Saturday, December 29, 2007

“New Year: 1919”

c. 2007 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: The arrival of a New Year dependably brings hope to those who yearn for better days through chronological renewal. Across the Earth, humanity revels in thoughts of a tomorrow still untouched by fate and circumstance. With the first breath of January, everything old is authentically new again. And yet, just before that final turn of the calendar page, a different emotion yearns to be noticed. Mixed with the promise of sunrise are memories of what has gone before…

Such thoughts were present as I spent a recent evening on eBay, the world’s online marketplace. My search for ‘Ohio newspapers’ produced an interesting result – a copy of The Geauga Republican from January 29, 1919.

I was spellbound by the entry.

Somewhere, I’d seen a photograph of the old GR office, flanked by a vintage motorcar. It appeared to have been on the Chardon Square. Yet details about the paper were few. Excitement tingled through my skin while bidding on the item. I offered three dollars and twenty-five cents, and won.

It was another episode of ‘shopping victoriously’ in cyberspace!

Days later, the parcel arrived from Graysville, Ohio. It held my acquisition wrapped in cardboard and a protective mailer. Carefully, I opened the newfound treasure with a sense of awe.

From the first block of print, a tone of grandeur was evident in the bygone county gazette:

“The Republican costs more per year than some Geauga County papers. But subscribers say it is worth the difference. Want Ads in the Republican cost little, but accomplish much. Try it and see. Phone, write or call.”

Following traditions of that era, the front page was a dutiful slab of text. No bylines were given, creating an anonymous symmetry throughout the document. There were no carefree images to tease the eye. Instead, the paper resonated with purpose.
A section existed for every district – from Thompson to Bainbridge. Each carried gentle details of rural living and social events, with a homespun flair that would later appear in local publications like The Weekly Mail:

“HUNTSBURG – F. D. Fisher is working on the foundation for his new house. Sap was running good Saturday. Gail Enders has been delivering oats at Middlefield the past week for 74c. The gymnasium girls hold a conundrum social at the Town Hall on Friday night. There is a movement on to form a cow testing association in our town. A State speaker and organizer will be here soon.”

Deeper into the page, hard news stories began to appear. The writing style would be perilous for a current editor. But nearly a century ago, it served to inform readers who were starved for knowledge of other communities:

“A movement is on foot among the newspaper men of Ohio to ask the Legislature, now in session, to amend the Ohio election laws to permit of an earlier count of the ballots following a general election. Newspaper men say that in a general election, Ohio is usually the last big State in the Union to make known its results. They say that under the present law, election board officials are not required to count their ballots on election night, and that in some rural communities the ballots are not counted until the next day, the election board officials closing shop for the day after the polls are closed. An amendment to the statutes making it mandatory upon election officials to count the results on National and State tickets first may be asked by the newspaper men.”

Reporting on national events, the ‘Temperance Question’ was analyzed in detail. (Curiously, the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified shortly before this issue originally hit newsstands in Geauga.) It represented a moment of political action that resounded from coast to coast, and back to Ohio:

“The United States of America has entered upon the tremendous social experiment of national prohibition of the manufacture, sale and use of alcoholic drinks. There will be abundant time to give the experiment a fair test since the prohibition is by constitutional amendment. To all appearances, this mandate…against the use of alcohol is intended to be absolute and final… this experiment is a tremendous departure from previous tendencies of the American people.”

Advertising in the Republican carried more stylish cues than many of the regular features. Businesses like American Fork & Hoe, The Parks & Barker Company, Holman Hardware, and J. U. Wettstein’s Bakery were represented. One familiar product of the period even carried an endorsement from a local resident:

“FEEL ALL USED UP? Lots of Chardon people do. Does your back ache constantly? Do you have sharp twinges when stooping or lifting? Feel all used up – as if you could just go no further? Why not look to your kidneys? Why not use Doan’s Kidney Pills? Chardon people have done so. They tell you the result. Mrs. W. S. Johnson, East King St., Chardon says: ‘About three years ago, I was taken with kidney complaint. My back was so lame I could hardly keep up, and it ached steadily. I felt all wornout and couldn’t get any rest. I was nervous and my kidneys acted irregularly. I used four boxes of Doan’s Kidney Pills, from Cook’s Drug Store and they completely rid me of the trouble. I have been well ever since.’ Price 60 c, at all dealers.”

