Larry L. Oatman: Can you go home again?

By Larry L. Oatman - Guest Columnist

I disagree with American novelist Thomas Wolfe, who wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again.” His famous novel was published posthumously in 1940, two years after his death at age 37.

In 1955, I helped my talented father, Lester H. Oatman, build a two-story, four-bedroom house on a half-acre lot at 4000 Slabtown Road, in Bath Township.

Actually, it was the second house he built, and he remodeled three others. But now, I was old enough to help him build this one, measuring and sawing the wood, pounding in the nails and mixing the mortar as he laid the cement blocks.

He showed me how to read the new house six-page blueprint, which I still have. He also taught how to do the plumbing and the electric. It was a year of hard work, producing lots of fond memories.

Six years later, my parents sold the home to Gordon Waldron. We then moved to Lima’s east side to a smaller house on Dingledine Avenue. It was the 10th house I lived in with my parents. As an adult, I’ve lived in Columbus and Dayton and presently live in Lima in my fifth residence.

I personally take exception to Mr. Wolfe’s legendary viewpoint, because on Tuesday, Oct. 22, I was briefly able to go back home again.

The previous week, a dear friend, Howard Lackey, phoned to tell me the house on Slabtown was up for sale. This was shocking news, as it was nearly 60 years since I lived there.

Over the years I’ve had this weird, recurring dream of buying that house and actually living there. Whenever I’d be in Bath Township and drive past the house on Slabtown Road, I’d think about stopping to meet the owner and perhaps get a tour, but I never did.

I know that buying that house was not practical and completely out of the question. My lovely five-room home in Lima on the corner of Lakewood

and Glenwood where I’ve lived for the past 24 years is just perfect for me.

If you’ve been counting, this is my 15th residence, and at 79, that’s a move nearly every five years.

After a little Internet browsing, sadly, I learned that Mr. Waldron, at age 90, had passed away on Aug. 27, 2018. Born in Tennessee, he had retired after 37 years as a brakeman on the railroad and had later started his own service of drilling water wells in the area. He and his wife had three sons and two daughters. Sadly his wife, Maxine, of 46 years, had died in 1996. He lived there alone for the next 22 years.

The house was set to be sold at auction Nov. 9, with an open house Oct. 22.

Oh my, an opportunity to once more see my teenage dream. But I was somewhat hesitant. What if drastic changes had been made or maybe it hadn’t been taken care of all these years, or time and nature had cause damage?

Well, on that sunny Tuesday I drove to Slabtown then up the hill on the blacktop driveway.

I looked at the large yard. Oh, I don’t know how I ever mowed it those summers. We only had an old-fashioned lawnmower that first year. It wasn’t so bad going downhill but was all I could do to push it up the incline. The next year we got a power mower, but it still needed to be pushed up and down, my weekly chore that took nearly three hours.

There was the two-car garage I had helped dad build. I remember putting up the basketball hoop above the overhang. I had to practice on the gravel back then.

Amazingly, the house looked new. The white aluminum sliding had been replaced with beige vinyl, trimmed in white. I really liked the change.

I was early and the first open house visitor. I met the Waldron’s son, Preston, the estate executor. He said it would be okay if I took pictures as he gave me a tour.

It was remarkable; they had not made any structural changes. Oh, the walls had been painted, the living room was carpeted and the downstairs bathtub had been replaced with a modern shower.

The kitchen, which I always remembered as the home’s centerpiece, was where both mom and dad would cook. The bright red Formica countertop was perfect, looking like it had never been used. The cupboards had been beautifully refinished, and the built-in oven looked like new. The dining area, my favorite place, had the large three windows replaced with spacious bay windows, making it even more special.

It all looked so perfect, I got a little teary-eyed thinking that I wished mom could have seen it, but she had died a year ago last August at age 96. Dad had passed away in 1981, at 63.

The living room somehow seemed bigger with its large west picture window. They put their TV in the same corner that we did ours. The two downstairs bedrooms were just like I remembered them, but now the walls were brightly painted.

The two sliding pocket doors, that dad was reluctant to install because he didn’t think they would hold up, were working as good as new.

Seeing the basement gave me goose-bumps, as somehow it too seemed bigger. Dad was one of the founders and captain of the Bath Township Fire Department that I was also a member. He got a gang of volunteers to help us pour the large concert floor. Amazingly, it had only two small cracks after 64 years.

The “fraidy” hole, with its large steel door, had only been used as a fruit cellar. It was an 8x4 foot room where you go during a tornado and not be “afraid.” It was a must for my folks, who had been born in Kansas.

Finally, I went up the stairs to my special place. On the north side was my medium-sized bedroom, with an attic entrance. Down the hall was a full bath, the original mint green fixture didn’t show six decades of use, but looked brand new.

Then I walked into my large south room. It was empty now. When I was a junior in high school, I had made it into a radio station studio, with a console, turntables, tape recorders, microphones, amplifiers, speakers and phonograph record cabinets. Oh, the memories. Working in this room, prepared me for a career as a radio announcer and DJ, resulting in eventually working at four Ohio radio stations.

I took a deep breath; my visit back in time was over. I had taken more than 80 photographs. Before leaving, I thanked Preston for his kindness.

It’s the most beautiful house that I’ve ever lived in, serving as a continuing tribute to my father, as it stands just like he built it 64 years ago.

I’m sorry Thomas Wolfe, but you can go home again, even if it’s just for an hour.

By Larry L. Oatman

Guest Columnist

Larry Oatman is a writer and lives in Lima.

Larry Oatman is a writer and lives in Lima.

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