Small town characters and their stories, part one

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One particular type of reading that draws me in like no other is that of old journals, letters or notes made by people of all ages, as they made their journey through life.

The glorious thing about small towns is that while some things change with the march of time, the cast of characters and the stage on which they played remain in treasured memories of those whose roots run deep.

One picture my friend Cindy pulled from the treasure trove that had been her Grandmother Sigler’s made us all laugh with shared delight.

In this photo, possibly the most memorable across all generations during a particular slice of time, Mick Smalley stands behind the counter at his ice cream parlor, ready to serve. For having owned such a happy place to gather, he seemed mighty somber, peering at children through heavy glasses, as he silently accepted their nickles and dimes, saved just for the delight of a malt or a soda. With each soul so jubilant to take a seat at his ice cream counter, one would have thought it would have rubbed off on the proprietor.

The insular world of nearly every small town in those good old days seemed to have been made up of nicknames, some treasured, some resulting from a single day which sort of branded a fellow.

A fellow who grew up in Jeromesville, Paul Carl, put in writing some of his favorite memories. Carl writes of Skunk Schweyer, who got his name when he came to school smelling of skunk “after running his trap line, and teacher sent him home.”

Perhaps the most interesting is the story of “Jake Foot” Day, who drank a concoction of Jamaica Ginger back in prohibition days and ended up with a lame foot. Now that’s a nickname of legendary proportion!

In the impressive 1924 Jeromesville School yearbook, in which handsome Paul Carl was a member of the graduating class, each senior’s picture and full name appears, followed by the nickname traditionally given. A pretty senior named Genevieve Thatcher is “Hepsy” and the creed given reads, “Anyone that doesn’t know Hep must be deaf, dumb and blind.” A boy known as “Stentz,” is described as the boy “who once was caught studying.”

Paul Carl, in written memories of his hometown: Most every boy and man in Jeromesville had a nickname … a few I can remember: Deacon Kiser, By Grab Finley, Mutt Winbigler, Sock Alleman, Pug and Pee Wee and Tater Winbigler … Derby Garn, Mugs Fridline, Pook Sharp, Splinters Wallace, Jumbo Ewing, Jake Foot Day… Peanuts Rowe, Rosy Funk, Peg Heffelfinger, Dude Strine the barber, Skunk Schweyer, and my cousin Goatmilk Funk.”

Each senior was required to write a thesis, the subject of which appears with their professional photograph. Harold “Dude” Potter, who wrote his senior thesis on “Heroes,” also carries the quip, “If it wasn’t for my studies, I would get along fine in school.”

Harriette Deane (nicknamed “Bill”) wrote her thesis on “The White Man’s Burden.” A beautiful young woman, she is described as “Quiet, reserved, a thinker not a talker.” What I wouldn’t give to be able to read each thesis, but Deane’s in particular, as it likely centered upon the Native Americans who held such a large part in Jeromesville lore.

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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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