Toledo, OH, like many of the old Midwest manufacturing cities, has had hard times. When I lived there in the 1960s, Toledo was the “Glass Capital of the World,” still the leader, but being nibbled by less expensive imports. Owens-Illinois produced consumer glass – my grandfather would bring home boxes of brand new glasses every year. I doubt that we bought any new table glasses for years. Libby-Owens-Ford produced car glass, windows and windshields, and Owens-Corning produced fiberglass insulation for years until the company went bankrupt over lawsuits related to emphysema and other lung damage caused by manufacturing and improper use.
Willys Jeep, the ancestor to modern Jeeps, were developed and manufactured in Toledo. Champion Sparkplugs Company was owned by Toledo’s Stranahan family. DeVilbiss boxes, the Port of Toledo, passenger trains with names, long ribbons of freight trains, Great Lakes shipping, Toledo was one of the cities that made the region hum. My Godmother’s husband was part of the founding directors of Toledo University.
There are still some automotive assembly plants, and offices for Owens-Illinois. Dr. McKesson passed away years ago. Prosperity was able to run on a well-made economy, but the economy that doesn’t grow eventually dies. Plants move to be closer to labor and resources. Basic infrastructure breaks down – Toledo ran out of potable water a few years ago because of deferred maintenance, and learned the cost of such failures the hard way.
Toledo has evolved into the “Glass City,” which is apt because it still boasts a very robust collection of ancient to contemporary glass in the Toledo Art Museum. The name speaks to the material that made the city. The neighborhoods I knew as a child now have mature trees, and the roads seem narrower (they’re not,) but the trees are definitely bigger. Investment may have slowed, but it is speeding up now – roads long neglected are being reconstructed and redesigned to accommodate more traffic and improved utilities. It is comprehensive, not patchwork repairs. It will be good.
The houses I lived in as a child are still there:
My grandparents’ house on Hempstead Road. I walked to kindergarten at Ottawa Hills Schools from here. The upper right window belongs to the bedroom shared by my sister and me.
As I moved from fifth grade to high school, I lived with my mother and sister in this house:
I searched out the resting places of my Grandma and Grampa Lorenz. My sister had taken me there once, after Grandma had died. Grampa’s marker was next to Grandma and I remember being startled by that. As an adult, of course, it makes perfect sense. But it had been years since anyone visited, and I viewed this visitation as a prime objective.
My grandmother and I collected postage stamps. In those days, postage stamps were tiny history lessons. They commemorated all kinds of events – Italian unification, South American colonies that gained independence, growth of the United States from 13 colonies to 50 states, state flowers, birds, and trees, and even the act of delivering the mail. Her birthday present to me on my 10th birthday was a world globe. She passed away the next day.
My grandfather read to me whenever I wanted, took me on walks that usually included a glazed doughnut, and helped me build kites and learn to fly them. We once burned through three fuses trying to run two toasters from the same outlet in a misguided attempt to gain efficiency. My mother scolded us for using up the fuse inventory, and Grandpa and I were just stuck waiting for sequential servings of toast.
I drove by my Godmother’s house. Her name was Martha McKesson. Her husband was Dr. Elmer McKesson, who made his money by developing improved equipment for administering anesthesia to surgery patients. Their son, Elmer Jr., was going to marry my mother when he returned from WWII, but sadly, he was lost at sea. A few years later, my Mother married Talbot Sinclair. Mrs. McKesson asked my mother to let her be godmother to mother’s children, who were my sister and me.
The house looked just as it has for decades, and resides in the neighborhood of Westmoreland, which I discovered has been added to the national register of historical places. My favorite part of the house was the spiral front stairway. The steps were black marble and Elmer’s favorite teddy bear was always on the third step, which stood for him being three years old when he played with the teddy bear. From the outside of the Tudor-style house, the staircase was easily identifiable by the stone and brick tower by the front door.
The memories of life in Toledo – people, pets, other places I frequented (it’s where I learned to swim) – kept bubbling up. I drove by my schools and named the children I knew in the houses in the neighborhood. All of these things danced around my memory, advancing and receding and rearranging themselves into different configurations and endless associations, entertaining my thoughts as I pulled away from Toledo toward my next stop, Knoxville, Tennessee.