December 8th – Where am I from?
Where am I going?
How do I get there?
For people who have lived in different places, the hardest question to answer is usually the first: Where am I from?
The opposite is the case with co-authors Bernadette Colicchio Dawson and Ted Dieffenbacher. They left Ashtabula as young adults, but they have no doubt where they came from.
Although the book, which is available on Amazon for $ 12.99, is a two-person memoir, the third “character” is Ashtabula herself, a port on the Great Lakes with a huge chemical industry and a spider web of railroad tracks. working with ships unloading iron ore and coal on the docks.
Everyone in northeast Ohio knows Lake Effect snow. The kids love it. The adults hate it. It happens when cold air from Canada takes in the water of Lake Erie and discharges it as snow on the US side of Lake Erie. Lake Effect The book describes the emotional effects of growing up by a lake the size of an ocean, a lake that was the compass and point of reference for the co-authors as they grew up.
The two largest and most prominent ethnic groups in Ashtabula are the Finns (Ted) and the Italians (Bernadette). She grew up in Swedetown, a neighborhood without Swedes (but full of Italian immigrant families). Despite having a German surname from his father, Ted grew up with an American-born mother whose mother tongue was Finnish, but who, in keeping with the times, did not teach Ted and his five siblings any Finnish. Even so, his writing reflects many aspects of Finnish culture.
Told in 58 vignettes, alternately Ted-Bernadette-Ted-Bernadette etc., the book not only gives an insight into Ashtabula in the 1950s and 60s, but also into the life of two children who went to high school together in the 1963 class completed. Not intended as nostalgia for the good old days, most vignettes offer a life lesson or question for the reader to consider.
Ted’s vignettes lead readers to Good Kid I and Good Kid II (learn the hard way); to a sauna that is more traditional than Finland itself, in the Saturday Night Sauna; Trouble at the local country club in Here’s to You Mrs. Robinson; to the multiethnic Ashtabula in Little Brown Girl; into the hold of a ship in Pinney Dock Stevedore; to Ashtabula via Kenya by night train to Mombasa; on a story of empathy in Becoming Lou Groza and on Three Ways to Leave Ashtabula.
Bernadette, a devout Catholic, writes about an examining father in Five Takes on Sex, Love, and Marriage; about her father, who operated a huge crane unloading ore on the docks; about Italian summer kitchens in Swedetown; about the unusual and memorable arrival of her Italian immigrant mother in Ashtabula; about pasta, the key to someone special; about Italian-style marriage counseling; and about little girls as flying angels at a Catholic festival.
The book is set in the years of prosperity and industrial power, but even in their youth the co-authors saw clues to the future of the rust belt: when Ted couldn’t catch a blue pike (now extinct) and when he and Bernadette drove past a creek that flowed in three colors of fluorescent yellow, orange and green on its way to Lake Erie.
The book is a memory, but also a bit of social history, as witnessed through the hopes, dreams, and experiences of two working-class children who left Ashtabula in their mid-twenties but still follow the problems and progress as if they were still there.