I always know when I’m getting close to home by the smell: that pungent sea-breeze that locals never forget. Taking the back roads to avoid the box-store clogged Rt 250, derelict brick buildings let us know we are arriving in the old downtown Sandusky. Navigating the odd triangle-pattern street layout confuses many visitors, but time has not quite diminished my memory of my childhood haunts. We park at my former “go-to” for solitude and respite, the Jackson Street Pier, where the breeze of the Sandusky Bay forces us to pull our jackets in a little tighter.
“Hold my hand,” Kenny carefully instructs our young daughter against the dangers of falling over the un-guarded sides. Walking slowly for her sake, we dodge seagulls and try to find a bench near the flagpole where the US and Canadian flags snap in the sea-breeze. Is this the birthplace of my wanderlust? Waterways carry a life of their own, a freshness of places distant, the ghosts of travelers past, and the endless possibility of wondering what is on the other side. My childhood, spent here, gazing across this Great Lake to the border of Canada, is probably the reason I have always had the explorers urge.
The Lake was such a central point of my life that to this day I don’t know how other towns can have a central downtown without a body of water – what are the residents supposed to look at? How do they relax without the sound of the waves, the offshore breeze in their faces with the faint smell of fish and mud, the blink of a distant lighthouse accompanied by the faintness of a coal freighter’s horn coming into port? Around here, it is everything to us: a place to go when one needs to think, the site of senior and wedding pictures, the spot with the best ribs in town overlooking the water. The water is in our blood, and all of us that are born and bred profess a claustrophobic land-locked feeling when we move inland.
“So this is where you grew up, huh?” My Illinois-bred husband glances around. “Nice view, but I see why you left . . .”
I look back towards town and agree with him. Sandusky is a Has Been, and if things go the way they are continuing, it will become a Never Again. The town’s amusement park is the main industry with nothing being done to revitalize the potential downtown district, and a poor education system doesn’t bring much hope for the future.
Emma is pulling at our hands. “Walk, walk . . .” We agree with her that it’s time to go and say hello to a few fishermen brave enough to face the spring chill while we head back to the truck.
I glance back like I always do, inhale deeply one more time. Despite my years of trying to prove otherwise, this is where I come from . . . this picturesque, falling down, mess of a town on the north shore of the United States.