"Rowing, Rowing, up to the post office," my father’s Christmas letter read, addressed to "Dear Jimson." The words recalled some happy times for both of us the previous summer.
My Pittsburgh family had rented a cottage at Buckeye Lake, some 25 miles east of Columbus, Ohio, for two weeks. It was 1925, and I was eleven years old. It was the first stay at a resort area I had ever had. During the planning I was very excited. I drew imaginative pictures of the trip in comic paper style, a series of boxes.
The day finally came, but it was dark and pouring rain when we arrived. I was exhausted from the long trip and the late hour. I think I was crying as I was led up to bed on the second floor of the cottage. It was not the wonderful place I had imagined.
I awakened the next morning to the roar of high-speed motor boats I looked out the window at a brilliant day, the sunshine glistening off the lake. I could see my father and my Uncle Herb Waddell together in a row boat. This further warmed my already excited heart, for this meant that an estrangement between the two brothers-in-law was lifted, at least temporarily. I was very fond of Herb, who stayed only for the one day. The rest of the vacation party consisted, in addition to my father and me, of my grandmother, my Aunts Cora, Ellie, Catherine Waddell, and Sarah Breathour and her husband Bill; also Catharine’s two daughters, Ruth 4 and baby Dolores.
Buckeye Lake was a resort area with amusements, including a roller coaster, a dance pavilion out over the water, and a large number of cottages or summer houses to rent. It was an artificial lake created by a dam at one end. It was ten miles long and averaged about one mile across. It was heaven to an eleven-year-old boy.
Bill Breathour was an avid fisherman, and I would sometimes go with him at the crack of dawn out onto the lake in the rowboat that went with the cottage. I caught my first fish, about a two-pound catfish. But mostly I found the beautiful colors of the breaking day, reflected on the water, a new and romantic experience.
My father and I would take the boat each day and row , sometimes through pretty choppy waters, to the commercial area to get the mail. I usually did the rowing while he, in the back seat, called out "bear right, bear left" to keep me on track. Being trusted to row the boat made me happy. The commercial area had lots of games of chance, with Kewpie dolls and a whole array of shoddy merchandise as prizes. There was a penny arcade and games of skill. I once won a small suitcase, about as cheap a piece of luggage as you can image. At night one could hear the music from the distant dance hall coming across the water.
There were other trips to Buckeye Lake during the middle 20s. When I was 13, I went with Catherine and Herb, my cousins Ruth and Dolores, and my grandmother. I had just learned to swim and so had Herb, so we enjoyed showing each other our progress.
And then there was a trip when the family was there and I was 22. I hitchhiked to the lake from Roanoke. One night I went to the dance hall and there I met Kay Brown. It was the beginning of a two-year romance. But that is another story.
Pat and I have camped at Buckeye Lake twice during our travels and genealogical searches. I found everything much changed after half a century. It was no longer a resort area, but rather a setting for vacation and permanent homes. The roller coaster is long gone, as is the old commercial area, the dance hall, and nearly everything I remembered. Concrete in the former amusement area was cracked and crumbling. I walked around trying to remember how it looked. Somehow it was kind of sad.