Some people tell stories about their imperfect childhoods. They tell tales of all that went wrong, hurts and pain that linger with them today. My childhood story couldn’t be further from these types of tales. It was pretty charmed. I grew up in small town in the rolling hills of Millersburg, Ohio. It is a beautiful town. The hills are stunning due to being the place where the glaciers had stopped when the Great Lakes were being formed. There are trees and windy roads, many made of gravel and dirt. Millersburg is the county seat of Holmes County. Home to the Antique Festival. Holmes County was and may still be the world’s largest Amish population. There was a hitching rail for buggies at our grocery store and plenty of road apples (horse manure on the road) to prove it. It is town that I remember when Big Wheel, McDonalds and Walmart opened. A town that closed down stores and restaurants for Friday night football games. Our girls basketball team is filled with tradition and legends. Because I was a Lady Knight, I was sometimes asked to give my autograph at the grocery store. This is my hometown. My heritage.
I grew up 10 miles outside of Millersburg on a 160 acre farm. I had animals, a pet goat named Apples that I had from age 4 to 17, horses, cows, sheep, chickens, and pigs. The pigs were an addition that I brought through my desire to earn some money at the 4-H fair. I played in creeks, fished in ponds and played basketball in barns. I had two loving parents that loved each other, loved my brother and I, and loved God. They taught me how to work hard, love everyone, lead by serving, try new things, believe in myself, give generously and to pray continually. I had aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents that lived around town, but that is not where my family ended. I had family like the Browns, the Bakers, the Mackeys, the Loders, the Birds, the Findleys, and the Runyans. I had my basketball family…which when your a Lady Knight is the entire town…extra grandparents, aunts, crazy uncles and most of all sisters. We became friends with the radio announcers, grocery baggers, teachers, and auto body repair man (me more than most). I have friends I still call friends today that I have known since elementary. I adopted some little brothers when my big one had gone off to college. This family, this town has dramatically shaped me into who I am. I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else. Even from a far, I am supported and loved by the place I still call home. I cheer for the Knights, the Ohio State Buckeyes and everyone else nearby. I still think getting dirty is fun and working hard takes a good sweat.
So in this little community when tragedy happened it impacted us all. And unfortunately tragedy hit often. We lost many community members way too young. One of the ones that hit me hard was when my friend Ande’s sister passed away. She had worn the basketball number 42, and so had I a few years later. When she passed, it was one of my first realizations that life is so short and none of us are invincible. Jenny Bird was a tall beautiful athletic girl that I always looked up to. Her family was one I loved that loved me back. Spring breaks, our families both vacationed to Anna Maria Island. The loss of Jenny, like the many other losses, was felt by our whole community. So when my brother passed away tragically a few years after Jenny, it too was experienced by our town. This joined my heart to the Bird family even more. And it was our community again that helped my family grieve.
So although I haven’t had an address in Millersburg, since 1999 I still call it home. It is still my roots, my heritage and its residents are my family. I am so blessed.
As I reflect on my first community, I realize I have had communities of people each stage of my life ones I have shared about before…my Holmes County community, my Taylor community, my Chicago community and my Grand Rapids community…and this realization sparked another realization. I am so rich! I have a wealth of amazing people that I am privileged to call friends. And if I could choose to be rich in anything it would be people. Thank-you for being a part of my life and loving and supporting me for the past 36 years, especially the past two!