Going Back to Sandusky
A few weeks ago I was feeling nostalgic. My thoughts often turn nostalgic when I’m feeling down: I become pensive and sometimes restless. When things aren’t going well, my thoughts turn inward; I become reclusive and I often find myself lost in a maze of thoughts and memories – all weaved into a patchwork quilt of introspection. That quilt becomes a source of solace and comfort; I love to curl up in it and drift off and drift back to happier times. It is not logical, but it is very often true.
It was in one of these pensive, nostalgic moods, that I drove to Sandusky, to spend time touching – if not trying to relive – the halcyon days of my youth. I, wrapped in my comforting quilt, went to look for innocence lost and to reinvigorate memories that time had faded. I’ve often been told you can’t recapture moments that have melted into time, but sometimes you must learn things for yourself. I love to learn, so I got into my car and started the journey to recapture old memories, and if I could, relive them.
Perhaps, even more, I wanted to see if I could find some of the seeds of my dreams.
I should have seen the portents of what was to come when I arrived in Sandusky only to find many of the things I remembered changed or simply gone. As I drove around town looking for a place to park my car, I noticed much of the town was not what I remembered from my youth. It was like being in Anytown, anywhere. But I had driven all the way here, alone and yearning, and I wasn’t going to be deterred by these initial disappointments.
I parked my car on Washington Row. It’s a street called a row. I don’t know any other town that has a street called a row, and I felt a pleasurable memory tugging at me. “At least they haven’t changed the name of Washington Row to something else”, I mused. Sighing and mumbling to myself. Luckily, there was no one nearby.
I took a walk through Washington Park which, to my surprise, did look very much as I remembered it. There was the “famous” fountain with the statue of the “Boy and the Boot” standing proudly in the center of it, perched high on its limestone pedestal. The water shot up and fell down, cascading over the statue; tiny rainbows danced and disappeared. I don’t have any idea how long I sat there listening to the splashing fountain mesmerized by miniature iridescent, evanescent rainbows. I was lost in another place in time, at once imprisoned and freed by my memories
After some time had passed – and I can’t tell you how much because time was of no importance – I got up and starting walking through the park. There was the lighthouse made of growing things standing where it had always stood. Though it was made of growing things, the lighthouse did have a light at the top surrounded by glass cut perfectly by some craftsman of a bygone era. It looked exactly as I remembered it. The lighthouse stood on top of a mound of earth covered with growing things and several kinds of flowers all which appeared to be budding but not yet blooming. In the center of the mound was today’s date, spelled out in growing things of a contrasting color. I remembered this. But the date said 2019, not 1979. I was much older and wiser now. I was older today than when I last looked at this strange, lonely but beautiful lighthouse, that was for certain but was I wiser? I thought about that and wondered.
There were banana trees growing oddly in Ohio. When I was a kid, I don’t remember the eccentricity of banana trees going in Ohio having much of an effect on me. But today, it did. How odd that someone would plant banana trees in a park in Sandusky, Ohio, not for fruit but for decoration. Banana trees are lovely. I remember when I was a kid, I had never seen a real palm tree, and the banana trees looked similar to the palms I had seen on TV and in magazines. I stood before a banana tree for what seemed to be an eternity to a little boy and thinking about the people who took the time to grow, care for and plant these banana trees in a park in Sandusky, Ohio. I wondered how many people really appreciated their efforts, or if anyone but me ever thought about the oddity of banana trees growing in Northern Ohio.
I walked along admiring — and appreciating — the beautifully manicured park with all its resplendent flowers and verdancy. As I walked along, I saw a bronze plaque affixed to a pole that brought the plaque up to a height where most adults could read it easily. I read the plaque and remember being a small boy and looking up, straining to see this very same plaque. I don’t even know if I read it – or even if I was even able to read it. It doesn’t matter. I remember it and that’s all that matters.
I read the plaque and its words haunted me: “Sandusky was named for the Wyandot Indian word Sahun Dus Kee meaning clear cold water.” There are various other explanations for the name “Sandusky” but the Wyandot Indian word seems to be the explanation that is generally accepted.
There is no clear water in Sandusky anymore, there wasn’t when I was a kid either. Man polluted it with his filth long before I was born. I walked from Washington Park to Sandusky Bay – just a few blocks away. I stood looking across the bay and I saw Johnson’s Island. It was right where it had always been, but now instead of a pristine island of trees and things growing, you could see much development had taken place. I saw condominiums ringing a new harbor.
Johnson’s Island was a mystery when I was a kid. There were rumors that it was own by the Mafia. I envisioned the Mafia meeting secretly on this tiny island and planning their next assault upon the law. I envisioned wild Mafia parties and lavish Mafia dinner affairs. All these images conjured up in the mind of a child apparently overly influenced by television and books. No one ever took me to Johnson’s Island when I was a kid. My grandfather told me it was a private island and we couldn’t go there. It may well have been then. I don’t know. I’ve been there since, but that was before the developers moved in and started plundering forests and scaring the landscape with condos shaped like boxes and concrete and steel marinas filled with rich people on yachts.
When I was there, there was nothing on Johnson’s Island but a confederate cemetery and a few houses nearly hidden in the island’s dense forests. Maybe these secluded homes were the sites of many wild Mafia parties or secret Mafia meetings? I don’t know. All I know is that Johnson’s Island is just another island now, its soul has been devoured. There is nothing mysterious about it anymore. It just sits there in the middle of the bay looking sadly ravaged and scarred.
I thought about the days when Native Americans lived and fished along the shore of Sandusky Bay. They drank the water no one would ever dare to swim in today. I am stunned by man’s stupidity. Lake Erie and its estuaries and bays were once crystal clear. Fish thrived the clear, cool water and if a person were thirsty they could drink from it.
Now the water is turbid and filthy. At times in the summer the bay smells like rotting fish. The water is so full of contaminants you can’t see your hand if it’s submerged more than a few inches under the surface.
These once clear, clean waters are now not even safe for swimming let alone drinking. I find the parallels between the Industrial Revolution and now quite astonishing. To think there was a time when man figured that The Lake and The Bay were so large that they could dump all manner of industrial and human waste into it and these once-lovely waters would simply absorb it all without consequences. I stare out across the bay and look at the greenish-brown water and feel sullen. How can humankind be so foolish, so stupid, so uncaring?
My trip back into the past was bittersweet. I decided to leave the town of my childhood and return to the present. I was at once happy that I came on this journey and saddened by it too. With mixed emotions I got back into my car and drove home, leaving my past behind me once again.
We live in an age of computers and technology that even the very best science fiction writers from my childhood could have never imagined. I am reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
We still plunder the Earth upon which we live. We still pollute its lakes and streams and oceans. We allow it all to happen for money, for jobs, for convenience. We look back at the Industrial Age and the industrialist and wonder how could they have not foreseen the devastation their carelessness caused. We think them primitive and greedy.
But nothing has really changed.