The fall is so beautiful and one of my favorite times of the year. Here in California, the leaves do change color but nothing like the gorgeous hues in Ohio. Watching the leaves skip across the street as I pulled into my neighborhood, took me back a few years.
Living just four doors from St. Mary’s church and school, I walked home for lunch everyday.
The air was crisp, the sky was bright blue with lazy billowing white clouds that drifted in the breeze. The huge Maple trees that lined the pathway to my house, had turned their leaves from green to a brilliant orange and yellow. The soft wind caught the branches and coaxed them to drift to the ground. Running along the sidewalk and stepping on them became a game. (The flapping sole of my shoe did slow me down a little.)
“Mother I’m hungry.” The old wood storm door slammed behind me. Lassie my dog came running up and licked my face. The old farmhouse was quite, but I could smell freshly baked bread.
Mother was not feeling well and had gone back to bed. I grabbed a thick slice of the still warm bread from the stovetop, checked on mother while she slept, and headed back to school.
Piles of leaves had been raked to the edge of each driveway to meet the street. There would be bonfires later this afternoon and all the kids would have marshmallows stuck on the end of a stick to roast.
Looking back on those wonderful childhood days of St. Mary’s, Grampa’s little farmhouse and of course, my Butternut Tree that grew on the edge of our creek, I was happy. Life was certainly not the stable home my friends grew up in, but it was the simple things that I loved. In the autumn, it was the beautiful foliage, fluffy clouds and the promise of rain when falling asleep. I learned at a very young age to not accept anything negative but instead to find something—no matter how seemingly insignificant—to be happy about.
Old Red Flour Mill, Avon, Ohio
Since family is so important to me, I was just thinking about what family life was like when I was growing up in the 1950’s. My book, The Butternut Tree, is fiction based on a true story of an unspeakable crime and is set in my hometown during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Family life in Avon, Ohio, is described in poignant and humorous detail. Writing about life in that era and going to St. Mary’s Catholic school prompted me to begin a Children’s Series. “Maureen and Billy, The Bad Kids” is the first book of many more to come. My son, Daniel Jon Kostalnick, MD, is a psychiatrist and wrote a talking points guide to be used by parents and teachers in small study groups. I think the book is also very entertaining for adults who attended Catholic school. I’m not sure how well the book will do in Catholic schools because in the story, little Maureen gets smacked in the mouth by the nun for saying a bad word. That was the way it was during that time. (I guess that I also should not have written that the nuns’ breath smelled like “skunk farts” either—none of the above may allow the children’s book to ever make it into the Catholic literature!)
“Father Knows Best” was one of my favorite T.V. programs. It depicted the perfect family with the dad going to work everyday, dressed in a suit. The mother stayed home with the children and always wore earrings and a house dress, even when she was vacuuming. It was the perfect family—and the family I wanted.
Additionally, during that time, there were rules a person had to uphold: divorce was a sin. Anyone who found themselves in that circumstance was discriminated against by the town and the church. My family and I fell into that category, through no fault of the children. When nosy neighbors would ask me where my father was, I (with an element of righteous indignation) told them he “got shot in the war” rather than admit he had left us.
Family life is so different now. There are many variations of families. And, what I am learning in this evolution of my understanding what “family” means, is that it comes down to people loving and supporting each other.