighborly connections stay strong

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kitchen table

“There is no friend like an old friend who has shared our morning days, no greeting like his welcome, no homage like his praise.” 

— Oliver Wendell Holmes 

On a crisp September Sunday, my mother was welcomed into the childhood home of a neighbor from her youth. The clock of time unwound to their earliest days, a blessing like no other.

Esther Welch was Esther McDanel to my mother in their childhood, and it was on the McDanel farm that Esther, her daughters and grandson welcomed us.

Before our arrival, her daughters told Esther a mystery guest was coming. Esther asked questions to try to guess who it might be, and it didn’t take very many.

It was the question regarding the one-room schoolhouse she attended just down the road that narrowed it down for Esther: “Is it someone I knew from Pifer School?”

She then named my mother, a little girl known as “Dimples” who had lived right across from the school.

There are six years between my mother and Esther, now 87 and 93 respectively, still living independently in their own homes, each one having been married for a lifetime to successful dairy farmers.

All of my mother’s siblings have passed on; Esther was an only child.

Seeing someone from the same place and time proved a remarkable gift. Mom has always spoken so highly of Esther, who was between two of mom’s sisters in age.

“Esther was always so nice, and I just can’t wait to see her again!” Mom said many times as the day grew near.

The McDanel home and barn sits just about a half-mile from where my mother grew up, and she recalls walking with her mother to visit from time to time, including attending Esther’s grandfather’s viewing at the home upon his death.

“I seem to remember sitting on a porch …” she said, looking a bit puzzled. Esther’s daughter Karen assured mom she remembered correctly. “The porch was removed in a renovation,” Karen said, sometime in the 1950s.

Esther’s second daughter, Patricia, led us into the home, Esther welcoming my mother with open arms. The two sat down at the kitchen table and began talking in the way of old friends who enjoy shared memories.

“The best mirror is an old friend,” so the saying goes.

While they caught up, I was treated to a tour of the grand old home, incredible in its original beauty: window seats, deep walls, amazing woodwork and trim, original doors and intricate hardware, right down to the black skeleton key in lovely doorknob locks throughout the six-bedroom house.

Reminiscing their childhood, including neighbors long gone, proved good medicine.

Esther recalled going door to door with her father, seeking signatures to have Pifer School join Ashland City Schools: “Some shut the door in our face,” she recalled.

My mother recalled not being old enough to attend Pifer School with her older siblings, so she snuck across the road and joined in anyway, her mother frantically searching for her.

The school closed in the year before she would have started first grade there. My grandfather let me tag along when he was caretaker for the one-room school when it became a township house, so I could picture stories that unfolded there.

Esther recalled teachers and their stern disciplinary ways with boy classmates who did not want to be there.

Over tea and cake, we three daughters listened as our mothers caught up. Esther explained that her mother had first arrived in the McDanel home as hired help, then later married the son, Marshall, and they built their lives there.

No one presently lives in the home, but it is maintained in its original glory as a family gathering place, all the work and upkeep done by the family. The original dishware, tucked into a built-in kitchen cabinet, is still used.

Esther’s grandson Ryan Welch, who so kindly played a large role in setting this reunion in motion, showed me the bank barn on the McDanel farm, just as impressive as the home.

Architecturally sound, the interior is a joy to see with its massive beams and wide open structure. Both the house and barn are painted bright white, surrounded by lovely old trees, the property landscaped to perfection.

Listening to the two ladies so easily conversing, their connection harkens back to a time when communities lived by “love thy neighbor” in the very true and simple sense.

Even if they didn’t often sit down together, neighbors cared deeply about one another’s joys and sorrows, triumphs and tribulations.

It is a connection that runs strong through the ages. No matter how many years pass, my mother and Esther will forever be neighbor girls.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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