OFFBEAT: A place to call home

I have a confession to make. As a journalist, I haven't been telling the whole truth. When people ask where I&r
Annie Zelm
May 24, 2010

 

I have a confession to make. As a journalist, I haven’t been telling the whole truth.

When people ask where I’m from, I generally say “Cincinnati” — sometimes Loveland or Mason, depending on my mood. The truth is, I’m at least a 45-minute drive from the Skyline Chili capital of the country, assuming there’s no traffic. The truth is, I actually hail from Morrow — a village of about 1,300 wedged between the Little Miami River and a bike trail.

Maybe my white lie is a matter of convenience. When referring to a place more than four hours away, it’s always easier to point to the nearest metropolis. But Sandusky natives would never think of saying they’re from Cleveland or Toledo. I think the reason I’ve hesitated to fess up to my real origin is because I never made much of a connection with the place. Other than a canoe livery and a vineyard, Morrow isn’t known for much. We settled there because my dad, whose lifelong ambition was to farm, decided if his Green Acres dream didn’t come true he could still find satisfaction living among cornfields and mowing our backyard with his tractor.

I didn’t know enough about local government issues to care what happened there, and the only real encounter I had with neighbors was the time I came home from school to find them standing  in their driveway as several officers hauled out what looked like huge bales of marijuana. We never saw them again.

After I explain my roots, the next inevitable question is always, “Why Sandusky?”

Some ask with more enthusiasm than others.

At first, I was surprised by how many people didn’t expect me to stay long — some of whom I’d assumed would be the city’s staunchest supporters.

I realize the Register has the reputation of a revolving door, but that’s common among most modest-sized newspapers. And we’re so used to hearing the “brain drain” theory that hardly anyone believes a young college graduate would come here willingly — but that’s true of almost any mid-sized city facing job losses as America adjusts to global competition.

Yes, there were other job offers I considered — namely in Pennsylvania, Virginia and at a newspaper three times this size in Bowling Green, Ky. — but Sandusky still topped the list.

It’s the place my husband, his family and most of our friends live, which means I have a free access to a computer repairman, car expert, drug store clerk and chiropractor (a shameless plug for Drs. Ken Zelm and Holly Cox) all within a 5-mile radius.

There are also the obvious tourist attractions — Cedar Point, the islands and the many waterparks, as well as the treasures off the beaten path.

Not every city this size has a volunteer center, which facilitates the service of hundreds of county residents each year, or a place like Kinship, which allows children and parents to have meaningful visits in much more comfortable setting than the courthouse steps.

I admit I had a few reservations about moving to “Sandumpy, “Sandsucky” or “Sandtucky” after reading some of the less-than-inviting comments on the Register’s Web site. With as much as Cincinnati has to offer, it still carries labels like “The Nasty ‘Nati” or “The Ghetto.” It’s all just a matter of perspective.

Some people scoff at Sandusky’s size, as if it’s just some inadequate imposter of Cleveland or Toledo. It may have a small-town feel, but trust me — any city with a mall, more than three sit-down restaurants and a population not outnumbered by cows is no small fry. My measure of a small town is how many other references must be made before someone understands what you’re talking about. After graduating from the University of Toledo, I lived in Wapakoneta for two years.

“Wapa-ka-whata?” my friends asked.

“You know, home of Neil Armstrong ... 20 minutes from Lima?”

“Huh?”

“OK, it’s in Auglaize County … one of the first counties in the state to sell beer at the fair (and that claim to fame says it all.)”

Finally, I’d give up and tell them it’s about an hour north of Dayton.

But say Sandusky, and everyone immediately relates with stories of riding Millennium Force or visiting relatives on the lake.

It’s easy to develop tunnel vision and take your surroundings for granted when you’ve lived somewhere long enough, but from an outsider’s perspective, Sandusky has a lot to offer.

After leaving home looking for more and bolting from Wapakoneta like a stray cat from a barn, it’s the first place I feel I can truly call home.