A literary excerpt was also included, from ‘Carolyn of the Corners’ by author Ruth Belmore Endicott. Her cheerful verbiage seemed to help lighten the paper’s otherwise serious intellectual tone:

“The Rev. Afton Driggs, though serious-minded, was a loving man. He was fond of children and he and his childless wife gave much of their attention to the Sunday school. Mrs. Driggs taught Carolyn May’s class of little girls. Mrs. Driggs did her very best, too, to get the children to stay to the preaching service, but Carolyn May had to confess that the pastor’s discourses were usually hard to understand.
‘And he is always reading about the Begats,’ she complained gently to Uncle Joe as they went home together on this particular Sunday, ‘and I can’t keep interested when he does that. I s’pose the Begats were very nice people, but I’m sure they weren’t related to us – they’ve all got such funny names.”

Finally, a bottom-of-the-page blurb described efforts in Mother Russia to impose Marxist-Leninist principles on their populace:

“Would Abolish Money – The wily bolshevik is going back to the early American Indian trader’s system – he purposes to abolish money. The laborer, under the proposed revision of obliteration of the Russian monetary system, will be paid in produce.”

Were buyers of the Republican supposed to visualize communist workers being paid with heads of lettuce, cauliflower, and carrots? I couldn’t be sure. But there was no room for further explanation. The yellowed pages were full.
My time-warp adventure had ended. I was at the final margin, eighty-nine years after the fact.

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Monday, December 24, 2007


Thursday, December 20, 2007

“Guitars on Patrol”

c. 2007 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: Normally, journalists like to write about holiday cheer and fellowship in the month of December. But as you read the following page, I ask you to think instead of our friends and neighbors who are currently engaged in defensive combat, half a world away.

The holiday season typically inspires many positive emotions for everyday folk. It is a time when our best qualities are on public display. We ponder the value of giving and goodness during this special period. For that moment, our lives are bettered.

Then, most of us are swept away by a turn of the calendar page.

Happily, some have taken the uplifting message that is interwoven in these traditions as inspiration for action beyond the festive winter weeks.

Count Stow resident Paul Hickman among that intrepid group of souls.

While worshipping in Thompson with my family, I have often been moved to think of his ongoing ‘Guitars for Grunts’ project. During songs by our praise team of musicians, my heart has reverberated with the same thought – how might citizens in Geauga help this noble cause?

For the sake of explanation, let me return to the beginning…

I first spoke with the retired Marine in September. His story was a compelling tale of generosity, patriotism, and sheer ingenuity. I was spellbound by the authenticity he projected.

“I was in the Corps from 1984 to 1988,” he mused. “I had been a guitar player in high school. So while serving overseas, I took my instrument with me. When I wasn’t working on helicopters, I played that axe.”

Years later, the bond between this soldier and his plectrum remained. A chance encounter produced the idea that would change his life.

“I was at a friend’s music store, in Cuyahoga Falls,” he recalled. “A guy came in with an Ovation Celebrity. Only its fretboard was holding the neck in place. It would have cost a hundred-and-fifty dollars to fix. I wondered if it was best suited to be re-made into a lamp.”

But Hickman saw opportunity in the wounded guitar.

“I bought the item for thirty dollars,” he said. “And then tried using epoxy glue to fix it up. Eventually, things worked out. So I made contacts through and told them my story. As a result, the Ovation was sent to Fallujah, in Iraq.”

Soon afterward, the erstwhile Marine received a message from the chaplain on duty where his instrument was deployed.

