That section of it was and is a nice little street with all but two of its houses on one side, the west side, the Busek side.
We were always amused that from our home it was exactly 12 miles to New London, 12 miles to Oberlin, 12 miles to Norwalk and 12 miles to Vermilion. Of course, in those simpler times it did not take much to amuse us.
I forget who lived at the very north end of the street at the intersection of U.S. Rt. 20 and Ohio Rt. 60 when I was little.
But next to that house was John Todd’s family. John and his wife have been gone for years now.
Next to them were Elmer and Gertrude Shelton. Everybody called him Judy and her Gertie. Judy died nearly 60 years ago; Gertie passed a few decades later.
Next to the Shelton’s was an empty lot with a basement excavation that had occurred before I was born. It was all weedy and swampy. We kids and even our parents always called it “The Hole.” It was better than a park for make-believe adventures.
Kenny and Beatrice Hurst lived beside The Hole. Kenny had paid to have it excavated in the late 1940s, but did not actually build his dream home on that spot until the mid-1960s. Bea died first and Kenny passed more than 20 years ago.
We lived beside the Hursts when I was young; shared a driveway, in fact. But they were not around to mourn my parents’ passing—both of them a few months apart in 1997.
Across from Hursts and us was the charming little home of Harvey and Charlotte Horton. We did not see much of them, but they always waved. They’re deceased now, too.
I don’t know who lived in the other tiny house across from us when I was a lad, but across from that house and right next door to us were the Keiths, Bertie and Annie. More about them in a minute.
In fact, less than a minute because there was only one more house on our part of the street: Paul and Louella O’Brien at the corner of Abbott and River. They always treated me like a surrogate grandson. But they were already old nearly 70 years ago when I played in their yard. So they’re long gone now, too.
You are probably thinking that I shouldn’t be surprised that the adult neighbors from my childhood, seven decades ago, have gone to The Great Beyond.
And I am not.
The surprise is that one of them is still around. And not just any one of them, one of the very best.
Remember I was going to tell you more about the Keiths, our next door neighbors to the south for a couple of years when I was a kid?
Well, there was Bertie — quirky, funny, eccentric Bertie Keith — postmaster in Wakeman for all my growing-up years. He’s gone now, of course. But before he checked out, he solved the Banzee Island jigsaw puzzle that I had published as a challenge to my readers. In those days, we had more than 10,000 subscribers and Bertie was the only one who eventually assembled the diabolical puzzle. He and my dad were in the service at the same time during World War II. They were friends until the end.
And, of course, there was Bertie’s wonderful wife, Annie.
Annie is the point of this story.
You see, she’s the only one left from that street full of fine neighbors.
Ann Keith. What a sweetheart.
She lived in Wakeman for 80 years. That’s longer than most of the other residents of River Street—the O’Briens, the Hortons, the Hursts, the Sheltons, the Todds, and, yes, sadly, the Buseks — lived on earth.
Finally, in 2004 our old friend Ann Keith—who knew me as a tyke, who spent hours on the front porch with my parents in their later years, who anchored River Street when she and Bertie moved to the house on the corner next to Rt. 20—finally, in 2004 Ann Keith moved to Norwalk. She lived in a Hunter’s Glen condo for another 14 years — until last year, in fact — volunteering at Fisher-Titus for most of that time, into her 90s.
And here’s the best part: she’s still alive, and vital and doing well. She just thought that at age 94 assisted living in Vermilion might be more her speed now.
There’s something comforting in this story for me, knowing that one of the old time residents of the little village I once called home is still around.
She’s one of my favorite memories from River Street in Wakeman, Ohio.
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] hotmail.com.