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March 29, 2008

Farewell, Mr. Harris

 Mr. Harry Harris at Thorncreek School

The photograph above was published in the 1988-1989 Thorncreek Center School yearbook and shows Mr. Harry Harris at his desk in the junior high area. I remember standing in these lines and we each got our moment to talk with Mr. Harris and have our papers corrected or ask questions. This is also where we waited in line to recite our memorizations. Above, from left, is Monica Dahms, Adam Goss, Jessica Conley, Scott Schilling, Steven Beasley (partially hidden) and Shannon Wass. Below, a more recent photo of Mr. Harris.

Retrospective...by Jennifer Zartman Romano 

As I sit typing at my computer tonight, I’ve got a lump in my throat.

There are certain educators that stand out in our minds – the ones who made learning fun and of whom you have memories that don’t fade as the years go by. Harry Harris

Moments ago, I learned that Harry Harris, one of my favorite junior high school teachers from Thorncreek, had passed away earlier today.

As I read the news, tears formed in my eyes. It is because of Mr. Harris that I learned the names of the presidents of the United States in chronological order, I learned to recite the Emancipation Proclamation word for word for extra credit and I learned who the Andrews Sisters were. I remember listening as he told us, in vivid detail, about the horror of Pearl Harbor and about the memorial to departed sailors there.

I also first heard the songs “Battle of New Orleans” and “Snoopy and The Red Baron” in his classroom at the top of the main stairs, down the hallway of lockers. In a classroom of giant drafting tables, I learned to use drafting tools correctly and how to use a protractor. Later, with Mr. Harris as our guide, we learned more complicated drafting on green screen Apple computers in Thorncreek’s “state of the art” computer lab. He wouldn’t accept second-rate work from us, ever.

I have some comical remembrances of him too. On one occasion, as I tried to craft some phrases from a German language dictionary and yell them to a friend across the crowded, noisy junior high hallway on the lower level hallway at Thorncreek – I remember the shocked look on Mr. Harris’s face as he came running over and informed me that I had just blurted out something obscene. He didn’t tell me what I’d said, but that I really, really should not repeat it again. I didn’t and I decided to learn Spanish after that incident.

After leaving Thorncreek, it was many years until I saw Mr. Harris again, but I never forgot what a great teacher he was.

The students of Faith Christian Academy were blessed to have known Mr. Harris in later years as he was a frequent volunteer at the school. While most of my favorite teachers either are or will be long retired by the time my children would be old enough to be in their classrooms – I felt it was quite special that because of Mr. Harris’s generosity in spending time as a volunteer at the school, both my son and I were able to know him as an educator.

Last spring, during the spring program for my son’s school, Faith Christian Academy, I walked in and sat down. To my delight, I was seated by Mr. Harris and had an opportunity to talk to him and to reminisce about some of the things about his classroom that stood out to me all these years later.

Teachers might not always know they’ve made a difference in the lives of their students. They might not realize that so many years later, something they said or did still matters. I am thankful that Mr. Harris was one of those special educators in my life.

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March 21, 2008

Finally...I can tell somebody...

Retrospective...by Jennifer Zartman Romano 

I can’t remember much further back than about the age of two. I remember my second birthday for sure. I recall the people gathered for my party and that I was sitting on an overstuffed orange cushion on the floor in the living room of my parent’s large brick home. I remember sitting there and thinking there were…coneheads…at my birthday. Do you remember coneheads from Saturday Night Live? Well, I think I was probably confused. They were probably people with pointed birthday hats on their heads…not actually coneheads. But that stands out. As does the memory of my birthday cake – with two more “coneheads” on there. I remember one of the coneheads carried me into the kitchen, put me in my highchair where I looked at my cake inquisitively. No, actually they were little clowns with pointy hats on their heads on the top of that cake.  

I don’t remember being the only child in my family, although I had precisely 18 months to be the center of attention. So, by the time I turned two, baby Sarah was already six months-old.