“I was told that their only guitar had been stolen,” he reflected. “Then, my package arrived. It replaced their loss perfectly. He reckoned it was a higher power at work.”

With one instrument on active duty, Hickman began to locate other potential six-string soldiers for re-assignment. He developed skill as a healer, both for battered guitars, and the military personnel who welcomed having such gifts of music.

“I started saving nickels, dimes, and quarters, and found a local distributor who agreed to sell me scratch and dent guitars for a very generous price,” he said. “I spent several hours on each guitar leveling frets, and making adjustments so they played to my standards. Next I got the idea to have the Mayor sign one of the guitars, and then took the guitar to the Safety building where both the Police and Fire departments (also) signed the guitar.”

His ability to control expenses made it possible to supply greater numbers of instruments in spite of a limited budget.

“Keeping costs to a minimum is important,” he explained. “I can help more people that way.”

Eventually, the retired soldier went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and visited ‘Wounded Warriors’ who also hungered for the chance to play music in a personal setting.

“We took eleven guitars, two amplifiers, two violins, and supplies,” he said with satisfaction. “I thanked them for what they had done for America. And they thanked me! They weren’t bitter. They had so much pride. They only wanted to go back… to re-join the troops.”

He professed feeling changed by the experience.

“It gives you energy of a different kind,” he said. “People have asked me - ‘Why send guitars?’ It's a very easy question to answer. They will help the troops relax… and make them feel like a little bit of home is right there with them.”

Hickman observed that his idea had become an ongoing mission.

“I started this on a whim,” he observed. “But I’ll keep doing it as long as our people are in harm’s way. I feel pride, but this isn’t about me. Everything is for our soldiers. I know they appreciate these gifts.”

For weeks after the interview, I pondered the Marine’s inspired idea. I repeated his story to anyone who would listen. A call of duty seemed to echo with persuasive force, growing stronger with each new day. Mind and body wandered on an intellectual trek from charity store… to pawn shop… to garage sale, and back again.

But affordable, journeyman instruments were nowhere to be found.

I felt slightly betrayed. In yonder days, budget axes seemed to be plentiful. I’d never had a problem snagging tuneful twangers for my personal collection. Yet now, the cupboards were bare. What had happened to the humble products of Teisco? Or Premier? Cort? Airline? V. J. Rendano, Kawai, Silvertone, Kay, Harmony, Univox, Hondo, Kent, Aria, Penncrest, or Tokai?

My golden touch had tarnished. I couldn’t find anything.

I even tried the dependable strategy of entering favorite thrift shops with an empty wallet – normally one of the quickest methods to guarantee that bargains will appear. But the plan failed. Not even a lowly, second-hand Wal-Mart special was for sale. Yet Hickman’s laudable program remained a priority. I wanted to write about his ambitious work, and how it might translate to other counties, like our own.

Then, the Yuletide magic took hold. I began to compose a holiday letter:

“Dear Friends – As we celebrate this season of joy, most of us will revel in family relationships and theological traditions. But also, I ask you to open your hearts to those who are serving in our military forces. Many kindred souls will once again be observing the holidays in foreign lands. They are far removed from the everyday privileges that we take for granted. A gift of music from home would carry blessings multiplied many times over. With that in mind, let me gently encourage you to visit and consider the efforts being made to reach out and comfort our soldiers. Paul Hickman has lighted a candle in the darkness of an unpredictable world. By joining this call to action we may bolster the citizen spirit that first made America strong in the face of adversity.”

After finishing the note, I took out my own guitar, and strummed a blues progression. Lights twinkled from our tree. Yet something different hung in the air - a scent of sand and sweat, mixed with mincemeat and plum pudding. Of boot leather and scented candles. Of diesel exhaust and pine boughs. Suddenly, I realized that the gap between ‘here’ and ‘there’ had been closed with love.

No matter where duty may take us… in the holiday season, we are together.

