I returned home last night from four wonderful days in the Buckeye State, two in Columbus and two in Dayton, my hometown. I enjoyed being with my family, eating at Marion’s Pizza, buying Flyer Gear at the University of Dayton Bookstore, but our visit to Carillon Park, a museum spread over 65 acres that tells the story of Dayton’s history with special attention paid to its many inventors, was especially eye-opening.
Although everyone who grows up in Dayton knows the story of the Wright Brothers, I did not realize until Monday that I grew up in the early 1900s version of Silicon Valley! It was this barn that made me think about the connection:
It’s a replica of the barn that stood behind Edward Deeds’ home in Dayton. Deeds is hardly a household name, but he was the president of the National Cash Register Company and an engineer whose work led to advancing automotive technology. He also worked with the Wright Brothers and was involved in aircraft production during WWI.
The sign in front of the barn reads: “In the original barn, from 1908 to 1912, a group of young engineers and inventors headed by Deeds and Charles Kettering developed the modern electric automobile ignition, starter, and lighting systems. Nicknamed ‘the barn gang,’ the group became the nucleus of the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company.”
Sixty-seven years later, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak worked in a garage rather than a barn, but there are obvious parallels.
Of course, we also saw the Wright Flyer that Orville flew in 1905. After reading David McCullough’s book about the famous brothers, I appreciated seeing the plane more.
We also visited The Book Loft in German Village, a neighborhood in Columbus. The independent bookstore is known for its 32 rooms of books and, although I didn’t get to all of them, I found Room 32!
And then, of course, there’s the plane ride – two hours each way of uninterrupted reading time. I know devices have airplane modes, but I’m pretending they don’t!
Although there are many new books I plan to read this summer, my first summer book was not even on my list – A Long and Happy Life by Reynolds Price. Price, who died in 2011, was a well known and respected southern writer and Biblical scholar who, among other things, co-wrote the song, Copperline, with James Taylor. A Long and Happy Life, his first novel, was published in 1962.
Price’s novel about Rosacoke Mustian, a young woman in rural North Carolina, was the first “literary novel” I read as a young woman – and at the beginning of each summer, I state my intention to read it again. Finally…I delivered on my self-assigned summer reading! As a teenage reader, my book choices were unsophisticated. My reading diet included lots of Harlequin romances because my grandmother had stacks of them. Although I read books I was assigned in school, I didn’t really seek out “good books” until an embarrassingly late age.
Something or someone led me to the troubled romance of Rosacoke Mustian and Wesley Beavers. Reading it now, I see so many things that would have gone right past me as a twenty-year-old. The language is evocative and poetic – and I was a late-blooming reader.
Reading Price’s novel after thirty years of reading and teaching and studying, is a richer experience – but the first time was more meaningful. A Long and Happy Life was my gateway book. Rosacoke led me to all the other books. I literally did not look back – except for reading maybe one or two Harlequin romances with my grandmother!