I do remember having a “baby sisser” from very early on. A quiet, red curly-haired sister who usually wore purple and I usually wore pink. Where I went, she went. She was a bit littler and much more shy than I was, so I spoke for her often. I decided she wanted heart-shaped earrings at the mall one day when I was six. I put her in the chair, told the woman at the counter what she wanted and it was done. It couldn’t have been that simple, but I think it actually was. My and my "baby sisser"

We played together, fought occasionally, shared a room, shared toys, alternately competed against each other and acted as allies. Growing up together in what seemed like the middle of our own little universe was so much more fun with two than it would have been with one. Though being close in age was a challenge for us during the turbulent adolescent years, we are now the best of friends and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

So, my heart skips a little this week…knowing for certain…with the obstetrician’s detection of a tiny heartbeat – my dear niece and Goddaughter, Eleanor Rose, will be the big sister and will, in precisely six months, have a baby sisser…or brother…of her own. She, too, will grow up with a sibling just a wee bit younger than she is who will be her best friend and confidante.

Nervous about the proximity of her children’s ages, my sister looked worried when she told me the blessed news nearly a month ago now (which was VERY hard to keep quiet). Would Eleanor be slighted not being the only child for very long? Would she be cheated by not having long as the only apple of her parents’ eyes? Certainly not, I told her. “I loved you immediately,” I said, as I showed her the photograph above -- as I kissed my tiny, newborn baby sisser’s head. My parents really couldn’t have given me a better gift than my own baby sister who would grow up to be my best friend.

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March 17, 2008

On the wings of spring...

Our beloved 1959 Avion in a photo taken last year. 

Retrospective...by Jennifer Zartman Romano


In Capistrano, the return of the swallows signals springtime. Yesterday, I learned that spring comes to Hickley, Ohio, in the form of turkey vultures – better known by many as buzzards. With the theme of flight, we welcome spring in the form of the Avions.

In our family, spring is heralded by the return of our vintage camper collection from storage (a 1959 and a 1969 Avion) and this year, the reappearance of our “new” boat which we hope will fly across the lake this summer carried by it’s winged Johnson motor.

In 2005, we found our “dream camper” on eBay, a 1959 silver Avion – a brand of camper made in Inside the '59 Avion...all the circa 1950s kitch I can cram in there!Benton Harbor, Michigan, using aircraft-style construction. We’re the third owners of the little 23 foot gem and though having been past through several families, it still maintains its original charm and is a treasure trove of 1950s kitch – which I adore. When we bought it, the silvery sheen had dulled a bit and my husband has been investing hours and energy to polish it to perfection. You can now see your reflection in the surface, but in his eyes it still hasn’t reached ultimate shininess just yet.

Inside, there will be plenty of dusting and fluffing to do after the long hibernation over at the 4-H grounds. Cabinets will need to be restocked for spring and summer camping trips, beds will need to be made up and a good overall freshening will take place. As soon as we get a few nice, warmer days, I’ll crank open the old windows and let the breeze blow in. A load of fixings for pudgie pies and s’mores and we’ll be ready for a camping trip in May. If all goes well, we’re hoping to go up to the Tin Can Tourist Rally in Milford, Michigan, in late May to view other vintage campers from around the country. Did you even know such groups existed? Indeed, the Tin Canners, as they’re called, have been an organization of camping enthusiasts around since the early 1900s. With the growing popularity of camping in the post-war years, the excitement about camping grew and now there are many, many members.

We enjoy the Tin Can gatherings and the Silver Avion Fellowship, a different camping group dedicated to our make of camper, which were made from the 1950s-1990s, for a variety of reasons – including the chance to meet new people, share information and tour some amazing campers. Many of these campers are now or will eventually become museum quality representations of a unique slice of Americana.

Having (we hope) won the war against violent chipmunks (another story for another day!), my in-laws are hoping to begin sprucing their 1969 Avion up for their summer use. They don’t go anywhere with theirs, but it gets a fair amount of use up at the lake each summer. They might event stay overnight in there now that the invading critters have been, shall we say, run off. Our 1956 Thunder Bay...made in Columbia City.

At the end of last fall, we made an uncharacteristic impulse buy on eBay to add to the collection of vintage recreational fun we call “Romano’s RetroCamp” – we bought a 1956 Thunder Bay runabout boat made in Columbia City. This rare find will be the focus of an interesting story I’ll write later this spring. It has what is believed to be its original 1955 Johnson motor with wings and we think it still works. I guess we’ll know for sure when the ice is off the lake – perhaps the day the ice is off the lake as Tony is very eager to give it a run. The boat, too, came out of storage over the weekend.