Monday, December 17, 2007


It opened in March 1977. The massive, retail fortress was constructed by Cleveland Indians owner Richard Jacobs. For Euclid, it was a vortex of commerce and human interaction modeled after those already open across America.

Twenty-five years later, the final end came with certainty. Urban congestion, crime, and changing consumer loyalties made it a tragic dinosaur.

Euclid Square Mall is commemorated on websites like and - but these cyber outposts don't properly address the fact that ESM is still very much alive, in potential, at least.

A website still remains for the shopping temple. ( But it is surreal, offering a promise long-since abandoned.

Currently, only a Dillard's outlet store is active at the mall. A check-cashing depot also occupies a spot on the perimeter. Yet it it exists in stasis, no less complete than in that first year. Only tenants would be needed to restore it to fiscal health. It is not a decrepit hulk. Instead, the venue simply seems to be at rest, waiting for the future to arrive.

Whilst gathering photos, this reporter was approached by a security official in a red, Ford Ranger pickup. He roughly asked if I was taking pictures to 'slam' the mall for being past its useful life.

After I assured him that this was not the case, he observed that naysayers would be embarrassed when ESM returns to life in the future.

Indeed, a resurrection for the mall doesn't seem impossible. Everything is there. One would only need to start the clock movement into motion once again.

But for now, ESM is lost in time. It is 1977 in Euclid, forever, forever...

In through the out door

Abandoned Red Lobster location

Entrance sign to the mall

Rini-Rego grocery store. (Closed, early 1990's)

Southcenter Entrance to the mall

ESM parking sign

Detail of the 70's architecture

Looking inside... to yesterday

Saturday, December 15, 2007

“Stories of the Season”

c. 2007 Rod Ice
All Rights Reserved

It was a brisk morning at the Icehouse. I had just stepped outside with Quigley and Riley, our canine companions. Both were eager to run after a night of slumber and rawhide-treat dreams. The pair tumbled off our porch with gleeful abandon!

I balanced my coffee mug while negotiating the front yard. A careless wind dusted our footprints with whirls of winter white. Everywhere, treetops were bent and sloppy. But it was only the beginning… months of cold were yet to come!

Riley kicked the snow at his Pomeranian brother. This sent Quigley into a barking tirade. “Yap yap yap!”

I sipped my caffeine brew. “Boys! Take it easy!”

The Pom was our senior pooch by several years. Riley had only just reached the playful age of nine months. But being a black Lab, he towered over the other pets.
This disparity had the household in an uproar!

I shoveled the entrance ramp while dogplay continued. Chilly clouds of frost seemed to watch us, from overhead. The daylight grew dim.

“Boys!” I called at last. “It’s freezing out here. Let’s get back inside!”

My wife was waiting in the kitchen. She still wore pink pajamas from the night before. Her hair spilled in every direction.

“Rodney,” she whispered. “This was our morning to sleep in. What are you doing awake so early?”

“Awake?” I said. “You mean still awake.”

Liz squawked. “Still? You’ve been up all night?”

My response was dry. “I’ve been working…looking through my files.”

She giggled. “Of course.”

I yawned with fatigue. “It seemed like a simple task – to find my favorite old story of holiday cheer for the newspaper. But as I read, the hours slipped away…”

“And you were touched by the true spirit of Christmas?” she mused with a smile.

“No,” I replied. “By a wet puppy-dog nose. Riley needed to go outside.”

Liz snorted. “Yikes!”

We moved to the household office. I gestured toward a heap of yellowed manuscripts. “There is plenty of material here. But which tale really tugs at your heart strings? I can’t decide…”

She sifted through the heap.

“Here’s one about Christmas Day of 1967!” she squeaked.

My face went red. “That was when Santa brought my first two-wheeler. It was a Schwinn Banana-bike, painted red.”

“Hmmm,” she continued. “Okay, here’s a story about Christmas of 1984. You were working at Fisher’s Big Wheel, in Chardon?”

