Thursday was a travel day, from San Antonio to Atlanta, Atlanta to Akron, where Michael picked me up and we hit the road for Manchester, OH just west of Portsmouth down Rt. 52 which runs elbow to elbow with the Ohio River. Friday was a teacher workshop with the entire K-12 Manchester staff (only 66 teachers). Manchester MS/HS is but 8 years old and a beautiful building that makes you feel as if you’ve just stepped into a community college. Our hostess, Sandina Alexander is an OCTELA friend and poet full of creativity, colorful local stories and insider information about this part of the state. The area used to be teeming with industry – textile mills, steel, clothing and shoe factories, they even had a professional NFL football team at one time in Portsmouth (now the Detroit Lions). Sandina, like the area itself, bears the scars of that industry. In her case a steam burn from work on a pressing machine at a pants factory where she worked to put herself through college. The last 30 years has seen industry slowly decline around these parts and today the region lives in the shadow of its former glory. One industry that has not booked passage to another country is its winery where Sandina took us to dinner. Overlooking the river, it was a picturesque spot to eat and play catch up. My recommendation: the raspberry wine. Yum.
Before dinner Sandina took us “up home” to meet her cat, her dogs and her husband (though I’m certain there was no underlying meaning in the order of those introductions). Manchester is only 8 streets wide, each street one block on higher ground above the river. Locals measure the great floods against these streets like some measure children against notches in the kitchen doorway. The flood of ‘37 went to fifth street, the flood of ‘97 (that’s 1897) to this point, etc. All indications are that the river has been behaving itself this spring, but the legacy of its strength and power is part of the biography of every person, town and industry along here. In constant motion, it remains the area’s most prominent permanent fixture.
Down the River Road is the title of my first grade reading book. Alice and Jerry and Jip. I don’t remember the plot of the book, if there was one. But I remember the pictures. I remember being excited about the concept of reading, but bored to death by Jip & Co. I’m still stuck on that stop watch concept.