So, indeed, spring has arrived in Whitley County. We now need a few warmer days for the grass to green up, the flowers to pop, the trees to don their leaves and we’ll all be in excellent spirits…and ready for a full season of camping and boating!



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March 03, 2008

Still missing you after all these years...

As the night closes in on March 3, my mind wanders to a face I’ve missed so much – particularly in recent years.

It is hard for me to believe that nine years ago this evening, I lost one of the most special people in my life suddenly, without warning. I guess that isn’t exactly true. He did warn me once. James Blackie Main in Paisley, Scotland

One night as I sat on the old, cream and green floral couch at my grandparents’ home in Fort Wayne watching Jeopardy, my grandfather poked me in the shoulder, tipped his head sideways peeping over his bifocals and said in almost a whisper, “You know, I’m gonna kick the bucket one day.” Tears filled my eyes and I got angry with him and said, “Don’t say things like that. You’re fine.” He wasn’t fine really, but I didn’t know that and it was probably better that way. We went on to have a few more good years, my grandfather and I.

James Blackie Main, born in Paisley, Scotland, grew up during the war in Europe. He was rationed, his town was bombed and at a very young age, too young to fight in the war, he was sent to work in dangerous mines. Despite was must have been horrific, he enjoyed telling me stories about what it was like growing up in Scotland during the war. Two stories stand out as favorites: the time he fell in a hole in an open field (where he had been warned not to go) and found himself looking at a bomb that for some reason had not detonated. Remember those cartoons that show legs that look like spinning wheels beneath the body? He alleged that is what he looked like as he was running in the opposite direction. The other story that I’ll never forget was the one where he was supposed to have gone to work in the mines one evening and just had the nagging feeling he didn’t want to be there. His mother insisted he go – that it was his duty to work in the mines for the war effort. Somehow, he convinced her to let him stay home. That night, the mine caved in and several of his fellow workers were killed. Had he gone in there, he would have likely been killed and what came after would never have transpired.

An engineer by trade, the kind that drew intricate drawings and carefully lettered across large sheets of paper, he came to America in search of a better life for his family. I asked him once why he came here – only knowing a cousin in Fort Wayne and having no idea what to expect here. He said it was because he was tired of the rain in Scotland. The might be partly true, I suppose. Grandpa & I in 1977

He raised two daughters in a modest post-war era home in Fort Wayne. He was an avid reader, a great historian and wrote the most witty and wonderful poems and stories. He wrote sharp editorials. At one point in time, for a publication I was working for at the time, he wrote the most excellent food critic reviews of his various haunts in Fort Wayne. In reading over them a few years ago, it occurs to me how little they were about the restaurants or the food, but more about social commentary. He taught me various things – drafting with pencils and rulers, how to use a micrometer, how to properly read the poetry of Robert Burns, pride in our heritage and to better understand British humor. He made the best “chooky eggs,” drove with a lead foot, always had a secret stash of DeBrand’s Chocolates and could answer any question on any game show with enough accuracy and speed that the contests on the show looked like idiots. When I smell freshly cut grass and a certain type of after shave, I think of him. I also think of him in the fall when DeBrand’s sells chocolate covered caramel apples – he loved those.

He was one of two people I always called first to share good news with and whose opinions mattered most. I think he would be tickled to see how we all turned out with so many years passed now.

I remember looking at him through tears the night he died and thinking what a tragedy it was for such a brilliant mind to have gone silent, for those amazing wheels to no longer be turning. I hope I can build even a portion of the vast knowledge he had, to think the craftiest thoughts and to have his wit.

And, I hope some day my grandchildren might look at me with even half of the adoration I had and still have for him.

Photos: At top right, my grandfather looking rather dapper as he walked down the street of his hometown in Paisley, Scotland, before moving the the US in the 1950s. This is my all-time favorite photo of him. At right, below, Grandpa proudly holding his first grandchild - me - on his lap in 1977.

Jennifer Zartman Romano

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