Monday, February 20, 2012

Ode to the Summer of '49

Every family has one—the odd relative. My husband had a great uncle who because of seizures never worked. One day walking home from school my husband, a little boy, saw the man laid out on the lawn. He kept walking and never mentioned it to anyone, afraid his great uncle might possibly be dead.

Back then society had a way of accommodating an idiosyncratic or oddball. They were often referred to politely as sick, though the illness they suffered had nothing to do with a three-day flu. Or their behavior was shrugged off as just “their way.”

But the 40s and 50s was also the era that brought us One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest. In my book Orphan Girl I wrote about Marie James who narrated a hellish existence as a patient before escaping from an asylum in Wisconsin. I know the field of mental health has made progress since then. In the 1970s the pendulum swung the other direction. The doors to institutions were flung open and during the bleak Reagan years the majority of homeless on the streets were former patients now receiving no to little treatment. Let’s face it: there really is no good time for someone suffering from mental illness or behavior-related symptoms.

I blogged last week in “Once More to the Lake” about my parents working at the Wild Waves Motel. Well, in going through Mom and Dad’s stuff and packing things up either for the storage unit or Goodwill I found a poem penned by DeForest Ward’s brother, Uncle Willy. He lived in his own cabin at the Wild Waves motor court and contributed by helping out as a maintenance man. Drawing upon my childhood memory of Uncle Willy, I remember him as odd. A bit not of this world.

Anyway on the back of a Wild Waves restaurant placemat he wrote a poem that I’ll share here, which gives us a glimpse into what it must have been like to work summers at Wild Waves:

I take up my pencil to scribble this line,
About some people I knew in forty nine.
About the cooks and dishwashers, too,
And I don’t overlook the cornhusking crew.
The waitresses helped in the kitchen as well,
And enjoyed the summer at Wild Waves Hotel.
Helen and Sue made salads with zest.
Stella made pies as good as the best.
We will not forget Homer and Delores,
And that good food they put before us.
And you’ll remember as this you read,
Carolyn Olson whose nickname was “Swede”.
Also Joan Webb who from Circleville came.
She couldn’t be different with another name.
Nan Johnson who from Akron you know.
From Oberlin came the girl we called Jo.
From Texas were Loraine Clayton and Louise Hearn,
Who drank black coffee straight from the urn.
While Charlie Grenzebach, who buried the fishes,
And Connie, his wife, both helped with the dishes.
William lived in a cabin with Babs his wife.
He could fix anything with a screwdriver and knife.
“Jan” was a nickname for Janet Soutter.
This group wouldn’t be the same without her.
Miriam Titus, Marjorie Cupp, and Shirley Spoon,
You’d see at the table most every noon.
With the cabin girls was one named Helen,
What she’ll do next there is no tellin’.
Sarah and Ann were office girls,
Who never wore their hair in curls.
Gusta made beds and swept the rooms, too.
They looked quite nice when she got through.
Mrs. O’Donnell was forever doing her share.
She assisted the cook and cleaned the tin ware.
Nancy was hostess and the manager’s daughter,
And of all the suitors that ever sought her,
She married a lad named Hoke from the city.
That helps to complete this little ditty.
A girl named Pat was there to assist her.
On her days off they certainly missed her.
This little story would be incomplete,
And I would find myself quite indiscrete,
If I failed to mention my mother so dear.
She comes to the table each day with a smile,
Which makes you think that life’s worthwhile.
Soon this staff will go their separate ways,
And our thoughts will go back to other days.
For well we know that in September,
This summer will be but a thing to remember.
--Bill Ward

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