On summer nights when it is muggy and warm I think of being entertained in a great and extra ordinary way by my cousins Tom and Lydia. During the years of growing up and on into adulthood my summers almost certainly drift back to my cousins who lived in Pleasant Ridge in the winter. Their entire family would move to their farm for the summers. This was special in the fact that their oldest child Walt was my age and it gave me a playmate for three months or a little more. My neighborhood was scarce on kids to play with so this was a big bonus for me.
Tom and Lydia were what a perfect host and hostess were to be. They loved people and loved to have you in their home and spoil you with hospitality. Lydia was the most gracious lady I think I ever have known and there wasn’t a thing she could prepare to eat that wasn’t mouth melting awesome and there was always lots of it and we were encouraged to have more. You could eat way too much and she convinced you that you hadn’t eaten enough. Tom’s role was the entertainment. This he loved to do and he was great at and unique every time in how you were entertained.
The biggest memory and maybe the dearest I have was “slide show night.” Tom was a shutter bug who took pictures constantly, either by movie or Polaroid. His favorite weapon to capture us in pictures was a 35 mm camera that when the film was developed was made into slides to use in a projector and show on a screen.
When he would accumulate three to four rolls Tom would announce that on a certain night there would be a slide show. From what I can recall those in attendance were my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Charles and family, my sister Peg, Tom’s Dad my Great Uncle Roy and along with Tom’s family there was also yours truly. No way would I miss one of these.
When it got dark enough we all assembled in their very large living room with more than 20 as a low number in attendance. Tom manned the projector and began the show with a large drum roll like the beginning of an MGM movie. With the first slide and all the rest the fun only increased as each picture was open for comment, wise cracks, and what were thought to be funny remarks. All was taken in good natured fun for the most part. Part of the way through the show Tom would put someone else in charge of the projector and go to the piano. He played piano by ear and was very good. So he would start up with music to accompany each picture. All the comments and music of whatever kind crossed his whimsy revved the crowd into slide show riot like I’ve never seen anywhere else.
After more than an hour of just plain fun the crowd would dismiss to their closed in porch for the next part of the evening. Tom would set up the ice cream maker and Lydia would bring out what we all knew was coming. Here came the homemade ice cream mix for which Lydia always kept the recipe secret. It was so rich with cream that the vanilla ice cream was yellow. To my knowledge Tom was the first person I knew of to buy an electric machine, which meant no more taking turns cranking so it made the ice cream quicker. (This was modern progress at its best). When the mixture had been cranked until the contents of the canister became solid, Lydia brought from the kitchen metal mugs that were enamel baked and painted harvest gold with a brown design on its side that I don’t recall now. As a mug was filled with soft serve ice cream and a spoon, it was passed on until all there had an ample serving of what to this day I feel was the greatest food that has ever entered my mouth.
While we consumed this treasure the crowd would pair off into smaller groups and discuss topics of their interests. This would end between 11 p.m. and midnight and we all knew the wonderful evening must come to an end. I think what helped us disperse was that Tom would take more pictures and in a month or two we would get to do this again.
On a hot summer night when you were surrounded with family and friends and in the home of quite possibly the greatest couple to ever open their doors to guests, you could laugh and smile and be care free for a while with your troubles put on the back burner. After Sharon and I married she became a part of the crowd and has reminded me of just how much fun there was to be had. This all thanks to the hosts, as a good time comes easier when the fun was not only allowed, but encouraged. At this moment I can’t think of a time or place that was better. Neither would you if you had been invited.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and likes to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.