I nodded. “That’s a sketch of Geauga as it was… I was pitifully broke in those days. We all were. Yet our holiday spirit was strong!”

My wife grinned. “Here is the ‘Pink Noel’ you wrote, last year!”

“That’s Soccer Fairy’s favorite,” I said. “She loved the part about pink fuzzy slippers…”

Finally, Liz uncovered one last column. It was a personal tale of seasonal magic.

“Here’s a story… about your brother?” she chirped with puzzlement.

I paused, silently. The search was over.

Softly, she began to read the manuscript:

Just before Thanksgiving, I was at work in one of the county’s bustling food retailers. My mood followed the hectic pace of customer activity. I spun like a traffic cop on the sales floor, offering directions, greetings, and laughter. Masses of familiar folk crowded our aisles. Everyone was in a hurry to finish shopping chores, and be gone!

The festive moment provided a rehearsal of sorts for holidays yet to come. Christmas and the New Year were now undeniably certain to arrive. Festive hints of cinnamon, egg nog, and good cheer hung thick in the air!

As I worked, a husband and wife duo struggled to negotiate this rush of humanity. ‘He’ rode in one of the electric carts provided for handicapped patrons. ‘She’ pushed a grocery cart loaded with colorful treats. Both looked to be in their early fifties. They wore creases and shadows left by hard work in a rural setting. Yet each smiled over the wandering multitudes of people. They seemed joyful to possess the gift of life.

I was wheeling a rack of fresh bread through this maze, when the fellow spoke. His voice was humble, and friendly. “Are you the manager here, Mister?”

I nodded, dutifully. “Yes, sir. May I help you?”

His ruddy face wrinkled into a gentle look of satisfaction.

“I just wanted to compliment your store,” he said quietly. “We’re buying for ourselves, and our family. This is wonderful, to have so many choices…”

I had to take a deep breath. The praise caught me with pleasant surprise. “Thank you, kindly!”

The customer patted his round belly, playfully. “Of course, I didn’t get like this by being picky!” Something familiar in his voice made me pause, and listen even more intently. It was as if I had known him, before.

Our conversation turned toward the holiday season. He spoke about new health issues that were making store visits slow and difficult. It was an unhappy adjustment he lamented. With a quiet nod, his wife affirmed their changing lifestyle. Personal challenges were everywhere. But they retained a good-natured outlook.

As our interaction ended, I realized what had caused echoes of déjà vu to reverberate in my mind. The humble man looked very much like an older version of my own… brother!

Sadness filled my eyes, as I thought of my kin.

We had not spoken for many years. But by accident, he had been returned to me in this moment of chance. The image was powerful. Had I been a witness to tomorrow?

That night, I lingered in front of the computer with a cup of coffee. It was impossible to forget the encounter in Chardon. I felt moved to write ‘Little Bro’ a letter. We had drifted apart, as siblings sometimes do, through a series of unforeseen circumstances. Over the years, I had tried to heal this rift, without success. Time faded reality, until I couldn't remember what had caused us to ignore each other. But the divide continued to exist.

In the glow from my PC, I mused over thoughts of lost traditions. Soon, the brew in my coffeemaker had boiled down to a thick syrup of black.

What could I do?

The answer, of course, was to put my thoughts on paper. As my page filled with text, I felt the presence of hope. Suddenly, it had become a season of promise!

“Dear Brother, Newfound friends at the store have helped reveal the true meaning of holiday cheer. Love is truly the greatest gift of all. So I bid Season’s greetings to you. I ask your patience, forgiveness, and understanding in this special time of the year. But most of all, I pray that you will remember… though distance and pride may separate us, you will always be in my heart!”

My wife wiped a tear. “Did he answer your note?”

“No,” I replied. “But sharing those words brought a sense of calm to the frantic holiday season. I felt glad, inside.”

She snuggled close, with the wrinkled paper still in her hand. “I think you’ve found the right story, Rodney.”

At last, my X-mas search was complete.