Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much. Those words hang above the wall that separates the living room from the dining room in the house where I was raised. They were put there by the family that bought the house when my mother came to live with us down here in the Ozarks. I’m a lucky guy. I was raised in Bedford, a small town in Northeastern Ohio, where values were always more important than money or social status.
I began writing this on a Southwest Airlines flight returning from my class reunion. Class reunion! A phrase that, for some reason seems to strike either fear, loathing, or indifference into a lot of people. They must not have grown up in Bedford, that small Ohio town, where we were raised to live well, laugh often, and love much.
My dad was a poor school teacher. He had been recruited to come to Bedford to teach world history and coach basketball. “Poor school teacher” is a phrase like “starving” artist. They seem to go together. For a while we lived in a funky rented house a couple of doors down from the old high school. But my folks wanted us to have a home of our own.
The superintendent of schools managed to find a place for us. A solitary older woman who owned the house next to hers wanted a nice family with children to own that house and made my family an unbelievable offer. It was small but if we would buy it she would carry the note herself, interest-free, and way below market value. The fact was that my folks were not looking for a house but a place to make a home. So that is where I grew up. In a small house on Washington St. in Bedford where the unpainted wood trim and wall units gave it a look all its own. Where we lived well, laughed often, and loved much…
On that block were a few other kids my age and we essentially grew up together. Little boys, Jack, Tom, Bill, and I became friends as soon as we were old enough to cross the street. Everyone in the neighborhood knew everybody else so we were free to roam at will, knowing that if we screwed up our parents would know before we got home.
Over the years I have had an opportunity to return to Bedford and I always take the opportunity to visit the old homestead. Mary, the woman who purchased it, is a wonderful lady who, in a lot of ways, reminds me of my own mother. Full of love, energy, and values. Her daughter and granddaughter filled the house with love and laughter. And to my delight, she had changed almost nothing. Aside from some furniture, rugs, and paint it still looked and felt like home.
I can still see my sister, my best friend Don, and I practicing in the living room. It was my first folk group, The Green Valley Singers. We would practice every night by the wooden staircase in the living room as we got ready for the open mic nights that were popping up all over the greater Cleveland area and La Cave which by that time had become an actual coffee house.
On our last Brewer and Shipley tour to the area, I once againtook the opportunity to visit my old home. In the living room was a small, inlaid stool. It was my father’s nightstand. I can still see his ashtray and Zippo lighter laying on it every night as I went to bed. “Where did you get that,” I asked? “It was upstairs when we moved in,” she replied. A few weeks later a box arrived at our house in the Ozarks. It was the stool that now sits next to my recliner and holds my evening refreshment. How cool is that?
On that trip, she told me the story about how she came to buy the house...the house that an old lady had sold to my parents, interest-free because she wanted our family to have it. My mom had gotten to know the lady who now owns it and her daughter who had already fallen in love with our place. When my mom finally sold the house to move down here to the Ozarks, she wanted this nice lady and her daughter to have it. She told me that my mom could have made more money on the sale because she was actually the low bidder on our family home. But my mom, like the old lady who sold it to my parents, knew that values are always more important than money.
At a recent class reunion, there were enough stories to fill a book. Bill, one of those little boys on our block, and I revisited the old neighborhood and, of course, stopped at the old homestead. The image of Bill sitting in the living room as he had done as a kid really brought life into perspective. Bill had aged a bit but the house stood there as it always had. New coats of paint, different furniture, and personal items notwithstanding, once again I was home.
So should anyone ever try to convince you that the good things you do for someone in this life don’t eventually return to you, tell them the story about how our family found a home.