Not so long ago one of the columnists we publish regularly in this newspaper wrote about a book his sister, Rita Haley Butcher, authored. It is called “Growing Up In A Place Called Port.”
I was intrigued by thoughts of the book because in my early childhood years I had an aunt, uncle and four cousins that lived in Port William, the small Clinton County settlement the book is about.
So, I sent Pat Haley, the columnist who is kind enough to let us publish his columns, an email asking how I could purchase a copy of the book. He replied that it was not necessary that I purchase one because he and his sister would be glad to give me a copy. And, sure enough, a few days later Pat showed up at our offices with an autographed copy for me.
I was quite young when my mother’s sister and her family lived in Port William — my best estimate would be from the time I was 3 or 4 until I was about 9 or so — but still, I have fond memories of the place.
Neither of our families had much money at the time, so the vast majority of my family’s outings were visits to other family members’ homes. A lot of people spent their leisure time the same way back then, I believe, and I am certain we are all better off because of those simple, more quiet and humble, times.
I have been back to Port William once since those long ago days. I was in my teens, taking a joy drive with a friend, saw a sign that said Port William, and decided we should go check it out. So we did. I have not been back since. But still, the memories linger with me.
I remember the Joneses’ living room seeming to be huge, like big enough for a football game, but experience tells me it was probably not all that big.
I remember an uncle sticking a watermelon on a goat’s horns, and how we laughed as it tried to shake free.
I remember shelling kernels off ears of corn on their front porch, but for what reason I do not recall.
I remember a trip to a cemetery in Port William, settling onto a soft patch of grass, and listening intently as my female cousins told us stories.
I remember a foster child named Billy, how attached everyone became to him, and how sad it was when he had to leave.
I remember a picture on a wall of a man and woman breaking bread in an old, modest home. My father-in-law has the same picture in his home today.
I remember staying the night once, and tossing and turning as I tried to fall asleep in an upstairs bedroom with my aunt in a bed nearby. And I specifically remember telling her not worry because I often tossed and turned like that before I was able to fall asleep.
I remember the oldest cousin telling how he would one day take me for rides in his car when he reached that age, and how special that made me feel.
Many of the visits involved church services. Most of them, I believe, were at the Wilmington Church of Christ. But I remember once service in particular, where I believe my uncle was preaching, in a small building that sat in a Y between the intersection of North South Street (U.S. Route 68) and Spring Street in Wilmington. I remember playing with little cowboy and Indian figures at the service, like I usually did back in those days, on a hymnal. The building is still there, and that memory floats through my mind every time I drive past.
Back at their house, I remember playing with one of those old hockey games. You know, the ones where there were several levers to push different players across the surface, then how we could spin the players around when it came time to take a shot.
I remember the farm house they lived in looking out over a creek in the distance, and a dam and mill off in the distance to the right as we looked out from the front porch.
I remember how disappointed I was each time my parents said it was time to leave.
Just this week, Pat Haley wrote in his column about how he and his sister plan to return to his old hometown for Port William Heritage Days on June 15-16.
I hope they find the peace and innocence of those sweet days long ago that memories often bring.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2522.