Dayton Street disappeared into the Ohio River. There, just above Harrison Boat Harbor, I took off my Buster Brown sandals and plunged my toes into cool, wet sand, mounding it with the hope of forming a castle while the sun rose behind us. The lapping sound of gentle waves had strewn sticks and weeds along the bank. The boat harbor slept that early in the morning, when my grandpa fished for dinner and I played nearby.
I grew up in Dayton, Kentucky in a time when we were as innocent as the belief that a winged angel guarded each of us with some invisible magic.
These days, I think of the poem that so many people have copied, that starts out "I am from..." by George Ella Lyon-Poet Laureate of Kentucky. Thoughts of Dayton spill into fish heads buried under a sycamore tree, church bells that rang at noon every day, a grocery list and $5.00 handed to a butcher, banana seats and roller skate keys. Behind gauzy curtains watchful neighbors talked on party lines while children played in streets until called home. Casseroles and lunch pails defined the families of hard working people who populated my home town.
Four years ago, I read an article that reported this fact, a catalyst for my return to Dayton: 90% of the student population in the school system were eligible for the federal breakfast and lunch programs. The statistic struck a cord with me. I grew up in a single parent home where we often scraped by until my mother's payday each Friday.
After reading about the poverty that existed in Dayton, I contacted an old friend I had worked with during another Urban Renewal in the '70s. My friend had gone on to become the city attorney, a position he held for more than 30 years. He said, "Charlie Tharp just donated his collection of memorabilia and his building to the city. They could use someone like you." Charlie was the local real estate agent who acted as historian, people dropping off all sorts of things they thought would be valuable some day. When he retired he wanted a museum opened to tell the story of Dayton.
And so I began working in the Tharp Dayton Heritage Museum with a group of people whose histories date back to the 1800s in our shared hometown. We started uncovering so many things that astounded me, like the famous basketball coach who started his career in Dayton. Or the fact that it was known as the Hyde Park of Northern Kentucky in the 1800s.
Next week on April fifth my journey veers once more, further down the path toward home. This time, as the Main Street coordinator and Community Development Director. Those who know my passion for the written word worry that I am giving something up. I don't believe so, because my writing is so intricately tied to where I am from.
The little girl with her toes in the sand has the opportunity to build something of substance and to work with so many good people. It's an exciting time in towns like Dayton, a town positioned to recapture some of its historical glory. I'm grateful to be included in this time of growth for my hometown.