Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sherbondy Hill

My dad and his siblings were orphans, for all practical purposes.  For reasons I can’t know my grandmother married a man fifteen years older than herself, left home and lived with her in-laws while her husband travelled as a railroad man.  In every other year there was another baby, the oldest my father, until in 1915 my grandmother packed up her four children and came home to Ohio from Pennsylvania for the birth of the fifth.

My grandmother sued my grandfather, probably for desertion, and he posted bond in Pennsylvania guaranteeing his appearance in court to answer the charge.  Instead, he “jumped bond,” went west under an assumed name and died of consumption fifteen years later.  Letters from his daughters begging him to return were found in his wallet, revealing his original identity.

Were these not real people the story could be maudlin.   The family lived in the overcrowded childhood home of their mother, with her parents and those of her nine siblings still at home.  In her journal my Aunt Laura mentioned the terrible overcrowding that  sent them living in a succession of houses, moving when the rent came due.  Eventually four of the children were taken to the Children’s Home and from there our Uncle Bill was committed to Orient State School for the Insane.

My dad occasionally lamented the wasted potential of each of his siblings.  The absolute truth concerning my Uncle Bill, but the children, Bill included, played the hand dealt. 
Memories of the children’s’ lives during those years are scant.  My dad told one or two stories; Aunt Laura wrote about her brother Johnny as the director of the little band of children, feeding them bread soaked in coffee for their evening meal before bed, their mother absent. 

Aunt Laura set her hand to poetry, and I have a little self-published booklet of poems she dated from 1927 through 1964.  Most are love letters to her husband; she and Uncle Frank indeed were soul mates.

One of Aunt Laura’s poems, Their First Day Late, dated 1928, when she was seventeen, probably draws on a memory of her favorite brother and his favorite sister.

He with his wavy hair of brown,
She with her locks of gold;
They both stand at the schoolhouse door—
Each other’s hands they hold.

Her fresh white apron, her beauty displays,
But her face is bathed in tears.
The little fellow at her side
Cannot dispel her fears.

The big schoolbell had pealed its call,
The echo has died away.
The little maid and her brother
Are late, their first time, today.

They fear to enter the classroom
Where lessons have begun.
And they stand there on the threshold
Wishing the day were done.

Another poem Aunt Laura wrote in 1928 probably more accurately describes the schooling of her brother Johnny, and the uncles of the same age they grew up with.  “Pa” was her maternal grandfather, and a mean drunk from whom the women of the family hid the Four Roses bottle.

School Days

Johnny was a little boy
Who wouldn’t go to school.
He wouldn’t mind the teacher
Nor obey the Golden Rule.

He wanted to play hooky,
Like most the big boys did.
And got a spanking every night
When he was just a kid!

He used to go a-fishing,
Instead of going to school.
And when the days were long and hot,
He played in the swimming pool.

He’d come home late in the evening,
Scared and shivering, too!
Don’t you s’pose that you’d be scared
If “Pa” was up waiting for you?

Although he was spanked most every night,
And “Pa” warned him o’er and o’er,
Johnny scarcely set his feet
Inside a schoolhouse door!

John Lytle, my father, was born in Coalmont, Pennsylvania, in 1907. His mother brought the little family back to Akron, Ohio in 1915.  In 1924, days after his 17th birthday, he left Akron a member of the United States Army. He spent nine childhood years in Akron, from the age of eight through sixteen.  They were rough and tumble years, deep in adventures with his uncles, his mother’s brothers his own age, and at the same time holding together the little family that was his brother and sisters.

Dad told of sled riding down Sherbondy Hill in the winters. The city was built on four hills, with many lesser hills joining the whole.  Sherbondy Hill, very near his grandparent’s home, leads up to a park today.  At the turn of the century it was paved in cobbles, the better for horses to navigate.  In the winter the snow covered road was impassible, except to sleds. The hill has a grade of almost thirty percent, with several turns.  In telling of their exciting rides down the hill Dad wondered that none of them were killed.  Of course they weren’t.   


  1. Oh,Lord..it's a miracle any of us are here at all!
    Jane x

  2. Oh, the risks we took.

    A very wonderfully told story. We have Lytles in Independence family. They were quite affluent. They owned the Spring Mill and operated it for years. Their children became doctors and well sought after musicians.

  3. I enjoyed reading your memories of your father's story. I wish I knew more of my father's story. Just bits and pieces.

  4. Such incredibly hard lives. And not, for the time, uncommon. It makes me stop and think. My father's life is essentially a mystery to me, but as a German Jew, it cannot have been easy.
    Thank you for this glimpse of the other lives which are probably behind many of our own one or two generations back.

  5. You certainly have a colourful family history. Your Aunt Laura has a talent for writing very enjoyable poetry indeed.

  6. It wasn't that long ago that this was not an uncommon life for chidren, with families so large and money hard to come by for most people. It always makes me wonder how I would have fared, when my father tells me stories of his own childhood. It wasn't all bad, but it was always hard.

  7. It is great to carry on the family history. What a rough time so many had...and the poems...priceless!

  8. How neat that you have the poems from your Aunt Laura. I enjoyed reading the two you shared here. We can't imagine how hard life must have been back then; I would imagine people did what they could to get by and to survive the best they could. Sledding down that hill indeed sounded like an adventure; not one I'm sure I would want to pursue!


  9. Such interesting ancestry you have.
    And I like the poems from Aunt Laura too, they're good.

  10. The tough times back then really were "tough." I'm not sure i would have survived.

  11. It is amazing that many of us survive to adulthood, as a child we had sled hill called deadman's hill.

    so wonderful to hear your family stories and read the poems

  12. Such a fascinating story. I kept wondering where the children came from. Did he visit every other year or so? That's what I'm assuming, but the novelist in me never wants to make the safe assumption.

    1. Those five children were born between 1907 and 1915. Then my grandmother left and my grandfather, after being served a court order to appear in Ohio, changed his name and fled to Colorado, where he died fifteen years later. He abandonded the children rather than support them.

  13. Thank goodness for all the social/welfare programs we have in place today so that children can no longer be "thrown away" to suffer the rest of their lives from neglect.

  14. So many abandoned children. Men then and sometimes now could get away with a lot. My grandfather drove my dad's first wife away and essentially kidnapped the children.

  15. That man needed to be tossed in a wringer and wrung out. Family history is both colorful and desperate at the same time.

  16. I so love when you tell stories of your past. They are fascinating! You just have to wonder how people survived those days, don't you. You obviously come from hardy stock!

  17. thank you for your glimpse into a world shortly before I was born. My mother and father lives through thousands years and it was very difficult. I came upon your stories because my youngest son who is 50, was curious about the name on the hill. When I googled it I came off on your stories and the poems. All very well written an interesting. Thank you for writing them.