One of my earliest memories is of a painting, hanging on the wall in the hallway of South Street grade school in Piqua, Ohio. Native American men are sitting in a ring around a campfire. In the center, a man rises from the flames. The men exclaim, “‘Otaht-he-wagh-Pe-Qua,’ (He has come out of the ashes). And from that time, that place was called Piqua.” (http://www.piquaoh.org/history.htm)
On the rural edge of town, tucked into a dark wooded area beside a small cottage, a totem pole stands.
A very old Native American woman sometimes took care of my grandmother when she was small.
That’s the sum total of my personal knowledge of the Native Americans who once lived in an important settlement and trading area in west central Ohio, along the banks of the Great Miami River, now called the city of Piqua.
We lived on the edge of town just a few blocks from where the streets lined with houses turned to country roads bordering green fields and farmland.
There were six or seven small single-story brick homes on the block where we lived in the middle. At the back of our yard across the alley, in that same block were two properties—a manufacturing business of some sort fenced in with wire disguised by three-foot tall weeds in the summer months and a large single residence surrounded by an apple orchard—a childhood dream playground.
We had two cherry trees, a large lilac bush, a swingset and a large tractor tire filled with sand in our yard and could want for nothing more.
Rex Kaiser, our neighbor on the right displayed turtle shells along the top edge of his single-car garage beside the alley. Sometimes we watched him sit on a stool beside a table and gut and clean his fresh catch of turtles.
Two houses from ours on the left, Mr. Huffman kept chickens. I sometimes had the unfortunate timing of riding my bicycle through the alley right after Mrs. Huffman had decapitated one of the clucking creatures for dinner. I can tell you it was a frightening sight to see those headless chickens hopping about the yard.
The Piqua I was born in was a small town with limited opportunities, my Dad had to drive nearly an hour to work every day in Dayton. Had we stayed there, I might not have attended college. It’s hard to know what that alternate life might have been like.
But we moved away.
I will always think of Piqua fondly as the place of family, of fried chicken Sunday dinners at my Grandma Smith’s house; playing bingo at Christmas parties at my Grandma and Grandpa Lemmons’ house; and walking home from church in our brand new Easter dresses and shiny black patten leather shoes.