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For author, Elyria is the roots of her soul


Editor's note: Author Patricia Williams, whose memoir "While They're Still Here" was released this month, grew up in Elyria. Her book is an account of caring for her aging parents, who were longtime Elyria residents and have friends and family in the area.

My parents lived across the street from me in Olympia, Wash., for their final years, but their heartstrings were still firmly anchored in our hometown of Elyria.

Mom and Dad are gone now, but they filled me with their stories every day of the 10 years I cared for them. Their minds were firmly intact approaching 90, and they easily traveled in their memories to the Fourth of July fireworks at Cascade Park, the rustic ice rink by Eastern Heights School, Santa's cottage and decorations in Ely square.

My dad worked for National Cash Register Co. and repaired cash registers in all the local stores; my mother grew up in Elyria and worked at Sears. The town was their stomping ground.

Their pride in Elyria worked its way into most conversations - good schools, parades, city-sponsored recreation and the sense of community. Everyone who visited my parents learned about Cascade Park. Mom would begin with the bears and the snake slide, and then Dad would describe whooshing into the ford and show them the poster-size photo of it on his bedroom wall.

I had surprised him with the picture after he told me he pretended he was riding there when he was on his exercise bike.

We had been a typical Midwest, 1950s family in a small house purchased with a Veterans Administration loan. My mother always joked that she could read her friend Eunice's newspaper from our living room window. Mom and Eunice had a venetian blind code for "All clear. Come over for coffee." My mother's other best friends - all within three or four doors - gathered and gabbed in the afternoons before starting their dinner preparations.

My dad was buddies with all the corresponding neighborhood husbands. They banded together to turn attics into bedrooms and basements into workshops, shared a beer or two after work, and went fishing together. On Saturday nights the adults played Pinochle and the kids had sleepovers after catching lightning bugs or playing hide and seek through the whole neighborhood. For their entire lives on Memorial Day my parents recounted pulling all the nearby picnic tables and grills into our yard for a neighborhood breakfast cookout.

My parents stayed in close touch with all those people as long as they each walked this earth. They followed the news of Elyria and subscribed to The Chronicle-Telegram by mail. But here is what I've realized in witnessing the depth of those early connections: I have them, too. Those same Elyria neighbors had kids my age who were my childhood friends and are like comfort food to me. When I am with these friends, or following them on Facebook, there is a certain slowing of my heart rate, a serenity I feel no other time. The people and place shaped me, and help me hold my memories as a shield against the grief of the inevitable losses of aging.

My hometown, the roots of my soul.

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